Pakistan v West Indies, 2nd Test, Multan, 3rd day November 21, 2006

Everything is illuminated

The few spectators who came down today didn't know it, but they actually had a choice of two games to watch at the Multan Cricket Stadium



Brian Lara's 34th Test hundred was a rollicking affair © Getty Images

The few spectators who came down today didn't know it, but they actually had a choice of two games to watch at the Multan Cricket Stadium. One was the second Test between Pakistan and the West Indies, where the tourists were pushing for control against a disciplined attack. Aggressive seven-two fields, with three slips, were set for the batsmen and Pakistan clawed back some ground by taking four wickets. On this track, that many in a session takes some doing and with still a lead and Dwayne Bravo in, lower-order to follow, ostensibly the game hinged.

But the other game spectators could choose to watch was Brian Lara having a lark. The decision proved a no-brainer. At 37, after 16 international seasons, 129 Tests and 33 hundreds, there shouldn't remain much room for surprise from Lara. We know he's a genius, that he moulds sessions and games as he desires, that there isn't yet a shot in cricket he can't play, that no spinner, no tear away fast bowler or medium-pacer can claim to have his number. There isn't a type of innings he hasn't played: monstrous epics, match-winning hands, gritty match-saving ones (a more recent addition to the collection), lone ranger, last man blazing classics. Yet he still has the capacity to leave you awestruck.

Danish Kaneria, pasted by Lara across Kingston, Bridgetown and Lahore, said before this Test he intended to go back to the drawing board to combat the man. Three balls to him, the last of which was deposited over long-on for six and Kaneria needed to go back again. Thereafter, cruelty after cruelty was heaped upon him though it isn't often that the manner it is meted in is so elegant and dapper. The pace of assault was harsh, never the conception.

Kaneria didn't bowl poorly; he troubled Daren Ganga; got the ball to do funny things, made it to drift, to land on the spot. But to Lara, it became a football, tossed up by a child. One over, he twice jumped out and drove over extra cover for four, before sweeping fine for another. Kaneria got Ganga next over, Lara upped the ante the one after. The people behind the long-on fence tried to catch another ball, after which Lara stood up and cut through covers.

The apogee came the next time they met, however, a union that had already ceded four boundaries and two sixes to the West Indian. The turf then became a dance floor, Lara its Travolta. Over six balls, he jigged up the pitch, went back once and then danced down thrice more for four, six, six, six and four, all between the straight and square leg. More than the twenty-six runs, the footwork should be recorded. Sixty Lara runs from 29 Kaneria deliveries in that period was murder, nothing short.

Kaneria couldn't even claim special attention. Around the wicket, Abdul Razzaq gave Lara a platform from which his off-side game was shown off. Around point, the grass was burnt by drives, cuts, whippy flicks and glides. Having hit two boundaries from Razzaq's first over of the day, Lara hit three more in his sixth, the first bringing up a 48-ball fifty. For Pakistan's first-change, a short, useless spell thus ended. As a fourth hundred in four Tests against Pakistan approached, he slowed down, though that is relative. Having been 92 off 63 balls, he eventually got the landmark off 77, the fifth man to score a century before lunch. Shivnarine Chanderpaul's 100th Test stood, typically, overshadowed.

After lunch, the two games finally melted into one, for not even Lara could continue like this. His ravenous appetite for runs and his side's need for a lead happily converged. Mohammad Hafeez annoyed him as a fly might an elephant and eventually even that was nullified. The shots came, not as often, but regular enough to sustain a run-rate of fractionally under four through the day; no batsmen could manage three on the first two days. Even Kaneria was later spared, the tiniest victory found in two maidens to Lara late in the day.

Few wrongs in cricket have been righted as emphatically as Lara's record in Pakistan during this series. Before the first Test at Lahore, he hadn't passed 44 in four matches, an almighty aberration erased through two hundreds and a fifty. If there exist few reasons, as the legend goes, to remain in Multan, on November 21, 2006, the dust, heat, beggars and graves for which the city is famous, were all forgotten amidst one man's singular charge to make it, briefly, the most enchanting venue in the world.

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Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo