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Last Updated: Friday, 20 April 2007, 07:27 GMT 08:27 UK
Lara - the great entertainer
By Martin Gough
BBC Sport in Barbados

Brian Lara
I've come out there and tried to entertain

Brian Lara
Brian Lara had been expected to bid farewell to international cricket in mid-June, after the fourth Test against England at Durham's Riverside ground.

Instead he will do it in front of 28,000 West Indies supporters at Kensington Oval in Barbados on Saturday.

While he would have hoped for a bigger occasion - specifically the World Cup final at the same venue a week later - this will certainly be a special one.

Lara, who turns 38 on 2 May, will be remembered for his numbers - the world-leading 11,953 Test runs, the Test record 400 not out or the first-class record unbeaten 501.

He will finish one short of a milestone in one-day cricket, though, when he appears in his 299th such international.

"I was very confident that I'd play my 300th game at the World Cup. It wasn't to be. So be it," he said, ruing West Indies' inability to progress to the knockout rounds on home soil.

It was that failure, and the back-biting and criticism that surrounded it, which probably convinced Lara not to go ahead with his plans to play Test cricket into his 40s.

Born: Cantaro, Trinidad 2.5.69
131 Tests
11,953 runs, average 52.88, 34x100, 48x50, highest score 400no
298 ODIs
10, 387 runs, average 40.57, 19x100, 63x50, highest score 169
First class cricket
21, 993 runs, average 51.38, 64x100, 87x50, highest score 501no

Lara's leadership style has been called into question by West Indies greats including Michael Holding, who called for him to be replaced as captain even before they were knocked out of the competition.

Perhaps he was not the best at man-management, failing to understand how difficult it was for players less gifted than himself to perform at the highest level.

But that should never be allowed to take away from his ability as one of the finest batsmen of his generation, with perhaps only Sachin Tendulkar as his equal.

The late Bob Woolmer, who coached Lara at Warwickshire in the mid-1990s, once said: "He has five double-hundreds, a 375, a 400 and a 501.

Martin Gough - BBC Sport

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

Two of those scores came within two months of each other in 1994 as he broke Sir Garfield Sobers' Test record with 375 against England in Antigua and hit 501 not out for Warwickshire against Durham.

But for a good while he struggled to live up to the hype, was dropped as captain and even missed an entire home season in 2001, while rumours of his retirement rumbled.

When he made his Test debut in 1990 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.

Brian Lara
Lara's dazzling strokeplay thrilled crowds worldwide

During his first spell as captain he appeared better at leading by deed rather than word, as when he single-handedly tied the 1998-99 series against Australia with scores of 213, eight, 153 not out and 100.

But it has taken time for him to realise that he cannot do everything, resulting in the mellower skipper who led the side to victory in the 2004 ICC Champions Trophy in England.

"West Indies cricket is something I hold dearly to my own heart. I've had a very good run, 299 one-day matches and 130-odd Tests under my belt.

"That's testimony to the fact that I've been out there toiling for West Indies cricket. I've enjoyed every single day."

Forget the numbers for a moment, though, and remember the extravagant back lift and flashing cover drive, the ability to shine with the pressure on his shoulders and to single-handedly take over a cricket arena.

"I've come out there and tried to entertain. You have to remember that people pay to come through the turnstiles.

"Another thing that I'm proud of is that I've been knocked down so many times, both as a player and a person, and come back," he said.

"I need to thank my parents for that, for being able to go out there in the face of adversity and perform. It's a family trait."

They will be paying to come through the turnstiles one last time on Saturday, hoping Lara's innate ability to rise to the occasion will show itself one last time.

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