Against a dominant Australian side, boasting of an extremely potent bowling unit, Brian Lara produced an innings of a lifetime to script one of the most memorable results in the history of Test match cricket.
When pub debate turns to Tendulkar or Lara, as the bell is rung for last orders and the voices from both sides crescendo, it is mention of this innings that calms things down. One side quietly reflects, while the other reclines, satisfied, in the name of Brian Charles Lara.
A match-winning knock, on a different plane, against the odds and in a dark period, for all concerned. Prior to touring South Africa at the end of 1998, Lara, captain at the time, led a strike from the players over pay – sounds familiar? – specifically, tour fees and per diems. They eventually played on in a painfully one-sided series. West Indies cricket was on its descent to the doldrums.
Thrashed five-nil, they returned home to host the Australians in a four-Test series. The tourists dished out a 312-run hammering in the first, before Lara unfurled an outrageous double in the second – 213 – to orchestrate a 10-wicket win, just as his detractors were at their hungriest.
Normal service resumed for the first three days of the third match, in Barbados. Australia dominated as they did back then. Boots-on-throats stuff; Steve Waugh got a very Steve Waugh 199 and Ricky Ponting pitched in with 104 as they posted 490, before reducing the hosts to 98-6. Sherwin Campbell and Ridley Jacobs ensured the first-innings arrears were only 161, with an invaluable partnership of 153.
Then Walsh happened; Courtney, in that mood, steaming in, whittling out five throughout the order, including the first and last wickets in Australia’s second innings. West Indies needed 308 for victory and started day five on 85-3, with Lara on two. Adrian Griffith and Carl Hooper fell cheaply, before Jimmy Adams joined Lara to take the score from 105-5 to 238.
“My daughter’s name is Sydney simply because of that innings.”
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) April 19, 2020
By that point, Lara had three figures; accumulated through the full Lara set. Flashy drives through the covers, devilish cuts that put point’s wellbeing at risk and sweeps off Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill, who were also victim to the odd dance down and lavish flick for six.
The hundred was brought up in similar fashion, meeting Warne a third of the way down the pitch and sending him over his head for four. “The prodigal son turned Messiah,” proclaimed Tony Cozier.
When Adams had departed, there were 70 runs to get. By this time, the stands had been filling up, hollering at every Lara shot, like they were the opening chords to their favourite hit. Only 17 of the remaining runs came from the other batsmen, as Lara managed to find gaps between boundary riders on the off-side.
With eight wickets gone, Lara edged through to the keeper, but Ian Healy couldn’t get his gloves to it. Walsh somehow kept out an inswinging yorker and then the winning runs: flayed through cover by Lara. The West Indies players, then fans, rushed on to mob the legend.
Australia went on to win the fourth and share the series’ spoils. But all anyone would remember that series for was Lara’s 153.
First published in March 2015