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April 12, 2004
Close England 171 for 5 (Flintoff 37*, Jones 32*) trail West Indies 751 for 5 dec (Lara 400*, Jacobs 107*) by 580 runs
He's done it. Brian Lara has reclaimed his world record, ten years to the week since he overhauled Sir Garry Sobers's 365 on this very ground, and just six months after his mark was usurped by Australia's Matthew Hayden. What is more, Lara's phenomenal unbeaten 400 - only the tenth quadruple-century in all first-class cricket - has given West Indies the chance of an astonishing and crushing victory.
Lara's epic has underwritten the most improbable of comebacks. After that shambolic surrender in Barbados, West Indies had arrived in Antigua facing the prospect of an unprecedented home series whitewash. But mountainous totals can cause irreparable psychological damage to a team's performance. Needing the small matter of 552 just to avoid the follow-on, England's batsmen suffered a chronic bout of vertigo. They stumbled to 98 for 5, before Andrew Flintoff and the debutant Geraint Jones steadied the nerves with a cool unbeaten stand of 73. But with two full days remaining, and nearly 600 runs to play with, the follow-on is already a foregone conclusion.
After that, it all comes down to who wants it most, and if Lara's supreme example has any say in the matter, this match could turn into a walkover. No matter that the Antigua pitch is the most docile in the Caribbean - there is still enough life in the pitch and enough uncertainty in the opposition for Tino Best and Fidel Edwards to rattle England's cage over the next six sessions.
Even Lara had no choice but to do it the hard way, as he resumed his innings on 313 not out. He was given a particularly rough ride by Flintoff and Stephen Harmison, who took the third new ball inside the first half-hour of the day and immediately found a whole new dimension of pace and bounce. Lara wisely opted not to take on the many short deliveries that came his way, choosing instead to duck and weave and wait for the shine to come off the ball.
He became entrenched on 332 for a full 22 deliveries - the longest static spell of his innings - but on the stroke of drinks he prodded one off his hips to draw level with Graham Gooch's famous score at Lord's in 1990. At this stage of the morning, the power play was coming from Lara's resolute partner, Ridley Jacobs, who swatted Marcus Trescothick for a massive straight six to bring up his own half-century, and later cracked Flintoff over square leg for another maximum.
Given the brittleness of West Indies' tail, Lara was grateful for Jacobs's unstinting support, and he deservedly reached his third Test century in the penultimate over before lunch. Jacobs did have one immense stroke of good fortune on 87, however, when he was bowled all ends up by Michael Vaughan, only for the umpire to call no-ball. It was a clear sign to the Antigua faithful that it would be West Indies' day, and with Matthew Hoggard already off the field, Harmison had to be removed from the attack after receiving a third warning for running down the pitch in his follow-through. Admittedly, he didn't look too disheartened ...
Both Vaughan and Batty were regularly dabbed behind point for ones and twos, as Lara picked up the pace and rolled his way up through the list of the highest Test scores. Shortly after the second drinks break, he had overtaken Sobers for the second time in his career, to reach 368 not out.
But the nerves kicked back in as Lara reached the 370s - he held his head in his hands after mis-sweeping Batty out of the leg-side rough, and the entire ground shuddered when he flirted outside off stump and clipped the ground with his bat as Jones threw the ball up in mock celebration. Even though most of England's fans had switched sides for one day only, their players were in no mood for altruism. But eventually - gloriously - Lara overcame the jitters, calmly depositing Batty into the top tier of the stands to equal Hayden's 380, before sweeping the very next ball to the boundary to bring the Caribbean to a standstill.
His record had come from 546 balls, with 42 fours and four sixes, and as in 1994, play was held up as camera crews and well-wishers swarmed onto the pitch. Among them was Antigua's new prime minister, Baldwin Spencer, who hugged Lara in celebration just as Sobers had done a decade earlier.
Lara reached lunch on 390 not out, passing through a guard of honour in front of the pavilion as his team-mates lined up to congratulate him. Unsurprisingly, he was not finished there, and shortly after the break, he swept at Batty once again, this time for a single, to become the first man to break the 400 barrier in Tests. West Indies' total of 751 for 5 was also the highest ever conceded by England in a single Test innings, surpassing the 729 for 6 that Australia racked up at Lord's in 1930. Until the final ball of the morning session, it had also been the highest total without a bye, but Jones was unable to gather a leg-side delivery that zoomed away to the boundary.
Despite all that drama, most pundits agreed that this game had "draw" written all over it. But by tea, England had lost both their openers and West Indies scented blood. Vaughan was decidedly unlucky to be given out caught behind as Pedro Collins fizzed one past his outside edge, but for the woefully out-of-sorts Trescothick, there were no mitigating circumstances. A loose slash at Best and he plodded off to nurse a series aggregate of 78 runs in seven innings.
England desperately needed one of Nasser Hussain's typically killjoy innings, but before he could get his juices flowing, Best had whistled a fast, straight yorker through his defences (53 for 3). And though Mark Butcher responded with a string of delectable cover-drives to move along to another half-century, both he and a strangely unsettled Graham Thorpe fell in consecutive overs; Butcher to a peach of an inswinger from Collins, and Thorpe to another jittery pull off Edwards.
Flintoff played well within himself, and Jones's batsmanship lived up to its billing, as England clawed their way back towards respectability. But, had it not been for a crass error from Lara himself, who pouched a slash from Flintoff at slip only to drop the ball in mid-celebration, England's tail could already have been exposed. No matter. It was the merest of blips on the greatest of days. Singlehandedly, Brian Charles Lara has sparked his turbulent team back into life, and for that, the entire cricket-loving world should be grateful.
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