Edgbaston, 501, June 1994: ‘Rambo’ Brian batters Durham
“Cricket is a visual art,” CLR James assures us in Beyond a Boundary. “(…) [F]irst and foremost a dramatic spectacle, [i]t belongs with the theatre, ballet, opera and dance.”
Extrapolating, one can see a major Brian Lara innings as akin to a full-length feature film and truly appreciate a comment offered on Australian TV to the effect that Lara is ‘not just one of the finest batsmen but one of the most aesthetically pleasing to ever grace the game’.
Cast as a near invincible hero in 1994, the Prince of Port-of-Spain had starred in the West Indies innings win over England in the Second Test at Bourda in mid-March, slamming a brilliant 167 off just 210 balls. He had then gone on to claim the world record for the highest individual Test innings in Antigua a month later.
Having already been contracted to play county cricket for Warwickshire in the summer, in May, he posted five three-figure scores in his next six innings, including two in the match versus Leicestershire.
Next up was Durham. Dermot Reeve, the then Warwickshire captain, has revealed that, on the morning of the third day of the match at Birmingham, Lara approached him to inquire what his plans were. Assured that there would be no declaration until he was out, the Prince of Port-of-Spain perceived it as an opportunity to add another record to his growing collection.
A century, a double century and a triple century in Tests already on the books against his name, he had obviously set his sights on adding a quintuple century by overhauling Hanif Mohammad’s 499, then the first-class mountaintop.
Did he really think he could make 500 runs in a single innings? What arrogance! Well, in anyone else it would have been arrogance. With Lara, it was not; the arrogant are those who create legitimate expectation and then let the side down. Not BC Lara in 1994.
His goal set, he worked out in broad outline the targets he needed to achieve to keep himself on track.
From 111 not out at the end of the first day he was at the crease, the rampaging Lara drove, cut, pulled, hooked and, when the line and the field placing required it, glanced delicately to leg to progress rapidly to 255 by lunch on the next day.
So far, so good.
Another 163 runs came in the session between lunch and tea, the boundaries from midwicket all the way around to third man having been relentlessly peppered with bullets from the self-repeating rifle that was his bat. He had sped to 418.
Only the home stretch left.
After the second interval, the onslaught abated slightly, a mere 79 runs coming off his bat by the start of the day’s last over. He had already batted for almost eight hours, facing over 400 balls and blasting 61 fours and 10 sixes along the way.
Into his shell he went—temporarily!
Lara knew, Durham discovered, what circumspection was. He was on 497. Within three runs of his self-imposed finish line, he offered defensive strokes to John Morris’ first three balls. Morris then had the gumption to dig one in at him. Perhaps surprised by such temerity, Lara mistimed his attempted pull. The ball cannoned into his helmet.
Two balls now left in the day’s play. And in the match.
Lara smashed the fifth ball contemptuously through the covers. He turned on his heels and removed his helmet. He raised his arms and his bat in triumph. He then sauntered off the field to savour his new status.
More than 20 records, including the highest individual score in English cricket and the highest individual score by a West Indian in England, had fallen on that tremendous journey to the top, top of the first-class with 501 and first in Tests with 375.
Were his skin not the same colour as Denzel Washington’s, he would surely have earned himself at least an Oscar nomination in that annus mirabilis of 1994…
…and incontestably sealed the deal in 2004.
The Caribbean, 1999: 213, 153*, 100: Goliath denies David
Bowling hell hath no fury—ask Australia’s Dean Jones—like an Ambrose warned. And, as Steve Waugh’s 1999 Australians discovered to their cost, batting hell hath no fury like a Lara cornered.
Cricket’s country vs country records reveal 116 completed Tests played between Australia and West Indies. The former have won 58 and lost 32, with 25 draws and one tie. What those bare-bones records conceal, however, is the occasion towards the end of the last century when the smouldering West Indian left-hander, his back against the wall, burst into flame and became a raging conflagration that threatened to consume the might of Australia’s world champions. Raw.
Lara told Wired868 Editor Lasana Liburd in a 2018 interview that he had no choice but to produce his best against Australia on that historic occasion because “I was under so much pressure as an individual.”
More accurately, perhaps, under pressure as captain. After being promoted—prematurely, in my opinion!—to the captaincy at the expense of Courtney Walsh in 1998, Lara had managed 417 runs with three half-centuries in nine innings in a 3-1 defeat of England in the Caribbean.
Setting off on his first overseas tour with the official leadership mantle, he refused to let the selected squad go on to South Africa until the WICBC agreed to raise players’ pay. The Board eventually capitulated.
In South Africa, Lara’s better-paid troops failed to win a single Test. The skipper’s 10 innings yielded a modest 310 runs with another three half-centuries.
Back home to take on Waugh’s Australians, the WI collapsed for a mere 51 in the second innings of the First Test in Port-of-Spain to lose by 312 runs. Six losses on the trot.
Your ‘contract’, Captain Lara was told by the WICBC, will come up for review at the end of the next two Tests. It never did.
Lara’s magnificent double-century in a 322-run first innings 5th-wicket stand with Jimmy Adams pulled the home side level in Jamaica.
In the second innings in Barbados, the skipper again stood heroically in the breach, nursing the tail from a precarious 248 for 8 to 311 for 9 for a historic one-wicket win. In the 14 minutes he spent at the crease, number 11 Walsh, famous with ball in hand but notorious as cricket’s record maker of ducks, faced a mere five balls while Lara successfully farmed the strike to complete a splendid, unbeaten 153.
With an unlikely 2-1 series win in the offing and occupation the best option to protect the totally unexpected lead, a liberated Lara declined to take his foot off the gas. In the last Test in Antigua, he hit a thunderous 84-ball hundred in the first innings, with 15 fours and three sixes.
But by the end of Day Two, replying to 303, his team was struggling at 197 for six …
…and all out for 222 early on Day Three.
Earning themselves an 81-run lead on first innings, Waugh’s men grabbed that inch and converted it into a mile-wide 176-run series-levelling victory.
And thus did the Australian Goliath dodge the rock from Lara’s not-so-little two-and-a half pound sling.
And stop a little key from opening up a mighty door.