Lara's quintuple fable
In two recent Rewinds we looked at Brian Lara's record 375 and 400* for West Indies. Now 20 years on, we look back to when Lara became the only man to pass 500 in first-class cricket, beating the record of 499 made by Hanif Mohammad in 1959
Less than a fortnight after his record-breaking 375 against England, Brian Lara had arrived in England to begin his summer at Edgbaston. Warwickshire had initially lined up Manoj Prabhakar as a one-season replacement for Allan Donald, but when he got injured they signed Lara. That was done during the Barbados Test, days before that record innings.
It proved an inspirational signing. In the days before the start of the county season, Warwickshire sold hundreds of new memberships on the back of Lara being their overseas player and media interest was high.
"In advance of his first game, the publicity was amazing," team-mate Gladstone Small recalled. "I've never played county cricket with a player attracting this kind of interest. More than 4000 spectators came to watch the first day against Glamorgan." Unfortunately, they had to watch Lara in the field as Warwickshire captain Dermot Reeve lost the toss.
Nonetheless, he made a hundred against Glamorgan in his first knock since his record, and with a bat he only picked up the day before. "The one I used in Antigua has been signed by all the players and is now a memento," he told the press. He followed that with 106 and 120 not out against Leicester, 136 against Somerset, and 26 and 140 against Middlesex. The only hiccup was his one-day form where he had managed only 64 runs in four outings.
When Durham visited Warwickshire at the start of June there was no reason to think Lara's run would end, especially when on a perfect batting track Durham scored 556 for 8. In reply, Warwickshire closed the second day on 210 for 2, Lara recording his seventh hundred in eight innings late in the afternoon, the first man to reach that landmark.
But it was a far from convincing hundred. He had two let-offs. The first when he was bowled off a no-ball from Anderson Cummins when on 12, the second six runs later when he was dropped by wicketkeeper Chris Scott.
'It was his worst start of the summer," said Warwickshire opener Roger Twose. "Apart from being bowled behind his legs from a no-ball and nearly dragging on a few times, I even managed to outscore him. He was clearly annoyed with the way he was playing. At tea, he went straight into the indoor nets for 15 minutes."
Rain washed out the third day, and on the Sunday Lara's poor limited-overs form continued as he made only 6 against Durham.
When the Championship game resumed on Monday, the lost day meant unless the captains reached an agreement as to declarations and Warwickshire were set a target, the final three sessions were going to be little more than a glorified net. The presence of Lara allied to the excellent pitch gave Durham skipper Phil Bainbridge little incentive to enter into any negotiations, and so Warwickshire batted on.
Despite the rest, Lara still seemed out of sorts. In the indoor nets, before the start, Bob Woolmer, the county's director of cricket, said he "looked shocking by his standards, not moving well at all".
But from the start Lara took on the bowlers, scoring 174 runs in the first session to reach lunch on 285, with one more reprieve when he was dropped at mid-off by Cummins when on 238. He smashed boundaries to all corners of a nearly deserted Edgbaston.
Trevor Penney, who contributed 44 to a third-wicket stand of 314, watched in awe. "He just smashed Simon Brown, who'd changed ends. He hit him for 20 in one over. I'd just faced the bloke and thought he's bowling well. You can't imagine how he hits it like that. When he decides to whack a six, it's gone. It wasn't slogging, just clean hitting. The opposition were speechless and in awe of him."
During the interval the crowd grew as word spread Lara was hitting out. "I thought about declaring at lunchtime to make a game of it, "Reeve told the Daily Express. "But Brian said, 'Let me go for 500'. It shows how confident he was."
Three overs into the afternoon Lara brought up his triple-hundred, made in 280 minutes off 278 deliveries. And all the time people kept arriving. By tea he was on 418 but had enjoyed another life five runs earlier when dropped at square leg by substitute fielder Michael Burns. The oddity was Burns was Warwickshire's reserve wicketkeeper, on the field because Durham's 12th man was already being used.
The final session was played out in glorious sunshine with the crowd swollen to around 3000. Lara, clearly tiring, ploughed on, all the time records tumbling, although he survived two close run-out calls. "I was very tired, but my partner Keith Piper helped me through," he said afterwards.
Piper's own hundred was almost entirely overlooked. "He never looked like flagging," Piper said. "Also, he never once asked me to give him the strike. He just told me to keep going and get myself a big one."
Eventually Durham, whose bowlers had gamely plugged away all day, turned to the part-timers Wayne Larkins and John Morris. It was Morris who bowled the last over of the match, but Lara was unaware of that.
"I was on 497 and didn't realise the over from Morris would be the last," Lara said. "So I didn't score off three and then was hit on the helmet." Groundsman Steve Rouse laughed out loud as Lara swung and missed the slowest of bouncers. "He's seeing the ball as big as a balloon, he's almost got 500 and a part-time bowler hits him on the head," he said.
"Keith came down the wicket and told me I had two balls to get the 500," Lara said. "That was panic. Three runs in two balls is never easy."
Lara cracked the next delivery through the covers for four and raised his arms aloft in triumph. His 501* had been made in seven hours and 54 minutes off 427 balls and contained 62 fours and ten sixes.
He was typically modest afterwards. "This is a moment I will cherish forever… the first man to score 500 runs. But I don't think I'm a great player yet. I am still only 25 and my aim is to keep up this consistency. When I get to a ripe old age then talk of me as a great cricketer."
It was only later that Trevor Jesty, one of the umpires, confirmed that play could have continued for another half hour if both captains had agreed, but Bainbridge had not realised that at the time, and nor had the batsmen.
In the Durham dressing room there were some weary bowlers. Four of them had gone for more than 150, with David Cox, a left-arm spinner making his debut, finishing with 0 for 163 from 35 overs.
"He got an inside edge past his stumps in my first over and at that stage I fancied my chances of getting into him," Cox said. "I only bowled about ten bad balls but he's impossible to bowl at because he walks across his stumps. The ball turned but he has such quick feet and hands that half the time I didn't see him coming down the wicket."
What happened next?
- Among Lara's many sponsorship deals was one with Manchester clothing company Joe Bloggs. They had rushed out a range of "375" jeans on the back of his Antigua record but his 501 presented problems. The 501 trademark was Levi's. "If he had made 502, it would have saved us an awful lot of hassle," a company spokesman admitted. They eventually settled the conundrum by issuing a "500 and One" series of t-shirts and caps
- Lara's remarkable run came to an end in the next match when he made 19 and 31. The following game he scored 197. He finished the 1994 season with 2066 runs at 89.82 with nine hundreds. But under close media scrutiny he found it a tough time with reports of clashes with team-mates and a less-than-wholehearted approach to training.
- Warwickshire won the County Championship.
- Cox played twice more in 1994 taking only one wicket to finish the summer with figures of 1 for 345.
- Warwickshire's 70-year-old scorer, Alex Davis, was also the England scorer in Antigua
Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa