Cricket: Why Carr is Mr Averages: Brian Lara, for all his brilliance, must bow to a Middlesex man whose inelegance is legendary. Stephen Brenkley reports

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The Independent Online
IN THE end, Brian Lara was not quite good enough to head the batting averages. That frenetic early-season dash, designed to repel all-comers, failed to keep at bay a wonderful late charge from John Carr. Lara and Carr are rarely thought of in the same averages table, let alone spoken of in the same breath. Their solitary similarity as batsmen is probably that they both have surnames of four letters.

'It's a bit of a laugh, really, isn't it?' Carr said. 'The most elegant batsman in the country finishing second to the least elegant.' Batting inelegance is in the eye of the beholder, but Carr was referring to his unique style, which has dispensed with the notion of standing side-on to the bowler.

It is an unorthodox stance, bordering on unimaginable (the coaching manuals have not so much been thrown away as never consulted), and has proved increasingly effective since he returned to the game in 1992 after retiring for a season. He had first developed the revolutionary method in the Middlesex second XI in 1990. 'The way I like to put it is that many good batsmen move back and across as the bowler delivers,' Carr said. 'Well, I'm in that position from the start. It is something that suits me and the way I pick up the bat. It wouldn't be appropriate for anybody else and when I coach I certainly wouldn't advise anybody else to play like it. But I do think there can be flexibility within technique.'

It is a flexibility that reached its zenith for the 31-year-old in the final month of the 1994 summer. He was in fairly productive, if not exceptional, form at the beginning of August. A couple of centuries early in the season had been followed by a patchy July.

As he went into the second innings of the match against Glamorgan on 6 August he had scored 688 runs at a highly serviceable average of 43. He then produced a sequence of scores which went: 78*, 171*, 136, 106*, 40*, 62* and 261*, a total of 854 runs for the same average. The double-century against Gloucestershire, his career best which proved to be his final innings of the season, took his average to 90.70, less than one run an innings better than Lara. He can surely never have wanted the season to end.

'I have mixed feelings about it,' he said. 'It may be a bit like being in a casino and winning lots of money at the wheel. There's maybe part of you that says 'Keep on rolling' and part saying 'Let's stop now'. I had no choice in the matter as it turned out. For the sort of thing that happened in the last month you have to rely not only on good batting but luck. While I knew I was in good form, getting the first 20 or 30 runs in every innings was no different. I still needed the same care and application.'

While it was Carr's splendid late surge that enabled him to pip Lara, an unsung innings he played back in April against Cambridge University has now assumed a greater significance. Leading Middlesex and batting at No 9 he made an unbeaten 55 before declaring the county's first innings. Take those runs from his aggregate and he would finish just behind Lara. Who says matches against the universities should not be first class?

Discounting freak leaders of the batting averages (such as Ray Baker in 1977 and Gary Yates in 1993, who had played barely enough to qualify and managed a vast proportion of not-outs), Carr's is the most unlikely name to be at the top. In the past quarter-century every proper batsman to lead the averages, except the South Africans Clive Rice and Jimmy Cook, has played Test cricket. The names include Viv Richards, Zaheer Abbas, Clive Lloyd, Martin Crowe, Glenn Turner, Geoff Boycott, Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting. This begged an obvious question.

'No, I haven't given up hope of playing for England,' Carr said. 'Perhaps if you'd asked me at the start of the season I might have said I had. But the form of the past month has made me think again. Quite sensibly, they're bringing in young players, but if I can continue this in the early part of next summer you never know.'

England selection, of course, might test the Carr technique against the West Indies. He has no intentions of retiring again before his time and would like to play for another five years. He feels he has got better by some 5 per cent each year. Carr is now taking his advanced coaching certificate. 'I don't know if they'll let me pass it the way I bat,' he said.

(Photograph omitted)