`I'm happy with the way I've been batting'

IF all that they had said about his inability to handle his celebrity status was true, then he is certainly a changed man. For, during the 20-minute chat in the comfortable setting of The Park in Chennai, Brian Charles Lara came across as an approachable and friendly person.

SANJAY RAJAN

IF all that they had said about his inability to handle his celebrity status was true, then he is certainly a changed man.

For, during the 20-minute chat in the comfortable setting of The Park in Chennai, Brian Charles Lara came across as an approachable and friendly person.

The Caribbean superstar, who has made more than 16,000 international runs and is leading West Indies' revival, spoke about his batting and his approach to captaincy, among other things. Excerpts:

Question: Is there a fresh approach to captaincy, now that you are back in the saddle?

Answer: The approach is certainly different. I was first appointed captain in 1998. I was very young and brash then. I had my ideas, which really didn't work. I had captained Youth teams and my Island, Trinidad & Tobago, quite successfully, but leading the country is different. You know, different people, different cultures. And you really need proper leadership qualities to take on a job such as that. I'd say during my first stint I was highly inexperienced. When I gave up the post in 2000, I sort of took a step away to observe, learn from how the others like Jimmy Adams, Carl Hooper handled it. This time it's different, you know, I'm a more mature person with better man management skills. It has been better this time around.

With Shivnarine Chanderpaul injured and only Ridley Jacobs the senior man (Merv Dhillon is not holding a regular place), you are dealing with a bunch of promising youngsters. Are they coming up to your expectations?

Yeah, I think the kids are doing very well. You know, we introduced quite a few debutants in the series against Australia and Sri Lanka and I thought they handled themselves pretty well; some of them had limited first class experience. They are learning quickly and that's very important. At the start of the Australian series, I told them that we'll have to be competitive, which we were, and it ended in a historic victory in the final Test (successfully chased 418 runs in the fourth innings). In the one-dayers, we won the last three contests convincingly. Even though we lost the series (both one-day & Test) to Australia, we gained a lot of respect from them and the boys profited so much in the form of experience. The one disappointment was losing the limited-overs series against Sri Lanka when I thought natural progression would take us past them, but it showed up in the final Test match and we won the series. I think it has been a very good first three months for me as captain and I'm looking forward to the future.

How was it dealing with illustrious seniors during your apprenticeship period? What have you learnt in this regard?

It was different then. Back in the late 80s (first class) and early 90s, I had great players around me. I was just one of the few new faces in the squad, for those days there were not much introduction of young players because we were a winning team and everyone held their place owing to that. It's different now, with just three or four experienced guys and 10-12 inexperienced hands. A situation like this needs a different approach on the whole, because the young ones make the majority. You are not spoon-feeding anyone, but you are sort of trying to get them involved, trying to make them have team goals, couple it with their individual dreams, and try and achieve it.

Your hunger for runs seems to have returned. But hunger alone will not do. Have you made some fine adjustments to your technique?

I think people are being a bit unfair when, every time I score runs in abundance, they say that I've regained my hunger and all that. Actually in the last couple of years, especially from the time we went down to Sri Lanka, which was in 2001, I thought my form was pretty good. I got injured in Sri Lanka and it was certainly going to take a long time to recover from a dislocated elbow. The series against India followed (three months later) but then I had to get back gradually. I'm happy with the way I've been batting. I've stepped it up in terms of consistency over the last couple of years and it has been fruitful.

All-out aggression has given way to aggressive selection. This was apparent in the series against Australia. Does the new Lara want to take more responsibilities?

Yeah, definitely. As a leader you do. Moreover, the post entails high responsibility. I like to maintain my position in the team through creditable performances with the bat and not just for the reason of being the captain and that the team is doing well under me. The competition within the team for the various slots is good and has created the right kind of atmosphere. I like it. And the added responsibility is just great. But I want to pull my weight in the team as a batsman and that's of utmost importance.

You have passed Sir Viv Richards' record of catches for West Indies. Obviously you have practiced hard. Are you crouching lower and rising later?

I'd say I'm doing the same things. The only way you can take as many catches as that is by crouching lower. But I'm not doing anything different. I've dropped my share of catches. I've stood at slip for the majority of my career. You have to be good at it to stand at a specialist position.

Do you think during your tenure West Indies will be back among the top three teams in both forms of the game? Obviously you interact closely with Richards (chairman of the National selection committee). How much of a help has he been?

He has been of huge help and has had a positive influence on the psyche of the team. Having been a former captain of the West Indies, and a successful one at that, he understands a captain's needs. Moreover, Viv, as you know, has tremendous pride and faith in Caribbean cricket. His is a hands-on approach and his confidence is rubbing off on the boys, who respect, idolise and look up to him. The fact is that it is really nice having him around. I think we will be back among the top three.

Who will you say is the bowler who makes you concentrate hard, while batting?

Glenn McGarth has made me concentrate the hardest, but the best fast bowler I've played is Wasim Akram. The best spinner is Muralitharan.

Which would you say has been your most memorable on-field battle?

I've been involved in many interesting battles over the years. It's very hard to recall. But for now, let me keep it within in the space of the last two series. The one with Brett Lee in Trinidad, and I think I was on 94 for a very long time. The hour's spell of his before lunch on the final day is something that I'll always remember.

Which is your most cherished moment on the field thus far?

Many again in my 13 years of Test cricket. But as I told someone the other day, successfully chasing 418 in the fourth innings of a Test match against world champion Australia is the best thing in the world. It certainly eclipses the ones of the past. There are, of course, individual records like the 375 and the 501 not out, but then cricket is essentially a team game and this performance by a young West Indies team is something that I'll remember forever. In the years to come I'll be ringing up the guys to ask them if they remember that particular Test match, that magnificent run-chase. Especially after being down 0-3 in the four-Test series with Australia looking for a white-wash and we trying to cling on and the guys to put up that performance. It was fabulous.