Top Performer - Brian Lara November 21, 2006

Pirate of the Caribbean

Jamie Alter on a sensational Brian Lara innings at Multan, one that changed the very complexion of the match and series



Brian Lara: someone, according to Rahul Dravid, who you can admire but can't copy © Getty Images

There were two distinct, contrasting and unforgettable features on Danish Kaneria's face during the third day of the Multan Test: the first, a passionate war cry meshed into a relieved, almost endearing, silence after he removed Chris Gayle to break a frustrating 162-run opening stand; and the second, a numbed look of shock and pain after Brian Lara thumped him for 26 runs in one over.

Each of those expressions were synonymous with the way the day panned out for Pakistan. With Gayle gone, Pakistan had seemingly found a crack in the door from which they could barge in, but behind that door lay a guard dog - ravenous, fierce, and not about to let the intruders get in. A 77-ball century, before lunch, was testament to that.

Lara has many fortes, but his ability to dominate spinners, especially those of the wrist variety, has been a hallmark. He was particularly explosive against Kaneria, ransacking 60 off 29 balls. His first boundary was against him, on the 11th delivery he faced, as he charged down the track and lofted the bowler into the sight-screen. Five overs later, he picked up three fours in a row off Kaneria: a googly around off stump was lofted inside-out over extra-cover; a flatter one outside off was sliced over the same region; and another flat ball on leg stump was swept past short fine leg.

A six over long-on and square cut later, came that over, the 84th. Ball one, flat on the stumps: down the ground for four. Ball two: pushed to cover for no run. Ball three, short outside leg stump: pulled over mid-wicket for six. Ball four, tossed up: lofted over long-on for six more. Ball five, a length ball: smoked straight over the sigh-screen, the biggest yet. Ball six, a full toss: hammered over mid-wicket for four. Bye bye Kaneria with the old ball, hello Umar Gul with the shiny one.

Gul was impressive on the day, not allowing a single boundary to Lara. Abdul Razzaq couldn't say the same: he was picked for seven fours, including three in one over. Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez were called on to send down some offspin, and Lara, despite having a bit of trouble against the ball spinning away, picked up sixes off each.

In a pleasing, somewhat absurd manner, the beautiful back-lift, the shuffling, and the exaggerated front-foot stretch to smother the spin was not always on evidence. It's not that you really missed it, for Lara treated all to an innings of such belligerence and authority that it made you wonder how he seemed to be getting better with age.

He says - on his form before this series
"Definitely this was not my best batting year before this series. In 2006 I didn't do as well as I wanted. At least in the second half of the year I got going. But every time I go out, I want to do well. I still have that energy, that desire to go out and do well."

On his targeting Kaneria during that over
"Nothing really was going through my mind for that over. I was just thinking about the amount of flight he was giving the ball and trying to come out and get to the pitch of it. [With a mischievous smile] Then it was just to make sure I cleared mid-on and mid-off."

And on this innings...
"It's not finished yet first of all and I don't like rating innings anyway. The fact of the matter is that we were set up by Ganga and Gayle. Someone had to get a big score and I was quite happy to do that. I enjoyed it and hopefully I can come back tomorrow and continue to put the West Indies in a good position."

They say - Rahul Dravid, on catching Lara's inning on TV
"Along with Sachin, Lara is one of the best player of my generation. I actually watched a bit of his innings and his play against spinners was sensational. He is somebody you can admire but can't copy."

Jamie Alter is editorial assistant of Cricinfo