Top Performances

Majestic Lara sends favourites packing

Brian Lara defies critics and expectations to knock South Africa out

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller

Having been roundly criticised for his display against Kenya, Lara made amends in stunning fashion  •  Getty Images

Brian Lara
111 v South Africa, 3rd quarter-final, 1996
At the 1996 World Cup, West Indies were a team in freefall. One year earlier in the Caribbean, they had finally been deposed on home soil by the up-and-coming Australians, and with Richie Richardson dying on his feet as a leader (he would never play again after this tournament), the Empire was crumbling in an unseemly eruption of internecine warfare. Eleven days earlier in Pune, the squabbling giants had lost shamefully to the amateur cricketers of Kenya; now they faced the form team of the tournament, South Africa, in a quarter-final encounter that no one truly believed they could win.
Beware, however, the flashing blade of Brian Lara. In the years that have since passed this became one of the truisms of cricket, especially with West Indies in seemingly perpetual decline. But it was a warning that South Africa failed to heed, and on a cracked Karachi pitch, they made the single biggest mistake of the tournament - they omitted their spearhead, Allan Donald, in favour of an extra spinner, Paul Adams.
It was a decision that Lara greeted with glee. The fixture had already been loaded with extra baggage after Lara's controversial remarks at the end of the Kenya game, when he claimed he was happier to have lost to a team of blacks than a team of whites, but given an opportunity to atone for his cheap dismissal in that game, he needed no second bidding. He was cagey at first, playing and missing against the seamers, but then milked Adams and Pat Symcox to glorious effect, as South Africa's ground fielding went to pieces under the pressure. Lara finished with 111 from 94 balls, with 16 crunching fours, before West Indies' own spinners, Jimmy Adams and Roger Harper, sealed the deal with 19 runs to spare.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo