@Ben_Wisden 5 minute read
Brian Lara’s majestic 153 not out against Australia in Bridgetown takes top spot on our list of the best Test innings of the 1990s.
No.1: Brian Lara, 153* (256 balls)
West Indies v Australia, 3rd Test
March 26-30, 1999
Well it’s not exactly a shock, is it? Long revered as one of the greatest Test innings of all time, Brian Lara’s 153 not out was always going to take top spot in this list. But in 2019, its story took on new relevance with the addition to the canon of two more chasing epics, one mirroring Lara’s score exactly, the other inverting the last two digits, and each a worthy pretender to the Prince’s crown.
Trying to split the three knocks, each coming against world-class attacks in one-wicket wins, is a fool’s errand. But there are two factors that set Lara’s apart. The first is the pressure he was under at the time. Coming into Australia’s visit, he had just led West Indies to a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of South Africa, a scoreline the once-great side had never experienced before. The last Test was a 351-run hammering so complete that all 11 South Africans shared the honour of Player of the Match award.
A skittling for 51 was about the only way West Indies could sink any lower, and they duly complied in the Port of Spain. Then came Kingston, where 34-4 became 378-5 as Lara crashed 213. A West Indian dynasty on its last legs was raging against the dying of the light, and a 10-wicket victory followed. But if that was an unexpected thrashing, Barbados bore witness to an unparalleled classic.
Hundreds from Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting pushed Australia near 500, and though Sherwin Campbell dug in for a century in response, Lara nicked off and West Indies conceded a lead of over 150. Courtney Walsh’s 5-39 kept Australia just within reach, and then it was over to Lara to keep the flame burning a little while longer.
The second factor is that, while Perera and Stokes’ innings came with the match situation apparently hopeless, relieving them of the burden of expectations, Lara had long established himself as a player capable of pulling off what was impossible for everyone else. His innings was all the greater for his existing track record, one that included figures of 501* and 375. Had an extravagant Walsh leave gone awry and signalled an Australian triumph, the pain would have been felt all the more strongly, with the hope extinguished not a flame that had suddenly sprung into life, but a flicker that had slowly but surely grown into an inferno.
Still, for all the backlift flourishes, the twinkling toes and thrashing drives, it was an unsuccessful piece of evasive action that summed up the innings best. Having been struck on the back of the helmet by a Glenn McGrath bouncer, Lara got up and ran to the other end, ensuring no runs were squandered, and smiled, relishing the fight. Then he squared up to the bowler, despite standing a full head shorter than the lanky Australian.
By this stage, Australia had overtaken West Indies as the planet’s best team. But in Lara, they had more than met their equal.