Lara marvels at Clarke's rise as a run machine

CAPTAIN'S KNOCK: Michael Clarke plays a shot on his way to 259 not out in the first test against South Africa in Brisbane.
CAPTAIN'S KNOCK: Michael Clarke plays a shot on his way to 259 not out in the first test against South Africa in Brisbane.

Brian Lara first met Michael Clarke nearly 10 years ago outside the modest Cheddi Jagan International Airport, half an hour's drive south of the Guyana capital, Georgetown.

Clarke, however, then an upstart batsman but already the ''next big thing'' of Australian cricket, was simply looking for a lift into town, and in seeing the legendary Trinidadian also among the newly arrived, sauntered up to him.

Lara had no idea who he was.

''We were in Guyana many, many years ago and I was a day late and I got off at the airport and this guy asked if I could take him into the city,'' Lara said on Sunday.

''I asked him if he was a reporter. It was Michael Clarke. I'm not sure who he was replacing on that tour but somebody got injured.''

It was Damien Martyn who had succumbed to a finger injury and Clarke, who had been in the Caribbean as part of the test squad in 2003, was called in as late cover for the one-day leg of the tour.

Having convinced Lara of his identity the now Australian captain got chatting, and almost a decade later the prolific West Indian has been watching closely as Clarke channels him with monster score after monster score on the international scene.

Lara, 43, is the all-time champion of the marathon innings - not that that should imply anything remotely stodgy about their contents.

Six years into test retirement he still holds two of the top three highest individual scores in history, his 400 not out against England at St John's in 2004 and his 375 against the same opposition at the same ground 10 years earlier split only by Matthew Hayden's 380 against Zimbabwe in 2003.

Clarke has not quite entered that stratosphere but might well have done considering two of his three mighty innings this year - his 329 against India at the SCG in January, and his 259 against South Africa at the Gabba last week - were unbeaten and halted only by his own declaration.

Add in his 210 against India in Adelaide to help clinch Australia's 4-0 belting of India this year and Lara, as with everyone else, is sitting up and taking notice of a run-scoring streak rarely bettered.

''We became very, very good friends since then and it's lovely to see the way that he has gone on,'' he said at the University of Wollongong's Stumping Serious Diseases Twenty20 charity event.

''He commanded a place on the Australian team very early and now as captain is leading his team very well. It's wonderful, I think, also the fact that as captain it also enhanced his game. That is something that is always an issue - if a guy is going to be given that job, how is he going to handle it, is it going to affect his batting?

"That seems to be out of the way. Obviously his scoring - the double centuries and the triple century - is awesome. Also his focus on winning as well, as the captain, is something that you very much have to very much appreciate it. Putting yourself aside to ensure the team is successful.''

Lara, for the record, can still play, making 48 in Sunday's charity game, while his former West Indies captain Viv Richards chimed in with 19.

The other marquee ex-cricketer in action was Adam Gilchrist, who was asked about the sacking of his successor Brad Haddin and insisted the demoted test wicketkeeper could be picked for Australia again.

''He's certainly not done and I think he's going about his business the best and only way possible. I thought he handled being left out of the national team extremely well,'' Gilchrist said.

''I certainly know from close account that he simply said, 'No problem, I understand it, I'm just going to make you pick me now'. Not in an aggressive, offensive manner: 'I'm just going to do everything I can to make sure that you pick me'.''


He was one of test cricket's greatest  accumulators but Brian Lara believes it is the backwardness of the five-day game,  and not the limited-overs formats,  that is threatening the popularity of the sport.

The West Indian star said  the  scheduling of tests  lacked relevance and  pandered to  broadcasters. He said  the International Cricket Council must press with a world test championship, now earmarked for 2017 after being slated for 2013 but cancelled.

''That mundane exercise of just test series after test series -  I believe the time for that is gone,'' Lara said.

''The Ashes is something of great importance but I believe in a holistic look at test cricket. I believe if the ICC comes up with something that creates a league, I think the interest is going to come back.''

While  Viv Richards claimed Twenty20 was killing the test game in the Caribbean, Lara said it had been reinvigorating.

''Watching five days of cricket for anyone was always a hard task,'' Lara said. ''But [with] Twenty20, the crowds have come back.''

Sydney Morning Herald