Cricket World Revisit: When an out-of-form Brian Lara smashed Pidge and Dizzy en route to 153*
In 1999, Lara seemed to be in the last stretch of his career, but against the likes of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill, came a knock that the Prince of Trinidad rates even higher than the 400*.
When legendary Australia fast-bowler Glenn McGrath was asked to pick the tougher opponent to bowl to between India cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar and West Indies batting great Brian Lara, his reply was:
“That was Brian (Lara). He never changed his game. I may have got him out 15 times, but he also scored big hundreds and double hundreds against us when both me and Warnie (Shane Warne) were playing together for Australia. When it was his day, he could do absolutely anything. Sachin was equally as good, but there was something about Brian where he could just keep going and he was slightly harder to bowl to than Sachin. He was more fearless."
There was something about Lara. If after Viv Richards, you saw that flair and dominance back on the field, it was personified by the Prince of Trinidad. Tendulkar was possibly more technically sound and had a repeatable approach to the game, but when Lara was in the mood, he was a notch above the rest, even the Little Master.
Before the day in question is talked about, here' the context for you: West Indies having been whitewashed in South Africa, losing the first Test of the series badly in Trinidad and then five down for a little over 100 in the second innings of the Barbados Test against the likes of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill were in deep trouble.
The team was more than 50 runs adrift of their target at 254 for 8 at tea, with Steve Waugh's men ahead in the game. It was Curtly Ambrose's resolute defiance that re-ignited hope for the hosts. On the other end was a determined Lara, shepherding the tail and manoeuvring the field like only he could.
For all the flair he had, Lara minimised the risk with deft touches and masterful runs to keep edging the team forward. It seemed like an anti-climax when with only six runs needed, Ambrose fell and Caribbean hearts sank again at the very real prospect of Courtney Walsh being cleaned up in double-quick time.
But as the tail-ender of tail-enders survived five balls, the captain delivered the crescendo, a trademark cover-drive for four off Gillespie. It was madness among the crowd. Lara too could hardly hold back his emotions after bouncing back to form in the grandest of manners.
Jimmy Adams, Lara's team-mate and Cricket West Indies' former Director of Cricket who partnered the legend at the crease in a marathon three-hour knock in which he scored 38 off 125 deliveries before losing his pegs to McGrath, remembers the knock:
"My abiding memory is of Brian’s magnificent innings in the last innings which was set up by Walsh's wickets in Australia's second innings. To beat the best team in the world even after they had scored almost 500 runs in their first innings was a major achievement for our team.
“A lot of analysis has gone into that Test, in particular, and the series as a whole, but what is undeniable is the fact that a game of cricket played over five days can encompass every possible human emotion. As a player, that game was one of the most emotionally draining encounters I had ever been through. To have made it through with a positive outcome will remain one of the highlights of my career.”
In 1999, Lara seemed to be in the last stretch of his career. But, it was this 153* which helped him stay and the 400* came in due course as Princey stretched his Test career till 2006.
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