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April 12, 2004
It's one of cricket's spookier stats that both the batsmen with two Test triple-centuries to their name strutted their stuff at the same ground each time - Don Bradman at Headingley in 1930 and 1934, and Brian Lara at the Recreation Ground in St John's, Antigua. And today The Prince managed something even The Don didn't - a quadruple-century in a Test match.
Ten years to the week since Lara trumped Garry Sobers to claim the highest Test score, he did it again in Antigua, this time grabbing the record back from another left-hander, Matthew Hayden. Going into this game Lara looked all of his 34 years, and more, as he contemplated the unthinkable - a whitewash by England which, in all probability, would have spelt the end of his captaincy and possibly even his career. But as the runs piled up, the years fell off: Lara's eyes shone brightly under his helmet, the frown-lines faded away, and he sprinted singles with the eagerness of a man in his sixth Test, not his 106th.
Lara never really looked like getting out, at least not once he'd survived that nasty moment before he was off the mark, when he may or may not have nicked Stephen Harmison through to Geraint Jones. There was a noise, and many umpires might have decided that it came from ball flicking bat - but Darrell Hair didn't (how Michael Vaughan must have wished it had been Hair rather than Aleem Dar at the business end when he was given out today). Apart from that, there was a close run-out call, and a loopy top-edged sweep in the 290s, as the England bowlers toiled without ever threatening to recapture the magic of Tests One, Two and Three.
This monumental innings had a lot to do with regaining pride - Lara's own, and that of West Indian cricket. Whitewash avoided, blue-riband record reclaimed ... all must be fine with the men in maroon caps? Well, no, actually. It mustn't be forgotten, amid all the euphoria, that West Indies have lost the series badly, and that this match is being played out on a pitch which would have had some bowlers getting themselves pulled out of the firing line rather faster than Harmison managed. West Indies' young batsmen still aren't producing the goods (Lara is 35 next month, and the other centurymaker Ridley Jacobs is 36). But for now, anyway, the good news is that Lara's back, the pride's back, and West Indies will be much harder to beat in the upcoming one-dayers, and on their tour of England too.
One group which must have been watching carefully were the marketing men. When Lara broke the first-class record in 1994, there was a certain amount of angst that his score - 501 - had already been trademarked by Levi's. Maybe the snake-oil salesmen had a quick chat at lunchtime, when Lara already had 390, to note the neater numbers. Whatever, look out for the new "400" range, coming soon to a sports shop near you.
Steven Lynch is editor of Wisden Cricinfo.
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