Rewind – When Lara ruled the world, again

Six months after losing his world record, The Prince of Port-of-Spain was back leading redemption over England to the small tune of 400 not out.

Photo credit: AFP
Photo credit: AFP

When Brian Lara broke Sir Garfield Sobers 36-year-old world record Test score in 1994, he achieved something all of us could only ever dream of. When he regained his own record ten years later, he achieved greatness.

It was the Easter weekend of 2004; War-torn Iraq was implicated in more conflict as it marked the first anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s fall as president, Nepal witnessed protestors lining the streets of Kathmandu pleading against the suspension of democracy and Phil Mickelson celebrated victory in the 68th Golf Masters at Augusta.

Meanwhile over in Antigua, Brian Charles Lara, a month shy of his 35th birthday, was once again being hailed as the saviour of West Indies cricket. Maybe it was fate. How else can you explain the freaky circumstances in which he regained the world record Test score? It was ten years to the week since he first achieved the feat, at the same ground and against the same opposition.

Much had changed in West Indian cricket since Lara made 375 in 1994. They entered that series a domineering presence under the guidance of Richie Richardson, however just a year down the line they began a steady decline towards the lower reaches of the cricketing hierarchy, which was now dominated by the Australians.

Revisiting a young Lara back in 1994 and it was already abundantly clear that here was a batsman destine for great things. Already four years into his international career, he was certainly no stranger to big scores. His maiden Test hundred, in early 1993, was a monumental 277 against a strong Australian attack in Sydney and his appetite for batting long and scoring heavily was already evident among those in the game.

This was eminently underlined during his epic 538-ball knock in Antigua, an innings that was compiled against a solid English attack including; Angus Fraser, Andrew Caddick, Chris Lewis and Phil Tufnell. It shot the talented Trinidadian to instant international recognition and fame, and just two months later he followed it up with another record marathon innings.

Batting for county side Warwickshire against Durham at Edgbaston, he belted an unbeaten 501. Twenty years on and Lara still remains the only player to pass 500 in the history of first-class cricket. An individual innings of half a thousand runs still defies belief, even in a day and age when batting usually tips the balance of fairness in the sport.

Lara’s highest Test score record of 375 would go on to last for 3,464 days before it was eventually broken by Australian Matthew Hayden. The powerful Queenslander contrived a brutal 380 against a weak Zimbabwean attack at Perth in October 2003.

The 2004 Brian Lara vintage was a markedly different proposition to the model of 1994. The classy southpaw had endured a decade of West Indian decline that was intertwined with board interferences, heavy expectation and several difficult stints as team captain and spokesman.

In early 2004, they came up against a quickly improving English outfit. Under the relatively new stewardship of Michael Vaughan, the English were at the start of their 18-month ascendency towards the top table of Test cricket.

After three heavy defeats in Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados, West Indies cricket was in complete chaos. Never had the Windies been whitewashed by the mother country, however this was now a realistic proposition heading into the fourth and final Test in Antigua. Furthermore it coincided with Lara being in the midst of a rare barren patch, with his six previous innings yielding just a combined 100 runs.

Stephen Harmison had the wood over Lara and the West Indians. His 7-12 had destroyed the home side for just 47 at Kingston, and he returned to contribute heavily to English success in Port-of-Spain, this time dismissing Lara for two single figure scores. While the West Indies captain improved his form at Bridgetown, hitting a pair of gutsy 30’s, he was still looking a far cry from the fluent strokemaker we had become to expect.

But that was all to change at the Antigua Recreation Ground. Lara would be no Easter bunny for Harmison and co on this occasion. Instead he would unfurl misery on a tired English attack and send the streets of the Antiguan capital into utter jubilation. In the process he became the first man to pass 400 in 127 years of Test cricket history.

***

Good Friday April 10th 2004 – Antigua Recreation Ground, St. Johns, Antigua

Brian Lara strolls out to bat at the fall of the first wicket as opener Darren Ganga is dismissed an hour into the fourth and final Test of the series with the score on 33.

He looks calm and determined, as if to say: “Today is gonna be my day!”

Greeting The Prince to the crease is his nemesis Harmison.

The wicket looks as flat as a pancake, typically with the Recreation Ground of late; England needs to strike while the ball is still hard and newish.

After an early optimistic LBW shout from Harmison, he has Lara nicking off fourth-ball. Or so he thought. So convinced is Harmison that the batsman has feathered through to the keeper, he doesn’t even turn around to check Darrell Hair’s finger go up before celebrating.

Hair, an umpire who would go on to surround himself with controversy in later years, is having none of it and duly rebuffs the bowler’s pleas.

Lara turns away and looks suspiciously back at a despondent Harmison and England’s chances of a second dismissal have disappeared.

Typically with such passages of play, the very next ball is put away through backward point. Lara is away with his first boundary.

He begins toying with the English bowlers, regularly cutting them to the vacant third man boundary before and after a rain delay scuppers the start of the second session until just after 4pm.

A fierce cut shot is slashed through the covers as Lara begins to show more authority in moving through the 30’s

He canters to a half century just moments later with a crushing pull through midwicket from his 61st delivery. Simon Jones is the bowler taking the punishment on this occasion.

As the twilight closes in on the picturesque Caribbean venue, play is abandoned for the first day with a relieved Lara trudging off with 86 unbeaten runs to his name.

 

Saturday April 11th 2004

A healthy crowd gathers into the ground as Lara begins day two greeting Matthew Hoggard with a dreamy off drive down the ground. One ball in and Lara moves into the 90’s.

He moves along to 98, bisecting midwicket with a clip off Hoggard and a 25th Test hundred follows shortly with a couple into the offside against the same bowler. Lara raises the bat with a brief smile – but you can tell he’s not nearly satisfied with just a hundred.

One hundred runs in and already comparisons are being made amongst the commentators of Lara’s previous record on this ground; there is a resounding sense that something special is once again unfolding.

With Lara on 127, this notion is briefly forgotten as Hoggard fires in a direct hit from the deep. For a moment it looks as though his innings will be cut short. Lara doesn’t show the mannerisms of a worried man, but direct hits are often closer than they first appear to the batsman…

Turns out he was in by an inch, maybe two inches.

Another Hoggard throw, this time much more wayward, brings Lara a bonus five runs and the two-hundred-run partnership is soon brought up between himself and Ramnaresh Sarwan, its shortly followed by 150 for the skipper.

Like the first ball of the morning, Lara starts the afternoon session by dispatching Hoggard to the fence, this time through point.

His first six of the innings is a supremely timed straight hit down the ground off spinner Gareth Batty. It was vintage Lara, all majestic high back lift and whistle clean follow-through – it pushes him into the 190’s.

Just two balls later and Lara is leaping for joy as a clip into the legside takes him past two hundred for the seventh time. This one comes off just 260 deliveries.

With England now a bowler short after a stomach bug struck down Hoggard; they are forced into using the military medium bowling of Marcus Trescothick, alongside the even friendlier offerings of captain Vaughan’s offspin.

Flat-pitch, dead rubber and a bowler light – if ever there were at time to make hay as a batsman, it was now.

And Lara duly delivers by blazing his second maximum – a near on replica of his previous effort against Batty.

The procession continues as he begins to sweep everything the spinners have to offer into submission. At one stage he his strike rate is over 150.0 while playing such strokes.

Two hundred and fifty comes and goes, with Batty bearing the brunt of the carnage once again. This time Lara shimmies down the track before backing away to leg and driving inside out over the covers.

He takes 12 off an Andrew Flintoff over including consecutive boundaries, the first a pull in front of square and the second a textbook square drive. Three hundred approaches.

Just seven runs shy, Lara blasts a fierce one through the fingertips of Batty. To call it a chance would be to shameful. It was simply too fierce.

A quick single brings 299. The great Martin Crowe once made 299, so did Sir Donald Bradman. Crowe never made a triple hundred. Bradman made two.

Lara makes sure he joins The Don; a second triple century is secured. Another single brings the elation. It takes him just 404 balls.

He celebrates a third hundred with a third six to finish the day – Vaughan the unfortunate soul this time around. 313 not out.

Photo Credit: AFP
Photo Credit: AFP

Easter Sunday April 12th 2004

An electric buzz enriches the ARG on this fine Sunday morning. Anticipation is high and the excitement is one of a nervous kind.

The 330’s are an intriguing beast in cricket.

Hanif Mohammad, Walter Hammond, Mark Taylor, Graham Gooch, Chris Gayle and Bradman – are all names who have never gone on beyond the 330’s. Perhaps there is a curse.

As Lara reaches the 330’s on this occasion he is greeted with a bouncer brigade from Harmison armed with the third new cherry.

As he breaks through the curse of the 330’s, he now has his sights set on 350. This is achieved 494 balls and 681 minutes into his innings with a couple through the onside.

The atmosphere begins to anticipate further. The locals can touch the tumbling records. Sir Leonard Hutton’s 364 is next in his sights. The field now has an ODI feel to it, there are ones and twos aplenty.

He goes past Sobers again, and then toys with Vaughan’s mind and the field once more.

Now the nerves begin to set in. On any other given day, he could well have nicked Batty to the keeper, on this day he missed it by a whisker.

It must then have been simply nervous energy/tension when he launches Batty downtown for a fourth six – 380 not out. He equals Hayden’s record.

A sweep, a beautiful sweep down to the fine leg boundary and HE’S DONE IT. Brian Charles Lara has retained his world record highest Test score.

The ARG erupts. Lara is greeted on the field by the great Sir Vivian Richards and Antiguan Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer.

He fist bumps with partner Ridley Jacobs, but this isn’t over, he wants 400.

England’s bowlers are understandably spent by now. Harmison is forced out of the attack after repeatedly running on the pitch, while Hoggard is back at the team hotel trying to convince the doctors he’s still unwell.

It is quite fitting in a way when Lara finally brings up his 400th run with another well timed sweep off the unfortunate Batty.

Five hundred and eighty two balls later and Brian Lara is 400 not out.

***

What happened next?

  • Upon reaching 400, Lara duly declared the innings in a bid get the game moving along, but despite following on, England clung on for a draw to win the series 3-0.
  • Lara received criticism from some quarters, including Australian captain Ricky Ponting – who claimed he was selfish in batting too long instead of pursuing victory for his side.
  • Lara would go on to play international cricket for another three years before he retired from all formats after he captained the WI during a home World Cup in early 2007.
  • His record of the highest Test score is still intact, with Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene since coming the closest to breaking it with 374 against South Africa in 2006.
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