It is surprisingly nippy at 11.30 in the morning, with winter still drawing in and the overcast conditions ripe to facilitate swing. Wearing a t-shirt and shorts, Brian Lara cuts a focused figure as the wind swirls around him. He lines up for a swing and hits the target with effortless ease. Only this time, it’s not a cover-drive but a birdie on the last hole.
The venue, the swanky, sprawling greens of Prestige Golfshire, en route to the Nandi Hills in Bengaluru and the occasion, the fourth edition of the Krishnapatnam Port Golden Eagles Golf Championship.
“During my playing days, I would often hit the course after practice. For me, it was really relaxing getting away from the cricket scene,” Lara says even as he fidgets with the golf ball, occasionally curling the ball from hand to hand. Old habits die hard after all.
Lara ended his 17-year international career, with 11,953 Test runs at an average of 52.88 in 131 matches. The flamboyant southpaw still holds the record for the highest individual score — 400 (unbeaten) against England — in Antigua in 2004 and has 10,405 runs at an average of 40.48 in 299 ODIs. He is the owner of the highest first class score, too... 501 (unbeaten) for Warwickshire against Durham in 1994.
“A lot of people at the time (playing days) felt that it (playing golf) could affect my cricket, so I switched to playing golf with my right hand which wasn’t a good idea! I’m still very bad at it,” he says in jest.
Golfing-cricketers are not new. Garry Sobers, Jacques Kallis, Ricky Ponting, and closer to home, Kapil Dev, S. Badrinath and Ajay Jadeja have all tried their hand at a sport, which is in effect, a complete antithesis of the ‘team’ spirit these cricketers embodied in their playing days. And yet the transition appears routine, seamless even.
“When I first started playing golf back in 1994, people realised that I was pretty interested in it. There was always this comparison to Sir Garfield Sobers who played cricket and golf as well.
“In golf, you’ve to turn your wrists over whereas, in cricket, you have to keep your wrists as straight as possible. There weren’t too many left-handed golfers in the world and everyone had a right-hand set of gloves, so it didn’t take me too long to switch my stance. That said, I am naturally a left-handed person, and hence more comfortable playing that way,” Lara says, explaining the technical nittigritties that delineate the two sports.
Lara can putt and drive like a pro but emphasises that he will never call himself a prolific golfer. Golf, he says, is a ‘weird’ sport in certain ways. “In cricket, the ball is bouncing differently on different surfaces, and you are able to deal with it. But in golf, there’s this silly ball that’s just sitting there and you’ve to try and move it!,” the 49-year-old says.
“It’s a disciplined sport, no doubt, but unlike cricket, you’re playing against the course and not an opponent per se.”
For a player who, at the tender age of 14, hammered 745 runs at 126.16, to get selected into the Trinidad Under-16 team, and in 1990, became Trinidad and Tobago’s youngest captain, screaming cricket fans were never too far away. However, playing golf on a course where quietude is the order of the day can be a ‘different’ experience.
“One (Cricket) you grew up playing and get accustomed to. I might have started with just my parents and their friends watching me bat and that later, grows into thousands of people. But it’s embedded in your system; it has been a part of you. You can either handle or not handle it.
“On the other hand, I started playing golf much later. You develop skills and button up the loose ends along the way. But it will never give me sleepless nights like cricket! (laughs),” Lara says.
Lara recalls the time he developed a liking for golf. “It was around 1994. We were playing a game against the Leeward Islands in Montserrat. They had four West Indian fast bowlers. Curtly Ambrose and Benjamin destroyed Trinidad in two days and I had two days off and went to the golf course.
“It was Phil Simmons who taught me to play a round of golf. I had a birdie on the last hole and was hooked from thereon!”
In November 2005, Lara went past Allan Border’s tally of 11,174 runs to become Test cricket’s highest run-scorer. The 10th of 11 children, Lara credits his father for all the success he has achieved. In 2012, he even dedicated the ICC Hall of Fame honour to his late father. “My biggest pain was that he did not see me play a Test match...” he says.
“I made it to the West Indies side against India in 1989 but wasn’t selected in the final XI and that was around the time he passed away, after the first day’s play. It was a very sad moment but one of the nicer things about it was having the West Indies team in Trinidad at his funeral.
“And at that point, I thought that he couldn’t have picked up a better time. It was a wonderful tribute to the man who sacrificed a lot to ensure that I got to play cricket.
“When it (father passing away) did hit home though was when I scored my first hundred in Australia. You reach the three-figure mark and are wondering who you would have wanted to be present at the stadium. That was when the sadness sunk in.”
22,358 international runs, 53 international hundreds and now, several putts and birdies later, someone’s surely smiling down on Lara from the heavens.