On September 29th, 1996, Brian Charles Lara scored just eight as the West Indies suffered the most humiliating defeat in their history, losing by 73 runs to Kenya in Poona during the World Cup.
Lara went into the opposition dressing room after the match to congratulate the minnows on their achievement. The conversation was private, of course, but the ‘juicy’ bits inevitably emerged later when Lara was reported to have told the Kenyans it was better to lose to black Africans and not the white players of South Africa.
In the months and years to come the comment was replayed in dressing rooms around the country and there was plenty said about it on the field whenever SA played the West Indies.
It may have been an innocent, throw-away line, but it riled South Africa’s players and the publicity it attracted certainly riled Lara. In fact, he became so desperate to shove the chirps and criticism back down the throats of those who delivered them that he failed repeatedly against SA, almost certainly because of the added tension he loaded upon himself.
Since then he has become particularly friendly with Herschelle Gibbs and has realised that all South Africans are not the same, whatever their creed. But while his personality may have softened, the determination to correct a poor record against SA burned deeper with every innings in which he failed to post the coveted century.
It was a long time coming, but when it did the great man made absolutely certain it counted. Without a century in 11 Tests before this one, and with an average of 35 against his career average of 52, it seemed almost certain that SA would pay sooner rather than later.
Funnily enough, it was less painful for South Africans than almost any other ‘bad day at the office’ in the last 12 years since readmission. Even for the players there was a recognition that a great player had corrected a wrong. And besides, it was great to watch. Especially now that we know he doesn’t hate us any more.
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