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In June 2003 Wisden Asia Cricket looked back at six of Brian Lara's best innings
In June 2003 Wisden Asia Cricket looked back at six of Brian Lara's best innings. Journalists who watched those great knocks relieved the moments.
Brian Lara would be more than happy to look back at his best knocks
© Getty Images
The centuries don't stack up in Lara's case - 20, against Tendulkar's 33 and Waugh's 30 - but if there was ever a case of parts being greater than the sum, there can't be a more compelling one. He has failed more often than most greats, but oscillating between godliness and impoverishment, he has sculpted some of the most alluring masterpieces of modern times.
Once again, this year, the Australians brought out the best in him: the 122 at Bridgetown was a jewel and his twinkling 60 at St John's contributed more substantially than the scorebook would show to the historic last-innings chase by West Indies. But so glittering is his oeuvre that when we, with generous help from cricket writers who have shared our pleasure of watching him, sat down to count his best, his efforts in this series missed out. The next task was easy: we asked six writers who were there to relive the experience.
All the right moves
by Tony Cozier
"Lara launched an immediate assault on the dumbstruck bowlers"
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Every other over, it seemed, the electronic scoreboard flashed a psychedelic message announcing some new batting standard. Yet, in a match in which bowlers toiled 403.2 overs for a paltry return of 16 wickets (there were three run-outs) and 1226 runs were amassed, one performance utterly outshone all others.
In his fifth Test, Brian Lara, then a neat 23-year-old, fashioned an innings of 277 fit to rank among the finest ever seen at the game's highest level.
Its statistical substance was imposing enough. It was the highest individual score in all Tests between the teams, the third-highest ever recorded against Australia, the fourth-highest in all Tests by a West Indian.
When Lara arrived in the middle of a Sydney Cricket Ground where West Indies had been beaten in eight of their 11 previous Tests and won only once, 62 distant years earlier, a potential crisis of confidence faced his team.
They were 31 for 2 after spending nearly two days in the field as Australia compiled 508 for 9 declared. Only five days before, they had swiftly capitulated in the second Test in Melbourne. It was a stern test of character.
With the crucial support of his self-assured captain, Richie Richardson, and encouraged by a pitch he later described as "a batsman's paradise", Lara launched an immediate assault on the dumbstruck bowlers.
It was only interrupted by repeated breaks for drizzling rain and dim light under the grey cloud cover that shrouded the ground throughout his glorious stay. Finally, after almost eight hours acting as cannon fodder, Australia's bowlers saw the back of their tormentor through the only way that seemed possible. He was run out by Damien Martyn's pick-up-and-return to the keeper after being sent back by Carl Hooper on his call for a single to cover.
They did have one chance to remove him earlier, Steve Waugh unable to hold his stinging cut off Merv Hughes when he was on 172; but no more than half-a-dozen of the 372 deliveries Lara received caused him bother.
Overused statistics are often an inadequate measure of sporting achievement but, in this instance, a few were pertinent. Lara rattled along at 72.4 runs per 100 balls, 35 runs an hour and his 38 boundaries in every direction represented 54 per cent of his score. On the second day, while he added 154 and stroked 23 fours, his three partners managed 74 and five fours between them.
There was something for everyone in this extraordinary display. Australian captain Allan Border observed: "For sheer crisp hitting of the ball into the gaps, it was as good as you'd ever see". Rohan Kanhai, himself a crisp hitter in his day and now West Indies coach, called it "one of the greatest innings I've ever seen" and neatly summed up what everyone had seen: "Back foot, front foot, timing, placement, against spin bowlers and fast bowlers alike. He was marvellous."
It was Lara's first Test century, a prelude to many more including his Test record 375 against England just over a year later. But it remains my favourite.
Tony Cozier is a well known West Indian broadcaster and writer
The collector's item
by Fazeer Mohammed
It is doubtful whether Brian Lara has ever played better than on January 22-23, 1994, when he single-handedly led Trinidad and Tobago to a first-innings lead over Jamaica in their Red Stripe Cup fixture at the Queen's Park Oval in Trinidad.
He has compiled much larger scores in front of thousands of spectators on the world stage, but his virtuoso performance in front of a couple of hundred diehards will live long in the memory of those who had the privilege of seeing it.
Replying to Jamaica's first-innings total of 206, Lara came to the crease with the score at 38 for 2 on the first evening. When he was last out after lunch on the second day, he had scored a staggering 180 in 269 minutes off 267 balls with 24 fours and two sixes. While he was at the crease, just 19 runs came off the bats of his eight partners as Trinidad and Tobago were eventually dismissed for 237.
Lara added 105 for the eighth wicket with Rajindra Dhanraj, in which the legspinner's contribution was 11. No other batsman got beyond four while the captain was at the crease, yet his marshalling of the strike was so incredibly efficient that the runs continued to flow freely off his flashing blade.
A decent bowling attack comprising Courtney Walsh, Franklyn Rose, Nehemiah Perry and Robert Haynes was powerless to stop the master left-hander. When the field was brought in to deny him singles at the end of overs, he audaciously chipped the ball over the infield. When the Jamaicans patrolled the boundaries, they were still left gasping at his awesome combination of sublime timing and surgical precision.
One stroke - where he advanced down the pitch and hoisted Walsh over extra-cover for six - typified his dominance. The masterclass ended only because he seemed to think he had done enough and was caught at long-on off Haynes, as he went for one big hit too many. Given the ease with which he dictated proceedings, a double-century was there for the taking. But Lara wanted to win, and Trinidad and Tobago did that, by just three wickets with the captain contributing only 23 in the second innings - just to show that he was mortal.
Fazeer Mohammed is a cricket commentator and writer based in Trinidad
For the ages, for everyone
by BC Pires
The scoreboard says it all
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Everyone falls into the trap, including your humble narrator. Like everyone invited to write for this feature, I wanted Barbados or at least Sydney, the innings Lara himself rates his best and the one after which he named his daughter. But the 277 was gone without me even hearing about it, like a BBC job, and I had to settle for Antigua after an email glitch allowed Peter Roebuck to dive to his left behind the wicket and snatch Barbados before it could carry to me at first slip.
My recollection of the 375 accordingly began almost grudgingly; but the magnificence of Lara's achievement soon had me seeing it differently. Yes, it was a flat pitch on which two other centuries were also scored in a drawn, otherwise forgettable match; and, yes, the English bowling was not the most fearsome in history, not even England's bowling history. All that only serves to underline the act was all the more one of will: it was always more mental than monumental.
A handful of other batsmen since have made us pause and look away from our work; but not for long. The real magnificence of Lara's 375 is assessable only when we remember the will to conquer itself that drew us in irresistibly. With time, and with Lara playing even more gripping innings, it has become easy for the cricket world to forget how closely connected to the 375 we all were.
We forget how we moved from Day One, when it was merely a splendid batting performance, into Day Two, when, in the morning, we began to wonder if it could be done and, by afternoon, had cleared our desks to be part of something we would tell our grandchildren about. We forget the intense nervous excitement that bound us all when we awoke on Day Three, with the anticipation of one of our own achieving greatness. The 375 remains the cricket equivalent of the assassination of John F Kennedy, except it is a glorious rather than a tragic moment we all claim. Though it was the single most unifying moment in cricket history, we forget the rush of exhilaration around the planet in the moment he achieved it. We even forget that multi-coloured, kaleidoscopic wheel illustrating the spectacular strokes he played all around the ground.
More than anything else, we forget how hard we worked to make the moment our own. We forget how many people we told about what we were doing when he did it and how our eyes followed the ball to the boundary like no one else's, even as we rose all together in joy like a global Mexican wave.
I did my best to involve myself in the moment: from the door of the dressing room I sent him a note suggesting what he might say when the cameras came, namely that the real achievement for him was that, from then on, no matter what happened in his career, his name would always be connected to the great Garry Sobers. If he had said it, I would have told no one the words were mine; I would have been glad just to know I played a part. My note never even reached him. It got lost in the torrent of goodwill and champagne. Yet, even now, with only a few minutes' reflection, I know I played a part in it, as you know you did. This is what the 375 still means to Lara, me and us.
BC Pires writes for the Trinidad and London Guardians and the London Sunday Observer
An epic grandeur
by Vaneisa Baksh
Lara lashed out against the Australians
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What was Brian Lara carrying on March 14, 1999 to the foreboding Sabina pitch that had bid his men a dread good night at 37 for 4 the evening before?
Lara was captain of a team that had just lost six Tests straight, in the preceding one sinking to an all-time low of 51 all out. He was a captain on a two-Test probation. He was in Jamaica, where the crowd was openly hostile to him because he had replaced their countryman Courtney Walsh as captain. He was facing Australia, fighting for the beloved Sir Frank Worrell Trophy, no mere trinket in the West Indian psyche.
And things were so bad that at the end of the first day's play, though Australia had only put up 256 despite a hundred from Steve Waugh, commentators were cynically wondering if West Indies could avoid the follow-on.
It wasn't just cricket on his shoulders as he strode out to the crease the next morning. It was the weight of the West Indies. As the day unfolded, his shoulders broadened, slowly and carefully at first (his first 50 came in 140 balls), and the warrior in him advanced and was recognised.
Lara in full cry is always a breathtaking spectacle, and the battle that day was nothing short of epic. Like all West Indians, my heart pounded erratically: would this be another slaughter? But his early morning guard gave way to full dominance over Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill after lunch. When he hit Warne to long-on for six to bring up his 60, the crowd went wild, having long forgotten that this was the man who'd ousted their darling Walsh as captain.
The fever was still high by the time he hit the ball to Justin Langer at short leg and took a single to get to his century. It was like a pressure cooker just exploding; the pitch was flooded with joyous supporters, even before the television umpire could confirm that he was home before Langer's return.
Walsh, the big man that he is, came out onto the field to embrace his captain, looking like a giant mother protectively clutching her child from the crushing crowd. The emotional moments were many - back-to-back sixes against MacGill, four consecutive fours against Greg Blewett - but for me, the most inspiring came after he fell to a wicked Glenn McGrath snorter, that took him on the side of the head. It was numbing to all, but he rose.
He rose from the blow and drove McGrath to cover for a four that resonated with the ring of steel. For that grandeur of spirit alone, the 213 remains one of my privileged Lara memories, evoking as it did memories of a once grander time.
Vaniesa Baksh is a writer based in the West Indies
The thrill of the chase
by Peter Roebuck
"like an actor who had played drama, tragedy and comedy in successive performances and triumphed in them all"
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The innings is illuminated by its context. Before the series began, Lara had been as close to disgrace as any cricketer can be who has not offended a steward at Lord's. West Indies had lost heavily in South Africa, hardly putting up a fight. Then they were trounced by Australia in the first match of this series. Lara appeared incapable of stopping the slide. At last he responded by scoring 213 in Jamaica, an innings that caught the Australians off guard and allowed the hosts to square the series. It was the start of an astonishing sequence of innings from Lara. His range was extraordinary, like an actor who had played drama, tragedy and comedy in successive performances and triumphed in them all.
Australia dominated the opening three days of the Third Test. Steve Waugh set the tone with a rugged 199 as Australia scored 490. West Indies subsided to 98 for 6 before the fightback began with a partnership of 153 between Sherwin Campbell and Ridley Jacobs.
Next day, West Indies continued their resurgence by bowling the Australians out for 146, leaving a target of 308 for victory. When three early wickets fell that fourth evening, it seemed the cause was lost. Overnight Lara was two not out.
West Indies' position continued to deteriorate on Day Five till they were 105 for 5. Now Lara made his move, slipping through the gears, pressing hard upon the accelerator, taking the corners as fast as he dared and hoping that colleagues could survive in his slipstream. Jimmy Adams obliged, defending obdurately as the score mounted. Meanwhile, the ground was filling as news spread that West Indies were putting up a fight and that Lara was still batting.
Gradually the tension mounted and the noise rose as spectators lived and died with every ball. West Indies suffered further setbacks and Curtly Ambrose arrived at the crease with 60 runs needed and only two wickets left. Ambrose rose to the occasion, defending doggedly for 82 minutes. Meanwhile Lara drove and swept and pulled and calculated, a vibrant figure, a flashing blade and a ticking brain.
Australia surged again, fighting to save the day. Lara edged and his head recoiled in relief as the ball eluded Ian Healy's gloves. Ambrose fell and Courtney Walsh appeared, a lanky, improbable figure and not at all a reassuring sight for thousands of supporters, let alone an exhausted captain needing a further seven runs for victory - so near and so very far away! Somehow Walsh kept out a searing inswinging yorker, the ball of the series, and then the Australians must have suspected the game was up. A wide followed, and a no-ball as the bowlers strained mind and muscle. Walsh endured, Lara took strike and smashed the winning runs through cover. Only in this moment of victory did he show any emotion, not that he had much choice as team-mates hugged him. As Wisden put it, he had "guided his team to victory as though leading the infirm through a maze".
Former Somerset captain Peter Roebuck is a leading cricket writer
The will to power
by Charlie Austin
When visiting teams touch down at the Katanayake International Airport in Colombo, Muttiah Muralitharan, Sri Lanka's spin wizard extraordinaire, dominates their thoughts. Figure out a way of blunting the world's best offspinner and you are two-thirds of the way to winning. Most settle for defensive strategies, preferring to block or kick him away, hoping that the umpires look kindly upon the pretence of bat tucked behind pad.
The approach of Brian Lara was entirely different - positive and audacious, Lara wanted to dominate. It was a classic contest: a great bowler versus a great batsman. And it all came to a head during the third and final Test at the Sinhalese Sports Club in December 2001, where Lara scored 221 out of West Indies' first-innings total of 390, and then waltzed to 130 in the second innings just for good measure.
Lara did not merely survive, he sang a song of supremacy. While others soft-stepped nervously, Lara mastered Muralitharan. It was not wild calypso, more calm reggae. While his team-mates floundered, Lara decoded every variation in Muralitharan's wide repertoire. Offbreak, arm-ball, drifter, topspinner - Lara picked them all from the wrist. He danced down the track, lofting imperiously down the ground. He swept clinically and cut quite viciously.
It was all in vain, but he did everything in his power to avoid West Indies' 21st defeat in their 25th Test overseas. He monopolised the strike, pinching singles so that his team-mates - top order and tail both - were not exposed. At the other end, it was no cruise either. Chaminda Vaas was in the best form of his life, swinging and swerving his way to 14 wickets in the match. Both came away frustrated, particularly Muralitharan, who for the first time in his career really had no answers.
Charlie Austin is Sri Lanka editor of Wisden Cricinfo
© Wisden Asia Cricket
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