Fourth Test Match

West Indies v England

Tony Cozier

At St John's, April 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 2004. Drawn. Toss: West Indies. Test debut: G. O. Jones.

One hundred and eighty-five days after losing his position as scorer of Test cricket's highest innings, Brian Lara reclaimed the record from Matthew Hayden and became the first man to reach 400 in a Test. Nearly a year before Hayden accumulated 380 against Zimbabwe in October 2003, supplanting Lara's 375, Steve Waugh had predicted in print that Hayden would beat him one day. It required less genius to predict who was most likely to overtake Hayden, and it took Lara only 19 innings.

Twenty-five minutes before lunch on the third day, he danced down the pitch to hoist Batty's invitingly flighted off-break into the stand at long-on for the six that lifted him past his own 375 and level with Hayden at 380. He then swept the next ball, flatter and ill-directed, to fine leg for four, to secure once more the record he had taken from another celebrated West Indian left-hander, Garry Sobers, on the same ground against the same opposition ten years earlier. It was the tenth time the record had changed hands; no-one else had ever recovered it.

The reception this time was joyful enough, but less frenetic than first time round. There was no spectator invasion, as in 1994, except for an inappropriate appearance by a government entourage headed by the new prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Baldwin Spencer. As in Bridgetown, travelling England supporters formed the majority of the estimated 10,000 in the stands. They politely rejoiced that they were there to see history. Over in the popular, open section adjoining Independence Avenue, where hardly a pale face was to be seen, the celebrations were understandably more boisterous. The national flags of the independent Caribbean nations that somehow manage to find unity through their cricket team waved ecstatically. For the first time in the series, West Indian voices were no longer drowned out by the deafening, triumphal chants of the Barmy Army and their travelling accomplices.

After handshakes from weary opponents, Lara again stooped to kiss the pitch - prepared under the supervision of Andy Roberts, the formidable fast bowler of an earlier era - that had once more favoured him.

Nor was he finished. He stated at the start of the third day that his aim was a total of 750, the highest ever conceded by England in their 820 Tests. Before that, he swept Batty to fine leg again for the single that raised Test cricket's first 400, and the tenth in all first-class cricket. Jacobs hit the next ball for four to take West Indies to 751, and Lara declared at the end of the over. He had batted two minutes short of 13 hours and faced 582 balls; there were four sixes - in 1994, he had none - and 43 fours.

He was so composed, so concentrated, so invincible that he surely could have carried on to 500, or 600 if he had been so minded. Geraint Jones, who had replaced Read as England wicket-keeper and thus had the closest vantage point, observed how fresh Lara looked throughout, hardly raising a sweat. Although he scored freely in all directions with his full range of strokes, he was, as in 1994, more calculating than extravagant.

Two other men were on the field during both record innings: England's Graham Thorpe, and Australian umpire Darrell Hair. Indeed, Hair had also officiated when Lara scored the first of his 25 Test hundreds - and the first of his seven doubles - 277 in Sydney in 1992-93. Yet, had Hair been persuaded by a convincing appeal for a catch at the wicket, Lara would not have scored a run. His fourth ball, from Harmison, his nemesis in earlier games, produced an indecisive drive. As Jones gathered, wicketkeeper, bowler and slips leapt in the certainty that there had been a thin edge. Hair shook his head, and television replays indicated he was correct.

There was nothing more that seriously tested the umpires' judgment. Lara offered one chance, a stinging, low straight drive off Batty that burst through the bowler's hands on its way to the boundary when he was 293. Only Harmison caused him the occasional bother - until his third warning for running on the pitch debarred him from bowling. By then, he had sent down 37 overs and Lara was 359.

As the series moved to Antigua, there were compelling circumstances to fire Lara's hunger and desire, conditions to accentuate his skill, and history to stir his imagination. For the second successive season, West Indies started the match considering the possible consequences of their first whitewash in a home series. A year earlier, they had impressively avoided it by amassing Test cricket's highest winning fourth-innings total to deny Australia; now, they were in danger of even greater humiliation by England, an old enemy for reasons not confined to cricket.

Lara's best score in the series to date was 36. He had been jumping around uncertainly at the crease in a vain effort to counter England's fast, bouncing bowling on fast, bouncing pitches. For the first time in his Test career, he had been dismissed without scoring in two successive innings; at his home ground, the Queen's Park Oval, he had slipped himself down to No. 6. As in his first term, which ended in resignation four years earlier, his captaincy was under critical scrutiny. "The next five days are very important in terms of my future as captain," he said beforehand. "No captain, no team, wants to go down for the first time in their history as losing all their Test matches at home."

He was clearly mentally ready for the challenge, even if he was still troubled by the finger he had dislocated in the First Test, which eliminated him from the first one-day international six days later. Lara was not the only one to appreciate a return to a benign pitch. Gayle and Sarwan also compensated for meagre series. Gayle thumped 12 fours in 69, Sarwan shared a third-wicket partnership of 232 with Lara, contributing a polished 90. After Powell, who had replaced the out-of-sorts Chanderpaul, and Hinds wasted opportunities to secure their tenuous places, the experienced Jacobs entered, with Lara 234, and followed in his slipstream for more than five hours to gather his third Test century. Their stand was worth 282, a sixth-wicket record for West Indies, at the declaration half an hour into the third afternoon.

There were some, notably Australia's captain Ricky Ponting, who criticised this delayed closure, claiming it disregarded the goal of winning the match. Lara's response was that his priority was to avoid the ignominy of an unprecedented whitewash. The Trinidad & Tobago government, which again lavished their most famous citizen with praise and gifts, was certain of the innings' significance. The prime minister, Patrick Manning, told Lara it was "symbolic of what we are capable of achieving when we harness our strengths and persevere with grit and determination in pursuit of excellence". As it was, a minimum of 240 overs remained at the declaration. Had Lara not dropped a juggled catch at slip off Sarwan when Flintoff was 27 late on the third afternoon, West Indies would have been closer to a satisfying triumph to match that over Australia. Dropped again at 56 and 67, Flintoff spent nearly five and a half hours over an unbeaten century, skilfully ensuring that the last four wickets yielded 103. England did follow on but, without a genuine spinner, an omission later regretted by Lara, West Indies could make little impression in the second innings on a wearing pitch.

Vaughan and Trescothick put together an opening partnership of real substance for the first time in the series to steady England nerves. At 182, it was their highest to date. Vaughan compiled a fluent, composed century, his 11th in Tests, with 20 fours in nearly six hours; Trescothick, fortunate Hair did not detect his gloved deflection to Jacobs in Best's second over, played with increasing confidence for four hours. Despite losing three wickets in the last session to the spin of Hinds and Sarwan, England were never in danger of the kind of collapse that led to their late defeat in the corresponding Test six years earlier. But they could not effect the series sweep to which they had been twice subjected by West Indies in the 1980s.

© John Wisden & Co