Cricket: My summer with Brian Lara: Recollections of a season in the sun: Warwickshire's pace bowler tells of an inspirational presence that has been felt on and off the field

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The Independent Online
WARWICKSHIRE are about to complete the most momentous season in the club's history. With two titles in the bag, including the County Championship - last won in 1972 - and the Sunday League pending, it has been a memorable summer.

What makes their achievement more astounding is that Warwickshire's past record has never hinted at dominance of this kind, and their abilities - bar the occasional one-day titles - have been far closer to the ordinary than the extraordinary. So what has been the catalyst? From where has come the inspiration that has managed to convert base metal into gold? The answer, of course, is the record-breaking West Indian batsman Brian Lara. Lara has scored such an avalanche of runs at such a pace that even if three-day cricket had remained the norm, the bowlers would still have had more than enough time and runs to play with. The Warwickshire bowlers - not a heavyweight attack by any means - have been given the freedom to try as many permutations as were needed to secure victory.

In this summer of summers for the county, the strike bowler GLADSTONE SMALL recalls with Derek Pringle some of the key moments during his season with Brian Lara, recollections that bear testament to the enormous impact the little Trinidadian has made on his adopted county and on the English scene.

DURING the close season, I was relieved to hear that India's Manoj Prabhakar was going to replace the South African Allan

Donald as our overseas player. Not only can Prabhakar bat pretty well, but he is an excellent bowler who can swing the ball. It seemed just the thing to help the seamers out with their workload. I was definitely looking forward to his arrival.

But then Prabhakar got injured, and we were about to sign Brian Lara in his place. That caused me to rejig my mental strategy towards the season's bowling task. It's a sobering thought when you suddenly realise that another 300-odd overs have got to be shared around the main bowlers.

The club finally signed Lara about the time England beat the West Indies in Barbados. But although the committee and players were pleased with the signing, it was nothing compared to the jubilation that came when he broke Sir Gary Sobers' world record Test score in Antigua. With uncanny timing, his historic knock coincided with the chairman's annual lunch at Edgbaston, so all the players and committee were there. Just as he was getting close to 365, we all piled into the committee room, opened up the drinks cabinet, and switched on Sky TV.

When he did it, there was so much rejoicing in that room that you would have thought that an Englishman had scored 375 against the West Indies, not the other way around. Hardly any of the guys had met him, but that didn't stop us giving high fives all round. He had introduced himself to us in the best possible way and Prabhakar was promptly forgotten.

When he first arrived at Edgbaston, I was one of the few guys he had met before. He was very friendly and relaxed in spite of all the hype, which was bigger than anything during the height of Botham-mania. He told me he had been to Birmingham before and liked it. Apparently, it was that, and the fact that his childhood friend Dwight Yorke (who plays for Aston Villa) also lives here, that clinched it for Warwickshire.

In advance of his first game, the publicity was amazing. I have never played county cricket with a player attracting this kind of interest. More than 4,000 spectators came to watch the first day against Glamorgan. It didn't seem in the script that Dermot Reeve (the Warwickshire captain) should lose the toss and Glamorgan bat. When we got our turn to have a knock, Dominic Ostler started like a train, but the roar from our members when he was bowled by Ottis Gibson meant that they had only come for one thing and they knew it would be special.

Brian strode out to the wicket and proceeded to put bat to ball. He never spends much time having a look at the bowling while he is waiting to bat. When a wicket falls, everything is done at the last moment. There's a sudden rush for gloves and helmet and he's forever hissing to himself: 'Where's my bat gone?'

He scored 147. To my mind it was probably his best knock of the summer. When you consider the pressure of expectation on him, and the style and manner in which he scored his runs, it was an incredible achievement, and a key moment for both him and Warwickshire. It set the tone of our cricket for the rest of the summer. Even Brian, who is very matter of fact about his batting, was relieved, saying that he was glad to get that one out of the way.

Having started with such a bang, there was no stopping him. In the next game against Leicester, he scored a hundred in each innings to save the match. Most of our batsmen struggled on the cracked pitch, but Brian was determined not to lose to the team that his West Indian team-mate Phil Simmons played for. On three occasions in the second innings, he turned down the chance of a single when he was on 99, just so he could protect the tail. Once the draw was assured, he savaged Simmons, hitting him for 16 in an over, just to show him who was the boss.

Brian is very conscious of records, but in a modest way. He sees it as a challenge more than anything else. He just has tremendous self-belief. With four centuries in successive knocks (including his 375 in Antigua), the chance to equal the record of six out of six whetted his appetite. At Taunton, he took another step towards that with a brilliant 136 against Somerset.

It was here that he took delivery of his mobile phone. On the last morning, just as we were about to take the field, his manager phoned him up. When the call ended, Brian was halfway on to the pitch, so he just pocketed the phone. After a few overs of being egged on by Keith Piper and myself, he pulled it out and made a quick call. He got a lot of stick for what was intended as a jape.

Another hundred in the first innings at Middlesex would have equalled the record, but it was not to be. Richard Johnson strangled him, caught behind down the leg side. If he was disappointed, he didn't show it. He's quite hard on himself, though, and instead of taking off his pads when he's out, he'll sit quietly and analyse.

In the Sunday League game at Lord's, he was out for a duck. When he got back to the dressing room he found the previously dismissed batsman Mike Burns playing table tennis. He couldn't believe it and he turned to me and said: 'He Out?' To Brian, Burns didn't seem upset enough for someone back in the hutch. He'd often ask the younger batsmen, like Ostler, if it hurt them when they were out.

Then came the big 501 against Durham. It was absolutely magical. I've always been able to go to sleep in the dressing room, but with Brian around I've just had to watch the cricket. That knock cost me a lot of kip.

The Durham bowlers were just in shock. It was even more amazing to me as I was party to a lunchtime conversation between Brian and Dermot Reeve, and I overheard the skipper leaning towards declaring and having a bowl. Brian, who was on 297, then asked what the Warwickshire batting record was. Paul Smith interjected and said: 'Why don't you go for the world record of 499 instead.' 'You think I can do that?' Lara enquired. Then, turning to Reeve, he asked: 'Are you going to let me go for it?' The rest is history.

I didn't play against Northamptonshire because of a hamstring niggle, but his 197 there was another brilliant match-winning knock. During it, Curtly Ambrose split his helmet with a bouncer, but this didn't affect Brian, who has yet to be dismissed by Curtly in first-class cricket. He rates Curtly as the best bowler in the world and didn't take any liberties against him. He just saw him off until the next spell.

He also had a slight disagreement with Dermot on the field. Brian has got a bad knee, which he was always keen to rest, so he was forever leaving the field. He was also very tired at this stage of the season. If he accepted even half of the things he's asked to do, he'd have no time to himself.

When Rob Bailey stood his ground after a caught behind appeal had been turned down, Brian, who is aggressive on the field, had a few things to say. Dermot then asked him to back down, allegedly accusing him of being a prima donna. Brian took exception to this and walked off the field.

It was never an issue in the dressing room. Both men are strong characters, the difference being that while Brian says very little, Dermot loves to be upbeat and chatty. Anyway, everything was resolved just before we took the field in the Benson and Hedges final when Brian got us all round and apologised for his absenteeism on the field. He just said: 'I love you guys but you must understand the pressure I've been under and that I'm doing my best to deal with it. Just don't think badly of me.' It had never been a problem for most of us, but, just saying those few words, Brian really fired us up. Worcestershire never had a chance that day.

One of the most amazing things about Brian is the difference between the way he bats in the middle and the way he practises in the nets. You could have a video of any one of his centuries this season and sell it as a 101 Great Moments in Cricket without breaching the Trade Descriptions Act. He plays that many shots. But when he has a net, there is hardly a shot in anger. He just works on his concentration and his backlift. It is as if he is playing himself in so, if necessary, he can hit his first ball in the middle for four.

Against Derbyshire, his 142 was more than half our eventual total. No sooner had he got to the crease than he hooked Devon Malcolm, who was bowling really quick, for one of the biggest sixes ever seen at Chesterfield. Then when Devon pitched it up, Brian smashed it straight back over his head for six. Devon couldn't believe it, as Brian had only just come in. We were gobsmacked, too. We just laughed. As someone remarked, it wasn't the real world.

There is no doubt that Brian didn't quite know what he had let himself in for by coming to England. The burden on players has surprised him. I remember him saying that there was just too much cricket. That, in the end, you couldn't fight as hard for every innings as it would take too much out of you. Over the last month or so, he has definitely been casting his eye ahead to the West Indies' winter tour and pacing himself.

Some West Indian players have got reputations for being moody. Brian, though, is very

level-headed. He has been an absolute pleasure and inspiration to play with. With him, it is definitely a question of look and learn. If you ask him for help, he simplifies things in such a way that you wonder why you ever worried in the first place. It's only when you try and put them into practice that you realise they are only simple to Brian Lara.

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