After four months out of the game, the West Indian maestro got the World Cup off to a cracking start
116 v South Africa, 2003
He had not played a serious game in five months since falling ill the previous September. In his own words, he had to "to push and shove myself to get to the front of this young, talented side". But nothing had changed.
Again, he walked in to a semi-crisis - the story of his life - with West Indies on 7 for 2, and almost lost his wicket first ball: Makhaya Ntini produced an edge that Jacques Kallis dropped at second slip. For the rest of the day the South Africans were mute witnesses as Lara looted runs with his flashing scimitar.
Lara chose not to counter-attack immediately. The first 15 overs produced only 30. The parsimonious Kallis replaced the metronomic Shaun Pollock and the runs dried to a trickle.
Then, in the 19th over and against the run of play, came the first imperious blow from the master. He sent a full-pitched delivery from Allan Donald soaring over long-off for the first six of the tournament. The floodgates then opened, and Donald and Lance Klusener bled runs as Lara started to impose himself. West Indies went past 100 in the 30th over, as Lara celebrated his 50 with two successive fours off the expensive Nicky Boje.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul fell almost immediately but Carl Hooper joined Lara and the two set about milking the bowling. In the 39th over Lara cruised into the 90s with a six and a four off Klusener. However, he then started to cramp and had to get treatment. A cut off Kallis moved him to 98 and he got to his 16th ODI hundred in the 42nd over. Two fours later, he fell, going for broke. However, inspired by his example, Ricardo Powell and Ramnaresh Sarwan biffed 63 runs in five overs to propel West Indies to a winning score.
Lara's first 50 had taken 78 balls, but his next one spanned only 43, and he left his imprint all over the match. Both his World Cup centuries had come against South Africa, and he left the field to a standing ovation from the Newlands crowd that he had held in thrall for 181 magical minutes.