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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 November 2005, 10:37 GMT
Lara the best ever?
By Martin Gough

Some say it is impossible to compare players of different eras, but that is the easy way out.

Lara celebrates
There is no doubt Brian Lara, Test cricket's new leading run-scorer, is among the greats.

But how does he rate alongside recognised legends like Donald Bradman, Len Hutton, Garfield Sobers, Graeme Pollock and even Sachin Tendulkar from the modern era?

His 226 against Australia in Adelaide was just another outstanding display by the graceful, cavalier left-hander nicknamed the Prince of Port of Spain.

The problem is that number of runs scored is just one of the ways of ranking the best batsmen ever.

Lara passed Australia's Allan Border in the runs list, but Border's achievement has generally been seen as a triumph of longevity rather than batting brilliance.

It certainly was not a mark anyone expected Lara to pass five years ago, when he was widely believed to have retired just before a tour of England.

BC Lara (WI) 11,187 in 121 Tests
AR Border (Aus) 11,174 in 156
SR Waugh (Aus) 10927 in 168
SR Tendulkar (Ind) 10134 in 123
SM Gavaskar (Ind) 10122 in 125
Lara struggled to live up to the hype after his purple patch of 1994, when he hit a then Test record 375, closely followed by a first-class record 501 not out for Warwickshire.

Deposed as captain in favour of Jimmy Adams, he missed an entire home season, while rumours swirled about his mental well-being.

When he made his Test debut he was just one part of a hugely successful West Indies team, a junior to the likes of Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes.

But as the greats retired and the results dipped, the pressure grew on Lara to carry the load.

As captain, he appeared better at leading by deed rather than word, and there were times when he carried the side with his own achievements.

Only in the last year or so has a new, more mellow, Lara been on display, happy to play the role of senior pro without expecting the rest of the team to copy his achievements.

Lara set the new record mark in his 121st Test.

Border played 156 Tests, a feat only surpassed by his successor as Aussie captain Steve Waugh, who sits just behind him in the list of run-scorers.

Bradman, generally recognised as the best ever, stands 29th, as he made 6,996 runs in 52 Tests.

Bradman's batting average of 99.94 makes him by far the most consistent batsman ever and many below him in that chart are heroes of the middle of the last century.

Pollock is a rival to Lara as the greatest left-hander ever, although his career was cut short by South African isolation.

DG Bradman (Aus) 6,996 runs at 99.94 (52 Tests)
RG Pollock (SA) 2,256 at 60.97 (23 Tests)
GA Headley (WI) 2,190 at 60.83 (22 Tests)
H Sutcliffe (Eng) 4,555 at 60.73 (54 Tests)
E Paynter (Eng) 1,540 at 59.23 (20 Tests)
And George Headley - grandfather of former England bowler Dean - was dubbed the "Black Bradman" for his feats as the first West Indies batting great between 1930 and '54.

Uncovered pitches made batting more of an adventure back then, although teams tended only to use two out-and-out pace bowlers.

But whether either of those batsmen would be able to sustain an average of above 60 given today's heavier schedules is just another topic for debate.

Even in rating the best of the current crop it is tough to split Lara and Tendulkar, who boasts a slightly better average but a lower aggregate.

Of potential English greats, Herbert Sutcliffe played 54 Tests between 1924 and '35, and his average could have been better were he not an opening batsman.

400no BC Lara WI v Eng 2004
380 ML Hayden Aus v Zim, 2003
375 BC Lara WI v Eng, 1994
365no GS Sobers WI v Pak, 1958
364 L Hutton Eng v Aus, 1938
Hutton was Bradman's contemporary and rival, and the 364 he hit at The Oval in 1938 was a record for 20 years, until Sobers broke the mark.

Lara bettered Sobers' unbeaten 365 nine years ago, saw his record broken by Australia's Matthew Hayden, and set a new mark against England in April 2004.

Bob Woolmer, currently in charge of Pakistan and Lara's coach at Warwickshire in the mid-1990s, said: "I have always felt he is the premier batsman of his era.

"He has five double-hundreds, a 375, a 400 and a 501.

"Anyone who can score that prolifically has to be one of the greatest batsmen of all time, not just of his era."

It may be the easy way out, but Lara is certainly one of the best ever.


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