West Indies cricket legend Brian Lara was in Saint Lucia last week during the island’s celebration of its 39th Independence Anniversary. As the special guest speaker at the Prime Minister’s Independence Ball on February 21st, the former West Indies Captain was singing the praises of Saint Lucia, speaking about the friendships he has made on the island and why Saint Lucia has a special place in his heart.
“What is there not to love about Saint Lucia? I have been coming to Saint Lucia for many, many years,” Lara told the audience. “It is only seven months ago that I boarded a boat and went down the coastline and actually confronted the Pitons for the first time. It was a wonderful trip and I remember going into the coves and seeing the different fishing villages and the little resorts. One thing I gather from my trip was that Saint Lucia still belonged to Saint Lucia . . . You have the natural trails, you have the Pitons, the world renowned Sulphur Springs in Soufriere. When you get to Castries, you have all the different places and you have Pigeon Point which I have been to many times for the jazz festival.”
Lara also revealed that he was a huge fan of the Gros Islet Street Party.
“Gros Islet on a Friday night is one of my best spots,” he said, “and of course Beausejour which is the home of a couple hundreds that I have made in my career and in terms of strike rate, I think that cricket ground I would love to play there more often than not.”
Lara also paid tribute to Francis Mindoo Phillip who died in 2006. He read a short bio on Mindoo, explaining that Saint Lucia did the right thing by renaming the park in Marchand after Mindoo Phillip, who had a colourful cricket career.
Mindoo Phillip was recognized around the region as a fine batsman, and was a fixture on the Windward Islands team, however he was never selected to the West Indies team.
He played in only one international match – for Windward Islands against Australia on 26 May 1955. On his retirement from cricket, Mindoo stayed on at the park as curator. He was also a football referee and a national cricket coach, a selector for the national team, an umpire and President of the Saint Lucia Umpires Association. He was also President of the Marchand Football League.
“Mindoo was one of your island’s greatest sports personalities . . .,” explained Lara. “I actually met Mr. Phillip and when I met him Victoria Park was not Victoria Park, it was the Mindoo Phillip Park and quite rightly so. I was only 18 years old and I came here to play for the West Indies against Pakistan. Mindoo said to me ‘Young man I understand you are the captain’. I said ‘yes’. He said ‘if you win the toss bat first, because this pitch is a batting paradise’. Well, I lost the toss and Pakistan batted for two days!”
Lara then turned to speak about a Saint Lucian who did in fact make the West Indies team, Daren Sammy.
“It was only in 2004 when the West Indies was having a disastrous tour of England. I was captain of that team and a very disenchanted individual at the time and we picked a one day team to represent us in a tri-nation cup and the name Daren Sammy popped up and I had no clue who he was. Playing for the West Indies I didn’t have the opportunity to play much first class cricket, so Daren Sammy was actually forced on me. We lost that tournament and we went into the champions trophy a few weeks later and again I sat with the selectors and it was a very short tournament and the way we picked is we chose 11 and three reserves.”
Lara said at that time he demanded that Daren Sammy be among the reserves chosen.
“What I found about Daren Sammy when I met him for the first time is that I had never seen anyone so enthusiastic about playing for West Indies,” said Lara. “Daren reminded me of the days when I first started and I had to share a dressing room with Sir Vivian Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes. I mean at that time I was burning with fire just to be in that atmosphere and Daren Sammy reminded me of that.”
Lara went on: “I remember one of the matches we were playing in and one of the players even before he signalled for a towel and water Daren Sammy was on the boundary line with it. That is the sort of individual that you would want around any dressing room. We went on and we won that tournament and I looked at Daren and I said you know what, you are definitely gonna be a part of any West Indians team that I am picking in the future. Daren Sammy did not just go on to be a part of any West Indian team that I chose in the future, he went on to become captain and maybe one of the most successful captains we have had in the last 30 years in West Indies Cricket. Two World Cup wins!”
Lara said he still had questions about the way Daren Sammy exit from West Indies cricket was handled.
“I am very friendly with some of the present selectors and they still can’t answer me how can a guy win a World Cup and can’t see the team the next time they made the field. That is impossible to understand,” said Lara. “Today, like many years ago when you renamed Victoria Park to Mindoo Phillip Park I think you’ve done yourself a great service by changing Beausejour to Daren Sammy cricket ground. It is a wonderful bestowment to maybe one of your most wonderful sportsmen you have had thus far.”
Lara also took the opportunity to thank Prime Minister Chastanet and his wife Raquel Duboulay Chastanet for inviting him to be the guest speaker at the Independence Ball.