Desert to power cuts

Brian Lara is no different to the majority of great sportsmen in that it’s hard to say goodbye – not to the ‘big time’, but to the job they have done for decades. Potential comebacks are hard to ignore and many have been unable to resist the temptation, often with miserable results.

So what did Brian Charles Lara have to gain by coming out of retirement to play a domestic T20 tournament in Zimbabwe? On the face of it, nothing. He could prove nothing to his supporters or critics, whatever he did. Failure or success would elicit comments of “I told you so” from both camps.

But if his goal was to prove something to himself, then he may already have succeeded. The life of Brian was never straightforward – geniuses are often complicated – but Lara’s immediate post-retirement years were less than successful, symbolised by his disastrous sojourn with the ICL where he failed dismally and earned a fortune for producing nothing.

If Lara needed to prove to himself that he could still play and that he still had something to offer the game, then Zimbabwe offered the perfect environment. Low key and out of the limelight, but with a young and enthusiastic group of players keen to learn, he couldn’t have been offered a better opportunity to return at the age of 41.

If he fails with the bat, he can still succeed in the dressing room and the nets.

Lara’s first innings for the Southern Rocks franchise, captained by Kenyan veteran Steve Tikolo, wasn’t ‘vintage’ but it was very good. A slow start was followed by some classic cover drives, complete with high back lift and lavish follow-through and he finished with 65 from 50 deliveries. Sadly, it was in a losing cause.

The Rocks’ next game began in dramatic fashion with coach Monte Lynch arbitrarily refusing to announce his starting XI at the appointed time – the toss – because “someone” had “an incident” in the nets and he needed to check on their fitness. Yes, of course it was Lara. But rules can be bent for the great, right?

Not according to the coach of the opponents, Midwest Rhinos’ Jason Gillespie, who pleasantly suggested to his opposite number that rules and regulations were put in place “for good reasons.” He also suggested that Lara, as good as he was, did not merit the treatment reserved for Mahatma Ghandi or Nelson Mandela. Lynch gave some back, too. Despite being completely in the wrong and behaving like an idiot.

It was all very good stuff. If ever evidence was needed that a country’s cricket structures were revitalised, this was it. Snarl and grunt are an intrinsic part of this great game. Provided it disappears once the stumps are drawn.

There are 20 international players competing in the tournament, from Lance Klusener to Ryan ten Doeschate and NZ veteran Chris Harris (who still bowls his inexplicably complicated leg rollers as well as ever). Would that many players be attracted purely by money? No – there simply isn’t enough of it to go around.

Nic Compton, 27, is an example of a cricketer who wants to find out “what this Zimbabwe thing is all about.” He is not alone but he may be alone in expressing the sentiment, for now.

“Of course I’m interested in the country and how cricket is managing to survive and prosper,” he says. “That’s why I’m here. I want to play well and score runs but I’m equally interested in the country and how the perception of it is created for much of the rest of the world.”

A couple of days ago I left Dubai after covering the ODI series. Television coverage of the Test series has been relentless here in Zim. Even during power-cuts. Generators power TVs but not air-cons or WiFi. Many Zimbabweans will go to extraordinary lengths to watch sport on TV, especially if it involves South Africa. Because they hope and cheer for defeat. It’s the ‘younger cousin’ syndrome. Not all Zimbos cheer for defeat, but most do.

So here I am, typing in total darkness (apart from the light from the laptop screen) in Harare after 12 days in Dubai. Everybody has water in Dubai after twenty trillion dollars (made up number) was spent on the desalination industry. And there is never a shortage of electricity. In Zim, however, things are different. Stuff worked this morning, but it doesn’t now. It’s OK.

There is a feeling amongst the cricketers, many of whom are sharing my (momentarily, hopefully, darkened) hotel, that the ‘sacrifices’ are worth it. They have spent time with the local players. They should know.

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