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The world record that nearly wasn't

Twenty years ago this week, Brian Lara became Test cricket's highest scorer, but he almost didn't make it

Martin Williamson

April 19, 2014

Comments: 33 | Text size: A | A

Brian Lara pulls Chris Lewis to break the world record Test score, West Indies v England, 5th Test, St John's, Antigua, April 18, 1994
Brian Lara pulls Chris Lewis to break the world record Test score... and dislodges his off-side bail in doing so © Getty Images

Twenty years ago this week, one of cricket's most famous landmarks was broken in Antigua when Brian Lara pulled Chris Lewis for four and in so doing passed Garry Sobers' record of 365 for the highest Test innings. As Lara removed his helmet and raised his arms to the heavens he was almost immediately engulfed by supporters, and then Sobers stiffly walked to the middle to offer his personal congratulations.

"While there was understandable joy, there was no real surprise among many of his countrymen at the left-hander's achievement," Wisden noted. "[There was] simply the feeling that his inevitable date with destiny had arrived rather more suddenly than expected."

Lara's genius had been apparent from an early age. Aged 15 he had rattled off seven hundreds in a senior school season. In his second first-class match, aged 19, he made a five-hour 92 against a Barbados attack including Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner. His international career had to wait, thanks in part to the vagaries of the West Indies selectors, until Viv Richards and Gordon Greenidge retired and created a permanent vacancy which he immediately filled. His 277 in Sydney in January 1993 raised his profile massively and is still regarded as one of the great Test innings.

When England arrived in the Caribbean in early 1994 the era of West Indies' complete dominance had ended but they were still a formidable side, all the more so at home. Few expected England to seriously compete in, let alone win, the series, and heavy defeats in the first three Tests raised the prospect of another whitewash.

But a remarkable and morale-boosting win at fortress Bridgetown in the fourth Test gave England renewed belief to set up the series finale at the St John's Recreation Ground.

On what was predicted - rightly - to be a featherbed track, West Indies won the toss but within half an hour were 12 for 2. "When we got a couple of early wickets, I started thinking, 'This is going all right'," Jack Russell England's wicketkeeper, told the BBC. "We'll knock this lot over and won't be out here for too long."

Jimmy Adams joined Lara and England's hopes evaporated in the heat. The pair effortlessly added 179, of which Adams made 59 before becoming the third and last wicket of the day. With Keith Arthurton, Lara put on 183 for the fourth wicket; Arthurton's share was only 47.

At 374 for 4 England's bowlers were wilting and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, five years younger than Lara, at 19, joined him to put them to the sword in a fifth-wicket stand of 219 extending through four rain interruptions. "[Lara] kept the same pace throughout his innings," said Graham Thorpe. "There didn't seem to be a single risk taken in it."

"I bowled my first over and was putting my jumper back on when Mike Atherton, the England captain, came over to me and said: 'Brian's batting well today, he might break the record'" England left-arm spinner Phil Tufnell

In the final session of the second day Lara passed 300 and the realisation dawned to the wider public that on such a pluperfect pitch against a weary attack, breaking Sobers' record was a reality.

"You begin to wonder where it was all going to end," Angus Fraser told the BBC. "By that stage you have tried all your tactics and your variety, it has not really got you anywhere and it begins to boil down to if he will make a mistake." By the close Lara was on 320, only 46 short of the history books.

The media pressure overnight was intense and by the start of the third day the Rec, always a vibrant cauldron of enthusiasm and noise, was packed to the rafters and buzzing. Extra reporters and TV cameras were present and every vantage point, inside and outside the compact venue, was taken.

Lara was one of the calmest West Indians around. "He was probably the most focused I have seen him," Chanderpaul said. "He mentioned the record while he was in the dressing room and he was getting a lot of phone calls about it, but he always remained focused."

Brian Lara is swamped by security guards after breaking Gary Sobers' world record, West Indies v England, 5th Test, St John's, Antigua, April 18, 1994
Lara takes the plaudits © Getty Images

Unsurprisingly, Lara had a disturbed night. "I woke up, and couldn't get back to sleep for nerves," he said, admitting that at 4am he had been standing in front of a mirror practising his shots. He played nine holes of golf early in the morning to occupy time and relax, and when play resumed he was tired and for the first time he looked to be having to work for every run.

A wretchedly slow outfield did not help, sure-fire boundaries often becoming run twos. "As the enormity of it all combined with his natural weariness, he needed shepherding through the final stages by the impressively mature Chanderpaul," Wisden noted.

At one point Lara was becalmed on 347 for more than 20 minutes and Fraser beat his outside edge with successive balls. "I don't suppose I can call you a lucky bleeder when you've got 347," he muttered. Lara smiled.

England plodded on, aware there was little they could do and long since relegated to a bit-part role. The field stayed back until Lara cover-drove a boundary off Andy Caddick to bring him level with Sobers.

Lewis was bowling next at Lara and Phil Tufnell said he ambled over and told him to make him work for the record. Lewis, never one to adhere to a plan, tried a short one that sat up and begged to be hit. Lara, who said, "I knew he was going to bowl me a bouncer", obliged. The ground erupted and hundreds of spectators rushed on, the police who were supposedly keeping order celebrating as much as anyone else.

"The whole place was rocking," Fraser said. "There were people climbing over the fences and running onto the field doing cartwheels and headstands. As a fielder, you take your cap off because you know it's a good souvenir and you don't want somebody to run past you and nick it off your head."

In the Independent, Martin Johnson wrote: "When Lara finally staggered out from beneath the vast rugby scrum of spectators, film crews and security police that had enveloped him almost before he had raised his bat in triumph, he went down on all fours and planted a kiss on the pitch. This was part emotion at the realisation of what he had done, and part relief at the realisation that he was still alive. Had he done it in his native Trinidad, where he is comfortably the most idolised figure on the island, they would probably have torn off little bits of him in the desperate search for a souvenir."

Lara relaxes in the dressing room and reflects on his achievement © PA Photos

"It was difficult to get near him to celebrate with him," Chanderpaul said, "but he came to me and then we went off to meet Sir Garry."

"It meant a lot to have Garry coming on like that," Lara said that night. "Ever since the Australian tour last year, he has been encouraging me. He said I would be the one to do it."

What had been missed by almost everyone was that as Lara had swung round to complete the shot he flicked the stumps with his foot and the off-side bail jumped in the air and back into the slot. Russell had seen it and was relieved the bail stayed out and he had not had to appeal. "I thought to myself that if I do I won't make it home," he said. "I'll be lynched. The bail didn't fall off in the end but it stayed slightly out of its slot."

It took six minutes for calm to be restored and play to resume. When it did, Lewis, back at his mark, asked where the ball was. It was found resting where it had trickled into the wall on the leg-side boundary.

Emotionally and physically drained, Lara only lasted a few more minutes before edging a tired drive to Russell off Caddick in the last over before lunch. He had batted 766 minutes - 14 minutes shy of 13 hours - for his 375, and scored 45 fours. Drained, he headed off to be met at the side of the pitch by his team-mates holding their bats aloft to form a guard of honour for him to walk under.

"Times have changed, though," Johnson observed, "and when Hutton made his 364, and Sobers his 365, neither of them was hijacked by a satellite television interviewer before being allowed to get off the field."

As Lara relaxed in the relative sanctuary of the dressing room, Sobers told reporters: "I could not think of a better person to break my record. He is the only batsman today who plays the game the way it should be played - with his bat. He never uses his pads, and it is always a pride and joy to watch him play. I had to break someone else's record [Len Hutton's] to break the record, and records are always there to be broken."

What happened next?

  • In the euphoria afterwards, Trinidad's prime minister announced that he had bought Lara a house. Johnson added: "Half the island was renamed after him, and there then followed an orgy of motorcades and personal appearances that left Lara a good deal more knackered than batting for 709 minutes."
  • In the UK, new spread-betting firm Sporting Index got things badly wrong, having offered Lara to score 375 runs in the series. Punters in the know piled in to go higher and by the time he strode out to bat in Antigua he already had 423 runs - every run during his record-breaking innings cost the firm £1500 - £562,500 in all.
  • Two months later Lara again entered the record books when he scored 501* for Warwickshire against Durham at Edgbaston. He remains the only man to pass 500 in first-class cricket.
  • Lara's Test record was broken when Matthew Hayden pummelled a poor Zimbabwe attack for 380 in October 2003. Lara, however, reclaimed it six months later when, almost exactly ten years after his 375, he scored 400 not out, also against England and once more at Antigua's Recreation Ground.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

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Posted by vinodkumargb on (April 23, 2014, 5:23 GMT)

The best thing about SRT and LARA is that all their carrier they let the Bat to do the talking! True gentlemen of the game and so even records speak :) I am glad I saw both playing :) My true heart wishes for both :) Because of ppl like you cricket is where it is now :) Thanks :)

Posted by AshwinizXI on (April 21, 2014, 12:22 GMT)

Very often Lara & SRT are compared, and rightly so. The two master batsmen of the generation, who both added value to the game. It's often said that Lara played for a weak side and therefore, his achievements are more credible. Well, the argument is flawed. In fact, both Lara & SRT had to face almost the same set of bowling attacks. moreover, the burden of carrying the team alone was felt by both. It was only in the later part of SRT's career that he got support of a good batting unit, but the expectations of Indian fans is more taxing than WI fans.

I have also noticed that many cricket fans, who are not Indians, start taking potshots on SRT by saying illogical things. 100 hundreds don't come easy, mate. You have every right to be a fan of any other batsman but don't justify your choice on the basis of stupid arguments aimed at berating what SRT did on field. And it's not only runs/ numbers. It is also the manner in which these two greats played & conducted themselves on&off ground.

Posted by hemant.brar. on (April 21, 2014, 11:59 GMT)

In the first paragraph:

"As Lara removed his helmet and raised his arms..."

He was actually wearing a cap, and not a helmet.

Posted by ksquared on (April 21, 2014, 7:42 GMT)

In my opinion he is the greatest batsman in the modern era not only was he a consistent performer but literally a run machine. Though many regard his innings against Australia as his finest innings I think his greatest innings came in that famous tour to SL in 2001 where he single handedy outfoxed and outplayed the best off spinner in history who was on top of his game. WI lost that series 3-0 but Murali didn't dismiss Lara even once as he scored over 600 runs which is still a record. He probably was the best player of spin in all conditions in this era.

Posted by   on (April 20, 2014, 20:19 GMT)

The best batsman we saw in the 90s no doubt in that. What an elegant player he was. No one can get close to Lara. Some they have played plenty matches and plenty centuries. But Lara was a KING. Very funny some try to compare Lara to some sub continent players. This article is about GREAT Brian Lara not about your backyard GODs!!!!!

Posted by Insightful2013 on (April 20, 2014, 16:43 GMT)

I imagine it does, Mr.Kentjones. I am not sure why there are so many comparisons to other batsmen? Batting especially, for me anyway, can produce many differing techniques, but still produce runs. As long as runs are being produced, why compare? Each of these illustrious batsmen shouldn't bear the ignominy of comparison but should be lauded for their efforts. Bowling is another matter, I think? It requires far more skills, not saying it's better, but the requirements are more. Strength, concentration,technique,skill, stamina etc are more necessary. You can have a Larry Gomes scoring runs with possibly only three shots in his arsenal or a Lara with every shot or a KP with more than every shot. Mahela J is quite special for me, love watching him bat, because he enjoys it so. Also loved Miandad because he he emanated and displayed indomitability. Loved watching Wasim, Waquar and especially Marshall. Murali always and Sunil Narine now, appears to have what the previous bowlers possess.

Posted by   on (April 20, 2014, 15:35 GMT)

Lara was undoubtedly a legend and I've seen few batsmen like him. He could keep batting and batting and scoring big was just effortless for him. He was excellent against pace and magnificent against spin bowling - he destroyed Murali in Sri Lanka where the latter was unplayable for most batsmen. I didn't watch him score 375, but I did watch his 400* live on TV. Lara is surely one of the greatest batsmen ever.

Posted by nothingnew on (April 20, 2014, 14:07 GMT)

For me Lara is the best cricketer. His cover driver was master class. For Rahul dravid Lara is the best cricketer not his own team Sachin .For most test batsmen taking 300 runs is the hardest part in their career . but Lara he scored 2 times 350+ . that was the great achievement in Test cricket history .

Posted by   on (April 20, 2014, 10:46 GMT)

Interesting to note , that whenever Lara or Sachin are brought the inevitable comparisions follow. Interesting to note that people mention that Sachin played for good or very good team, however it was not untill 2002 that India had a team that played good cricket outside India. Lara played for strong teams untill 2001, so to mention that he played the lone hand all the time is too misleading. Sachin for a long time in his career played for very poor teams. Some of his greatest innings at Cape town, Perth, Dunedin, Melbourne resulted in defeats because of poor quality teams, further used to play very test matches when Sachin was at his peak , further highlights he was as good as anybody in history. Lara had a penchant for big scores, while Sachin was a master against fast bowling, better than ever Lara who was better against spin and medium pace. They both were fantastic in there own right and one better than another at different times.

Posted by aus_trad on (April 20, 2014, 8:44 GMT)

I never really saw Sobers, Barry Richards or Graeme Pollock bat (born slightly too late to have clear, or sufficient, memories). I suppose the first "great" I saw ("clearly and sufficiently") was Greg Chappell. In the time since, for mine, Viv Richards was the greatest. Ranked slightly below, I would put Tendulkar - then about a half-step lower on the ladder, Brian Lara. So, the 3rd-greatest of my time...but in some respects, maybe even the greatest (somewhere in there is a distinction between "great" and "proficient"). I think Lara probably played more great or near great test innings even than the other two. Also - how much better would he be remembered had he played in the world-beating sides of which Viv was a member, or even the good-to-very-good ones that Tendulkar mostly played in, instead of so often being WI's only (batting) hope in a succession of weak teams, and even being burdened with a captaincy role to which he was never suited. Interesting thought...

Posted by lancia71 on (April 20, 2014, 5:21 GMT)

I had the privilege of watching Lara when he toured sl. It's fair to say he won all his battles with murali on tailor made spin friendly pitches. No touring batsman played Murali with the ease Lara did. On pure entertainment value, Lara comes first for me but I would send Sachin to bat if my life is on the line. We are very lucky to see both of these greats!

Posted by   on (April 20, 2014, 2:37 GMT)

People watched matches of West Indies for over a decade only to watch batting of Lara. Since his retirement, people no longer interested to watch their games even though Gayle, Chandrapaul, Bravo etc there.

Posted by   on (April 20, 2014, 2:33 GMT)

Though Lara had outstanding record for batting in both forms, experts says wouldn't he thrown wickets in middle of career, would have much great record.

Posted by kentjones on (April 20, 2014, 1:55 GMT)

@Insightful2013, I never quite saw it like that, but after reading your post I really got it. It certainly takes someone with deep inner strength to produce so many long innings consistently: 277, 375, 400, 501. And yeah to break such a mammoth record, have it brofen and then to literally start from scratch and do it all over again requires fortitude and inner strength above and beyond normal. It is the stuff of champions, isnt it?

Posted by Longmemory on (April 19, 2014, 23:20 GMT)

I had never heard of that off-bail matter before! Russell is so right in what he says here. Can you imagine the pandemonium that would have broken out if the off-bail had actually fallen off and Lara be declared out on 365 - and that too hit-wicket??! And of course Russell would have been crucified as he would have had to appeal and bring it to the attention of the umpires. Jeezus! On another note, Lara was easily the most thrilling to watch in his era. In that regard, he left the likes of Ponting, Sachin and others behind by a country mile. The unbridled aggression and desire to dominate the bowling no matter what made him truly unique. Great story, all in all.

Posted by charlesrayleggy on (April 19, 2014, 22:21 GMT)

if some one is great! because he inflicted an injury toa player? then what sort of greatness it is and what a cricketer he is? and what afollower you are?. cricket is for the purppose of integrity and companionship. i respect all cricketing greats. bowlers who were fast who were tricky, who were technically immaculate and the most who tok wickets in all conditions. there are batsmen who piled up runs and who play to entertain crowds but Brian Charles Lara is the best modern day batsman. simply because, he entertained, he piled up runs, he won matches single handed, he represented a sporting culture, and he made thing as he wanted on any day. no competition for greatness, my best batsman is Lara, and best cricketers are sobers and jaques. best bowler steyn. though many argue for the last? he takes wickets in the world of batsmen friendly pitches and systems.

Posted by windyscribbler on (April 19, 2014, 21:58 GMT)

Lara was wearing a baseball cap and not a helmet when he pulled Lewis to the boundary to break the world record. So the opening paragraph of this very good article does Lara a disservice. Yes it was slow pitch, yes Lewis was knackered and not bowling quick, yes Lara was seeing the ball like balloonl - but the whole 'wearing a cap' against a seamer is something we're unlikely ever to see again. Which is real shame.

Posted by   on (April 19, 2014, 20:21 GMT)

Lara had more meaningful double centuries vs tough bowling attacks than anyone else in cricket history.

Posted by Harmony111 on (April 19, 2014, 18:28 GMT)


You are free to rate anyone above anyone but I must tell you that Sachin had some pretty serious injuries in the last 90s. That had to have a profound effect on his batting style.

Posted by   on (April 19, 2014, 18:16 GMT)

What a player!!! Imagine a Lara at his peak playing in IPL!!!

Posted by SLSup on (April 19, 2014, 17:41 GMT)

@Steve48: that's the best discription I've ever heard for Lara when you said "cat-like aggression". Haha. Sums up his style of play with quick flourishes at the crease. Also, WI as a team and world cricket as a whole were experiencing a transition at the time with Australia being the dominant team when Lara came in to the WI team. Lara kept the WI in the hunt as the Big Cat he was. WI would have disintegrated sooner if not for Lara. Comparatively, VIV had it made though a case can be made he was a more successful WI skipper than Lloyd.

@Rally_Windies: I could never quite understand the indifference WI team and WI islands showed towards Lara. Lara was a tad better than Viv (to watch) and faced more competitive teams than Viv's did, too (I think).

@henchart: SRT did what he had to do into mid '00's and on when many were gunning for his retirement then. I was impressed by SRT's response with consistent high scores in that period that shut his critics for a long time.

Posted by   on (April 19, 2014, 17:15 GMT)

I think Lara is the best batsman of course after Sachin Tendulkar of this era...You can pick a point here and there where Lara had been better than Tendulkar.

Posted by Insightful2013 on (April 19, 2014, 14:51 GMT)

I think people miss the greatness of Lara. Aside from his batting, it's the mental fortitude that stands him alone. 6 months after losing the record, he goes out and gets it back, 6 months and significantly, 10 years after the event. Why? What prompts someone who had the world in his hands and remember, 501 as well, to attempt a triple marathon, all at the same time? Pride and enormous self belief in his abilities. This is a unique mentality! I've made a few hundreds and it was exhausting and I was really fit at the time. Nothing to prove, already in the record books, financially secure and still has the desire to bellow, I am the best! It's not the runs that impresses me, it;s that mentality. It's aberrant and special! Mandela and Ghandhi and specifically Ralph Fiennes, the adventurer, must have that abberation. Imagine him a statesman or a businessman, what wouldn't he have achieved? Bill Gates or Churchill may have had competition.

Posted by kentjones on (April 19, 2014, 14:04 GMT)

Lara simply among the greatest ever! Nuff said.

Posted by steve48 on (April 19, 2014, 12:11 GMT)

When I think of Lara, it reminds me of KP! Somewhat temperamental, plenty of fallouts with own teams, needing to do things their own way, but MAN, on their day, where do you bowl? When KP played that knock at the Oval in 05, I actually remember wandering if it reminded McGrath and Warne of Lara and his two epic knocks against them, especially the one where Windies won by one wicket. Loved watching Lara, the intent of his pickup, and cat like aggression, pure excitement at the crease. How much money would he have made in the IPL?!

Posted by sharidas on (April 19, 2014, 11:41 GMT)

With the advent of the short formats, I do not think we will be seeing big innings' such as these in cricket anymore.

Posted by henchart on (April 19, 2014, 11:37 GMT)

I would rate Lara a notch above Tendulkar simply because he never changed his aggressive batting style at any stage of his career. Tendulkar,probably,more technically sound than Lara became a grafter when Sehwag,Dhoni,Laxman etc started flourishing from early 2000s.Tendulkar of mid 1990s was as devastating as Lara. Sachin's knock of 90 odd in Barbados in 1997 was breathtaking while rest of his teammates were all struggling.But as years went along he became tentative,record conscious and needlessly defensive.Lara was always flamboyant,counter attacking and above all prolific.How he treated McG rath,Gillespie and Warne with disdain when Aussies were ruling the cricketing world.Unfortunately,as someone here pointed out,Lara was a lone ranger. Ponting and Kallis were lucky to have had an excellent team around them to focus solely on their batting.Lara and to less extent Sachin were not so lucky.

Posted by IVA_Richards on (April 19, 2014, 9:04 GMT)

@ BradmanBestever - agreed, though i would add Hobbs to that list

Posted by Rally_Windies on (April 19, 2014, 9:01 GMT)

I fell sorry for Lara

he was loved in T&T and hated in every other island in the Caribbean .. his entire career dogged by criticism of him not being a good batsman ;...

And not to mention Viv's insistence that Lara was no good and would never play for WI as long as he (Viv was captain) ! And Viv was true to his word !

You could almost sense Carl Hooper getting out on purpose to make sure WI lost when Lara was Captain ... and the "brilliant Carl as soon as Carl was made captain.. Then Gayle did the same back stabbing on Lara, forcing Lara into COMPLETE retirement , even though Lara had originally only announced retirement from ODI cricket...

Lara was probably most hated in the WI ... and loved everywhere else ....

Posted by BradmanBestEver on (April 19, 2014, 6:10 GMT)

Along with Hobbs, Kallis, Richards, V and B, Hobbs, G Pollock, Sobers and Tendulkar, Lara is in a group of second tier batsmen on their own

Posted by   on (April 19, 2014, 5:33 GMT)

Each era belongs to some great players. It is not possible all left hand batsmen like Sobers,Roy Fedricks,Kallicharan and Lara to be in the same era.No doubt Lara was greatest batsmen who single handedly destroyed many great bowlers during his time. West indies lost many series during Lara's tenure due to lack of good bowling. Anyway, Lara still remains the greatest among batsmen.

Posted by Nadeem1976 on (April 19, 2014, 4:23 GMT)

Every body remember Wasim Akram greatest two wicket hauls in WC 92 final but Pakistan won the half WC when in our first match against WI Wasim Akram sent Lara home by injuring him. I think the way Lara was batting at that time. He would single handedly won the WC but thanks to Wasim's great delivery he got injured and we were able to win WC. Wow what a bowler Wasim was. Not Joking.

Posted by Nadeem1976 on (April 19, 2014, 4:21 GMT)

Lara was one of the those unfortunate batsmen in cricket who were born in wrong time in wrong country. WI was falling and that really took away glory from the Genius. He had to face most defeats than wins in his entire career due to his fellow batsmen. He was great player and i still remember his great batting against Warne in 97 tri series. Man he just destroyed Warne at his home. Awesome to watch.

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Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.

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