Australia v West Indies, 3rd Test, Adelaide, 1st day November 25, 2005

Fascinating fightback

Brian Lara produced an intriguing mix of battling and brilliance © Getty Images

As Brian Lara sweated over his 31st Test century there were moments of bad misjudgment and flashes when it could have been his record-breaking 1994. Eleven years later there was no new world mark. That should come on day two as he needs only 12 runs to pass Allan Border's 11,174 after an unbeaten double-century in a wonderfully successful solo rescue mission.

Entering like royalty with a standing ovation from the Adelaide members, Lara became the second man to break 11,000 and he fought, grabbed, crashed and swatted to ensure a disastrous tour of Australia, which is almost certainly his last, finished with something memorable. Poor umpiring decisions have been a major reason for his difficulties as the series was lost in two matches, but Lara did not complain and set about rectifying his personal situation with an innings most geniuses wouldn't have bothered with.

Lara deserved the hours of applause - the spectators were literally up and down all day - and he played patiently when not at his best before loosening with a second fifty from 52 deliveries. The pace remained constant throughout the rest of an entertaining afternoon and by stumps he had collected 57% of West Indies' 7 for 352.

Playing and missing at the start and finish, Lara made a horrible early mistake in padding up to Andrew Symonds, easing the imbalance of previous incorrect decisions. The slowing of reflexes and focussing of the eyes expected from a 36-year-old also showed as he flinched at short balls from Symonds and Glenn McGrath in the 120kph range, and on occasions he failed to pick Stuart MacGill's wrong-un out of the hand or off the pitch.

Sometimes the bat face closed too quickly and on others it was not fast enough, but then he would break free with a full flowing square drive, like the one off Brett Lee to go to 96, or unfurl a sweet blast through cover, or combat Shane Warne and MacGill with surges of astounding one-handed sweeps. His application was incredible as he produced an intriguing mix of battling and brilliance. A wicket looked close at many points but it was a result few people not wearing green caps wanted. He deserves to be not out when the innings closes.

The half-century came in slightly more than two hours and his pulled boundary to bring up his century was a miscue, an error he corrected in raising his 200 with a four straight from the middle. Warne shook Lara's hand as he posted three figures and when he looked to the sky to reflect he mouthed "thank you". There was similar sentiment towards this small man with a tiny moustache from the supporters, especially when his top-order team-mates had tumbled after winning the toss.

Lee had three wickets before lunch and Symonds arrived with a swinging display that gave hope he could make useful contributions at this level. Starting with four maidens, he remained tight and cleverly deceived Shivnarine Chanderpaul for his second Test wicket. Symonds, who switched to offspin after tea, was upset not to have Lara lbw with his first ball and then used a lot of effort trying to cut off his square boundaries at deep point.

Adelaide has been fortunate to host two of Lara's Test fifties, a couple of his centuries and a brutal limited-overs hundred. This was not an innings of all-encompassing beauty but it was a fabulous fightback from a series of individual and team anguish. The performance the Australians had been wary of and the rest of the world had waited for through the Super Series and the first two Tests had finally arrived. The next stop is the Border crossing.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo