Windies ride on Lara's sizzling ton
Brian Lara's masterful 196 not out, which comprised a 77-ball century in the opening session, stunned Pakistan at Multan, providing West Indies with a great chance to level the three-match series. Lara's 34th Test hundred, during the course of which he plundered 26 runs off one over, and Dwyane Bravo's sprightly 89 helped in establishing a valuable 152-run lead at the end of the third day.
Becoming only the sixth batsman to speed to a century before lunch, Lara gave a lesson in the art of destroying legspin. His 34th Test century, the ninth-fastest ever, included a belligerent attack on Danish Kaneria, plastering him for 60 runs off the 29 balls he faced before lunch. Having equalled Sunil Gavaskar's tally of hundreds, he went on to break Don Bradman's record for the most 150-plus scores and, at the end of the day, stood just four adrift of his ninth double-hundred.
Pakistan had a window of opportunity in the first session, snapping up four wickets amid the Lara carnage, but there was hardly any joy for the next two. The superb 200-run partnership between Lara and Bravo - both from Santa Cruz, one nicknamed the "Big Dog" and the other the "New Big Dog" - thwarted them for most of the day. A couple of close umpiring calls going against them, apart from a tough slip catch and stumping chance going down, didn't help matters.
Kaneria returned with an impressive third spell, in which he removed Bravo with a ripping legbreak, but there was absolutely nothing he could do against Lara, who reeled off his fourth successive century against Pakistan. The dismantling operation began with the 11th ball he faced, sashaying down the track and lofting Kaneria straight into the sight-screen, and it was complete in the 25th over of the morning.
Four pendulum-smooth swings of the bat - depositing the ball to long-off, midwicket, long-on and the roof straight behind the bowler's arm - and one swat down midwicket resulted in the phone-number sequence of 406664. It was the second time that Lara had scored more than 25 in an over, after his Robin Peterson bashing at Johannesburg three years ago. In between, Kaneria went through 13 overs that cost 83 runs; 29 of those balls to Lara were whiplashed for 60.
Kaneria, who'd dismissed both the openers with well-pitched legbreaks earlier in the day, didn't bowl anywhere as bad as his figures suggested; one man's mastery just left him clueless. The legbreaks were picked on the half-volley and the extension of the bat after striking the ball helped it soar way over the boundary. With extraordinary body balance, a perfect arm-swing and hand-eye co-ordination that few batsmen possess, Lara was simply unstoppable.
Out of the 58 that he added with Ganga, Lara's contribution was 36; the corresponding figure for his 61-run partnership with Runako Morton, in just 31 balls, was an awesome 56. The Bravo union was more evenly distributed, mainly because he chose to shift one gear lower, allowing the apprentice a chance to express himself. Bravo picked up the lead and didn't hold back, especially against the medium-pacers. Shahid Nazir was punished when he strayed in line and Kaneria's torment continued, at the receiving end of three spanking fours in an over. He was fortunate on 19, when an lbw appeal against Nazir was turned down, and survived a stumping chance on 79 but his urgency between the wickets and ability to milk the spinners proved invaluable.
Lara had his problems during the afternoon session, mainly against Pakistan's pair of offspinners - Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik. Being sucked onto his front foot against deliveries that were zipping away after pitching, he was caught off guard against a few that turned from the rough. Shelving his high backlift, he patted the ball into the gaps and preferred to rotate the strike instead. He was lucky on 127, surviving a huge lbw appeal against Hafeez, and soon, after charging down the track and edging a wide one, saw Imran Farhat grass a tough chance at first slip. They were just brief glitches, though. Like a master vocalist clearing his throat, it didn't take too long to continue the glorious rendition.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo