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Veteran writer and commentator on Caribbean cricket

Lara's peaks

Brian Lara's 375 had a sense of inevitability to it, while the 400 came amid a backdrop of strikes and the threat of a whitewash

Tony Cozier

April 20, 2014

Comments: 36 | Text size: A | A

During his 375 in 1994, Lara looked fresh, never noticeably stressed © PA Photos

It is the season of special anniversaries for two of cricket's true giants - kindred spirits, both West Indian, both left-handers.

March 30 marked the start of Sir Garry Sobers' exceptional Test career in 1954 and its end exactly 20 years later.

Last Friday was 20 years since Brian Lara's 375 against England at the Antigua Recreation Ground eclipsed Sobers' Test record score of 36 years. On June 6 that year, Lara proceeded to another unimaginable epic, 501 unbeaten for his English county Warwickshire against Durham; it remains the first-class game's distant summit.

On April 12, ten years later, his unbeaten 400, also against England at the ARG, implausibly reclaimed the Test standard temporarily acquired a few months earlier by the powerful Australian Matthew Hayden.

As incongruous as it appears, these were not Lara's greatest innings, in the same way that Sobers' unbeaten 365 against depleted Pakistan bowling at Sabina Park in 1958 wasn't his.

One of the ARG's many characters, Mayfield, always had a collection of expendable vinyl discs ready to be demolished at the next certain record. Apart from those destroyed for Lara's exploits, he cracked several others over the years.

The unpretentious little ground on the edge of the capital, St John's, was that sort of place. There were 57 hundreds in its 22 Tests, among them Chris Gayle's 317 against South Africa in 2005, and Viv Richards' off 56 balls, the quickest in test history, against England in 1986.

Given such circumstances, Lara created others more significant than his ARG peaks - his 277 in Sydney on the 1992-93 Australian tour, the first of his 34 hundreds that emphatically announced his arrival as a special one; his 213 in Kingston and 153 not out in Bridgetown at the lowest point of his turbulent career, which led to West Indies' victories over Australia in 1999 after six heavy, successive defeats; and his classical mastery of Muttiah Muralitharan's mysteries in Sri Lanka in 2001, when 688 runs in six innings fulfilled his stated aim of carrying his faltering overall average back above 50.

His 375 was out of West Indies' 593 for 5 declared. England matched it, run for run, with hundreds from the captain, Mike Atherton, and Robin Smith. Ten years on, Lara declared at 400 with the total 751 for 5.

Even with such considerations, neither innings could possibly be dismissed lightly. No one else in the game's long and colourful history has ever registered, as Lara did, single, double-, triple- and quadruple-hundreds in Tests or a first-class half-thousand.

 
 
One of the ARG's many characters, Mayfield, always had a collection of expendable vinyl discs ready to be demolished at the next certain record. Apart from those destroyed for Lara's exploits, he cracked several others over the years
 

Recalling his 375 to the BBC last week, England's wicketkeeper Jack Russell said "the ball never looked like missing the middle of his bat". Graham Thorpe, also in the England side, acknowledged: "There was an inevitability about it all."

Over dinner in Barbados last week, Atherton confirmed left-arm spinner Phil Tufnell's story that he had told Atherton that the way Lara was batting, he could break the record. According to Tufnell, Lara was about 60 at the time.

"To be honest, we felt powerless to stop him," Atherton conceded.

Watching from the media area the 538 balls he faced in the 12-and-three-quarter-hours marathon, I was struck mainly by two things - how fresh he remained throughout, never noticeably stressed, never perspiring, and by the fact that, while there were 45 fours, there was not a six.

There had been unmistakable signs earlier in the season that something exceptional was in the offing.

In the regional first-class Red Stripe Cup leading into the Test series, Lara's 715 runs in five matches was the new record. Successive innings of 180 against Jamaica, 169 against Guyana and 206 against Barbados carried him past Desmond Haynes' 654 three years earlier.

There are those who witnessed the 180 at the Queen's Park Oval (in an all-out 257) who still marvel at its sheer brilliance and wonder whether it is possible to play better. Jamaica's was by no means a weak attack - Courtney Walsh supported by the pace of Franklyn Rose and the spin of Nehemiah Perry and Robert Haynes, all soon to be in West Indies teams.

Lara initially bided his time, content to consume 18 balls before he got going. Once set and ready, he so dominated that he contributed 70% of the 219 runs (including 18 extras) while he was at the wicket. On the second day, he accumulated 131, his four partners 12. It was Lara's inventive mastery that most vividly captured the imagination of knowledgeable observers.

"When they set the fielders out to block the fours, he was still finding the boundaries," the late Joey Carew, the former Test opener and Lara's early mentor, explained. "When they brought them in to keep him on strike, he chipped the ball over their heads, like a golfer would do. It was pure genius."

David Holford, once Carew's West Indies team-mate and chief selector at the time, said: "He reduced the game to a farce. I've never seen anything like it." And he had seen, first hand, the best of Sobers.

Lara carried his Red Stripe form into his 167 in the second Test against England. There was a brief slump before Mayfield was smashing more of his discs.

The background to the 400, ten years on was markedly different.


Brian Lara sweeps for four to go past Matthew Hayden's record, West Indies v England, 4th Test, Antigua, 3rd day, April 12, 2004
In 2004, averting a clean sweep by England was foremost on Lara's mind © Getty Images
Enlarge

Lara was troubled by a bodyline attack by England's fast-bowling quartet, Steve Harmison to the fore. Lara's highest innings in the first three Tests was 36. In the second, at the Queen's Park Oval, his home ground, he slipped himself down to No. 6 in the order.

Entering the final Test at the ARG, England were one victory away from a clean sweep. Lara commented that "the next five days are very important in terms of my future as captain. No captain, no team, wants to go down for the first time in their history as losing all their Test matches at home".

If there was concern about his psychological state, it was tempered by the recollection of his response to an even graver situation against the Australians five years earlier when a 5-0 drubbing in South Africa was followed by an all-out 51 and defeat by 312 runs in the opening Test.

After the next five days, the whitewash had been comfortably avoided, Lara had his record back and his captaincy was safe - at least for the time being. By the following year, his ever-strained relations with the board and a players' strike brought another disruption.

When he finally bowed out following the disappointing World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007, once more as captain, yet not entirely of his own accord, he put it to the crowd: "All I ask is: did I entertain?" The question was rhetorical. The answer was obvious.

Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for 50 years

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Posted by swarzi on (April 24, 2014, 2:10 GMT)

Darthkaten, I think that the only edge that Sachin had over the wizard, as most people called Lara was 'discipline'. Consistency, No - all said! For the 16 years that they competed, Lara scored over 1200 runs more than Sachin in less test matches; and less test innings. They both scored 34 hundreds. When Lara played his last test in 2006, he averaged 53+. Tendulkar was averaging just around 50. It was his exploits against inexperienced bowlers between 2008 and 2010 that helped him to get back to the 53+ that he finally retired with. I don't know which right handed batsman has more purity than a left hander. In any analysis, if one agrees that of two professionals of the same discipline, one is better than the other when they both are 'at their peaks', it does not need a rocket scientist to know who is genuinely better. And in every format, under any condition, Lara commanded the stage when he was at the wicket - against any bowler - any where any format of cricket was played. Not SRT

Posted by DarthKetan on (April 22, 2014, 23:50 GMT)

@remnant Despite my post objecting to your 'beefing up' comment, I must agree with your central premise that both these batsmen did under-perform against top notch bowling. A few counterpoints/refinements to your premise then: You should note Sachin's performance against Ambrose/Walsh too (50+ avg), as also the performance vs. Steyn & Pollock (50+). Another nuance will be checking these corresponding stats home vs away....I suspect Lara's exploits will be home skewed... Still, I maintain Lara was superior Test batsman at his peak, while Sachin a more all-round batsman across formats and all-comers....

Posted by   on (April 22, 2014, 1:25 GMT)

@GreatInningsPartII

In 1990 that first century at Old Trafford where he tore apart Botham & Willis, and then achieved an even more incredible feat at the fastest and bounciest track of 'em of all down under a few short months later, saw the coming of the most gifted Mozart-like cricketing prodigy ever -- no surprises guessing with a billion and more shouting aloud Sachin, Sachin, Sachin...what a Champion. And finally, announcing himself to the world in '93-94 and my personal favorite for no other reason than simply (IMHO) the greatest wizard of them all, one Brian Charles Lara. If Harry Porter played cricket no other batsman can represent his sprit closely as the Port-au-Prince himself period! If there comes a last match of test cricket forever nothing would be more befitting the occasion end this most glorious game of ours than to witness a final rendition of one of those Lara specials of epic proportions one last time

Posted by   on (April 22, 2014, 1:24 GMT)

@GreatInningsPart I: I started passionately following cricket as a schoolboy in the early 70's. Still recall Sobers' last hurrah at the Oval in '73, it left an indelible mark on me of such supreme and all natural flowing talent. Next stop '76-80 one IVA Richards took batsmanship to such a level brutal domination that left bowlers of all breeds pathetically hapless over all conditions never witnessed since the halcyon days of the Don. In between the little Indian master Sunny Gavaskar stood up tall whilst others weeped to face up to most athletic and fearsome pace battery ever assembled in all cricket history, that was Uncle Clive's 4-prong West Indian gigantic pace attack.

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

To break the record not once but twice is no easy task; it was phenomenal! Lara was the best ---- the true Jedi Master.

Posted by PPD123 on (April 21, 2014, 21:16 GMT)

Absolutely love the analysis of @remnant. What it shows is irrespective of whether it was Sachin or Lara, the real true greats are the bowlers - McGrath, Akram, Waqar and Donald. True legends in any era.... Their Average & strike rate compare across any era/generation.

Posted by DarthKetan on (April 21, 2014, 20:16 GMT)

@remnant Sachin averaged 58 in 90s and 53 in 2000s...so your 'beefing' comment is unsubstantiated...It is in fact Lara, whose average went from sub-50 in late 90s to 50+ in 2000s. If you really want to see real beefing of averages, check out the number of batsmen who made merry in 2002-06 (post Ambrose/Walsh, Akram, Donald etc.)....Youhana, Ponting, Hayden, Dravid, Kallis etc. To the point of the debate, I'd say Lara had higher peaks in Tests, while Sachin was a better batsman across formats/conditions..

Posted by DarthKetan on (April 21, 2014, 20:00 GMT)

Hate that it inevitably gets into a comparison with other players in the comments/forums. In my mind, at their peaks, Lara edged out SRT, but over the career, you'd have to give it to SRT....Celebrate them both - both geniuses in their own right! The thing Lara had going for him was the natural left handers' elegance and majesty; Sachin more discipline, purity and consistency....

Posted by espncricinfomobile on (April 21, 2014, 19:32 GMT)

Great post by "remnant". Can you do the same for Gilchrist and Hayden? I think we will find something interestin!

Posted by remnant on (April 21, 2014, 17:56 GMT)

These bowlers I mentioned really softened these batsmen up and that is reflective in the avgs.Both Lara and Sachin's figures indicate that. This is what fast bolwing is supposed to do.Only McGrath seems to have been tamed by Lara and that is reflective in the avg of 47 in 44 inngs as compared to Sachin who has 36,in 18inngs.You cannot forget that even Sachin never got hold of McGrath.For Pakistan with 2 Ws and Imran, again both avg. in early 30s,Sachin 32 in 11 inngs, he batted, and Lara avg 30 in 13 inngs. .Again with Donald Sachin avg. 32 in 20 inngs and Lara 34 in 20 inngs.Not exactly all time stuff.I wonder how these two would have fared during the 70s and 80s era.Let me tell you, I am a big fan of Lara's artistry, and even like Sachin, but can't stand the hyping up!Lara's was good against the Aussies back in the 90s. He played the 2nd all time best innings rated by Wisden vs Aus and was the difference in that series.

Posted by remnant on (April 21, 2014, 17:30 GMT)

@LodhiSingh, facts are a little more complicated than what you state.Sachin's averages with the creme de la creme of pacers are quite revelatory: With McGrath in Aussie team, he averages: 36.77. Without McGrath it goes up - 61.83! With Allan Donald in SA, its 32.9. Without Allan Donald, its 51.89! With Imran, Wasim & Waqar, its 32.9. Without them it goes to 50.92! FACT: Most of his beefing has come up in the 2000s, post the retirement of these players.But he does well against Walsh and Ambrose with avg of 62. got to give him.But they were old horses by then. Nevertheless a lot of mythbuilding going on. Simialr analysis for Lara with Akram, younis,McGrath,Donald.Figures are:Lara vs Pak with Akram,younis,Imran -7 matches 13 innings 30.3. lara vs Pak without them - 86.55, in 5 matches 9 innings post 2004series.Lara vs SA with Allan donald -10 matches 20 innings - avg 34.02. Lara vs SA without Donald - 18 matches 35 innings avg 49.Lara vs Aus with McGrath47,& without him, even more - 67!

Posted by kentjones on (April 21, 2014, 14:29 GMT)

@Jasem21, @smub99. Well said gentlemen. True and worthy champions possess those subtle, sublime characteristics, that are not normally superficially discerned or widely appreciated. Once one scratches the surface, those uncanny qualities are visible.!! It is my beleif that as the years roll by the magnitude of Lara's performances will become more and more evident. The passage of time has a way of removing the negatives and biases and revealing the glowing aura underneath. just like removing the dust from the tabletop could expose its bright shining surface.

Posted by Jasem21 on (April 21, 2014, 13:56 GMT)

@Lodhisingh Brian Lara losing so many matches despite being individually brilliant is because of the team. Just remember the late 90s and 2000s team of West Indies. Too many changes, lot of new players coming in, players-board issue etc. West Indies were on a downward slope during his time. I am a big Sachin fan, but I will say that, without the support of Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman and Kumble, Sachin would also have ended his career like Lara (Individually great, but lot of losses). A match winner is not the one you think of (winning most number of matches). Leave all the matches Lara lost and look at the matches he won, in more than half of those matches he was his team's best player. That is what a 'Match Winner' means.

Posted by IPSY on (April 21, 2014, 12:26 GMT)

Lodhisingh, One could counter your argument that Sachin did not score a 100 in every country; but those petty points are at times based on poor umpiring decisions - so called mistakes. Lara toured India once for 3 test matches. He averaged in the 30s after that sole tour. He did not play well in the first test; but from there on, there is a popular Indian cricket fan whom they nicknamed Lara - please find out why he was so nick named, and hence, you would know the reason why Lara could not average in the 40s in India. Note that ICC had not yet decided that both test umpires must be from neutral countries.

Posted by smub99 on (April 21, 2014, 9:57 GMT)

I think most cricket lovers outside of India will agree with me when I say that Lara was the greatest batsman of our era, without question. He was the only batsman that gave me goosebumps when watching him, something I never felt When watching tendulkar. Tendulkar was a great batsman, but not the genius Lara was.

Unfortunately Lara ended his career at a time when the Indian board, fans and especially media have taken over the game, so I fear his greatness will never be fully appreciated. Nothing demonstrates that more than his snub (along with muralis) for cricketer of the generation.

Posted by   on (April 21, 2014, 7:38 GMT)

I am following cricket from 1991 and Lara was the best batsman I ever saw

Posted by kentjones on (April 21, 2014, 7:26 GMT)

Brian Charles Lara, simply the best.

Posted by AshwinizXI on (April 21, 2014, 6:27 GMT)

Lara, a champion cricketer, who dominated the cricket scene as a colossus was peerless. I won't talk of numbers here. It's the joy of watching his shots/ strokeplay, which stays with me. As for his contemporaries, SRT & Inzi are the only ones who should be put in the same bracket. SRT because a cricketer has to be special to perform consistently well for more than two decades, despite always being under scrutiny. Inzi because he was the most natural batting talent of the generation, who had the gift of ability of playing fastest bowlers in slow motion. Other batsmen of this generation who deserve special mention are Dravid (what dedication, man!), Ponting, Kallis (consistency personified), Aravinda de Silva (somewhat senior to Lara & SRT but the best SL batsman ever), VVS (an aesthetic delight). Of course, we spoil the fun when we start comparing. Lara was a treat to watch, and his fans transcend the countries.

Posted by India_boy on (April 21, 2014, 4:56 GMT)

BCL was way ahead of his contemporaries in the sense that you could always feel if he doesn't wanna play today, cos when and if he wanted to play he didn't have to try too hard. Other great Batsmen such as SRT, RD (a big big RD fan here), Punter, JK sometime looked like they tried too hard, but that's maybe because they were too concerned about not losing, unlike Lara who would just stutter in to enjoy batting.

Posted by Lodhisingh on (April 21, 2014, 3:56 GMT)

lara averages in 30s in 2 coutries. Sachin averages minimum 40 in each country he played. lara averages in 30s against one country. sachin averages more than 40 against every opposition. lara averages 47 away. sachin averages 54. lara averages 58 at home. sachin averages 52.(speak of backyard heros) lara rarely ended up on the winning side and owned the record for most runs in loses until chanderpaul overtook him recently. so, he wasnt a match winner. he scored lots and lots of runs in loses and draws and i dont think that is what match winner is.

Posted by SL_WorldChampions on (April 21, 2014, 3:25 GMT)

I am a native Sri Lankan, now lives in US. I watched most of test crickets around 1995 - 2004 when was there. When teams came to Sri Lanka to play test cricket they came with lot of plans, but when Murali spinned his magic, players were baffled! They had no clue, almost all the batsmen were lame ducks against Murali in Sri Lanka. Even Indian and Paks. But I can remember 2 batsmen who stood out while playing against Murali. They were Brian Lara & Andy Flower. These guys didn't survive, they dominated Murali. I still remember there were several time where Murali had very little answer for these 2 guys. Although I supported SL, I was amazed by their batting skills. So good to watch. Hats off to Lara & Flower.

Posted by Drew2 on (April 21, 2014, 1:04 GMT)

No doubt that Lara was a better batsman than Tendulkar in Test cricket. . Lara also won more matches against better bowling. He didn't get to play against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh nearly as much (Tendulkar scored 1783 runs at 96.5 against them). If you take these two teams out of the equation, his average was higher and a much better strike rate. Clearly a bigger match winner and therefore a better batsman.

Posted by   on (April 20, 2014, 18:33 GMT)

He is simply one of the greatest batsman I have watched. for most part of his career he was part of the weakest test team and he had to play out of his skin to win matches for WI. In the 90s I have seen him dominate Waqar and Wasim, arguably most potent fast bowling combo of 90s. he played warne with authority and was a treat to watch. I'm a big fan of his hook shot. Thumbs up BC Lara.

Posted by   on (April 20, 2014, 17:09 GMT)

In domestic cricket, in the West Indies and England, Lara would make long strings of consecutive centuries, almost at will.

You get the impression that Brian LAra on bad form was simply Lara not trying. When he tried, he was unstoppable.

Posted by   on (April 20, 2014, 12:16 GMT)

I consider myself extremely fortunate to be a cricket fan & born in the same era as that of Sachin & Lara. They made our mundane life worth living with their breathtaking & spectacular feats. But having said that I must say Lara was a better batsman than Sachin as he always demolished the opponents & dominated them. he always batted in the top gear but with full control. Sachin onthe other hand many times made things difficult for himself & the team with his inexplicable slow batting many times. He always appeared to be under some pressure while batting whearas Lara would show who is the boss on the ground most of the times. Alas , Lara played for the West Indies, had he born in India who knows people would have forgotten Sachin!

Posted by   on (April 20, 2014, 11:51 GMT)

He entertained alright. Pure genius!

Posted by swarzi on (April 20, 2014, 11:48 GMT)

Great authorship Toney! But, I wonder why you WI cricket experts don't state with utter authority that 'Brian Lara is the greatest batsman of All Time'! He has given you the tools to do it! Where is the batsman who is even close to this guy: who made "HALF OF A THOUSAND' runs not out in a single innings; then followed up with 400 not out in a test; and even before that took 3 seasons to score 375 in a single test innings; thus breaking a record which stood for almost four decades (40 yrs) - even if lots us thought by then it could not be broken? As Mr Holding said, 'Not even if you bring one from Mars', is any batsman in this man class and do what he did in 16 short years! The overrated Tendulkar tried, playing for all of one-and-a-half times (24 yrs, in almost 100 innings) more than Lara played and was not able to produce a single innings of such class and magnitude!

Posted by flickspin on (April 20, 2014, 11:37 GMT)

adam gilchrist is the best batsmen ive seen.

i went to a 1 dayer in sydney where matt hayden and adam gilchrist chased down 120 runs in 15 overs, every second ball was a boundry.

plus watching them on tv for 10 years

the greatest innings ive seen live was by brian lara at the scg in a odi, he started off at slowly, and then he teed off and scored 120 off 100 balls and the west indies would have won if the rain had not come.

ive seen ricky ponting score 100 vs sri lanka in a odi at sydney

i also seen micheal clarke score 130 odd runs at the scg in a test match

i seen shane warne's 300 wicket at the scg getting jaques kallis out

i watched tendulkar 200 at the scg on tv and i would rate ponting better to watch and more aggressive

i havent seen most of lara's or tendulkar's innings as i live in australia and only just got pay tv

the best batsmen ive seen go in this order

1 adam gilchrist, 2 brian lara, 3 matt hayden, 4 ricky ponting, 5 sachin tendulkar, 6 virenda sewag,

Posted by blaster.pk on (April 20, 2014, 11:09 GMT)

Firstly thankyou Tony for this beautiful article.

I have always seen Lara as a warrior simply because he was in a side with the weakest bowling attack, after ( ambrose and walsh retired ) so it does not matter how many runs he scored in every innings he had to go through the pain of loosing. Please dont blame Lara for this.For me his 400 is very significant because first we all know with that bowling attack of WI is the weakest there was 20% chance of WI winning with that bowling. So lara had to avoid the whitewash and also give England a fitting reply that will be spoken for ever. Lara Decided to make 400, i am sure a Win for WI would not be spoken as much as a 400. The 400 created more buzz in ENG, INDIA, WI, AU and all around the world . Lara gave about 137 ovr to WI to bowl out ENG. Michael Vaughn saved the test for ENG. Lara is the greatest batsman, even greater than Bradman because Lara is featured 2 times in the top 10 test innings. LARA WAS - IS - WILL BE- THE GREATEST .

Posted by android_user on (April 20, 2014, 9:18 GMT)

I would say without a doubt the best test batsman ever...having not seen the don play. yes, better than sachin too. And im indian and love Tendulkar ! but there hasnt been a more dominating, elegant and hungry player like lara...miss that era of the legends.

Posted by FOUR-REAL-QUICKS on (April 20, 2014, 9:15 GMT)

No doubt the Tendulkar fans will jump on eventually in suport of their idol - a patently fantastic player too, in any regard. But Brian Lara is the best we've seen. No batsman has been on his level before, during or since the great man played. A true West Indian great.

Posted by nzcricket174 on (April 20, 2014, 8:47 GMT)

Watch any of BC Lara's batting videos and you can only marvel at his cover drives. I can't fathom how it is possible to play the shots he does, but he absolutely creams those balls outside off which most people would either leave, miss or edge.

Posted by   on (April 20, 2014, 8:10 GMT)

Lara was a batsman who could reach massive scores with ease. It's amazing how he made 375 and 400* along with 9 double hundreds. He is probably the best player of spin the world has ever seen. The 277 in Sydney, 153* in Bridgetown, the doubles in SA and SL, were other outstanding knocks the West Indian had played over the years. He could totally demolish an attack in any conditions. It was always a treat to watch Brian Charles Lara bat.

Posted by   on (April 20, 2014, 4:42 GMT)

I feel when it comes to batting it is rather difficult to find another Lara. Even Tendulkar does not come close to his batting legacy. Sobers was an all rounder, batting, bowling and fielding and that too in an era when body protective gears were not heard of. But Lara was class apart the way he went on to amass runs with such authority. His penchant for high scores were simply astounding. I think when he joined Warwickshire for his first season he scored eight consecutive centuries on a trot. And can anyone ever forget his 501, the first one ever to go past the 500-mark. Pakistan's Hanif Mahammad with his 499 and Don Bradman with his 452 were the closest. Lara's appetite for big scores was mesmerizing. He would just continue without any fuss. He would have easily been crowned the best ever if he was born and played for India. Plus it could have been a great pairing of two stalwarts, Lara and Sachin ! The game will carry on and soon we would perhaps see another great batsman ever.

Posted by   on (April 20, 2014, 4:21 GMT)

He is the Greatest player of all time

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