At the end of his 17-year international career, Brian Lara asked one simple question: “Did I entertain?” On his 52nd birthday, we look back at 10 innings that prove he most definitely did.
Test: 277 against Australia at the SCG, January 1993
Having made his debut in late 1990 against Pakistan, Lara’s next Test did not come until 1992, such was the strength of the West Indies XI in that era.
Once a long-term opening arose in the batting order in 1992, he quickly made it his own, returning to the side with a half-century in South Africa.
But it was in his fifth Test that he announced himself, scoring a brilliant 277 against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground. It was the highest maiden Test century since 1964.
It was simultaneously a thrilling innings and a series altering one. Down 1-0 after the first two Tests, the West Indies were in trouble at 31/2 in the third match. In the company of captain Richie Richardson, Lara dragged the tourists out of trouble as the pair combined in a 293-run stand.
The rookie took just 125 balls to raise his ton and carried on the run-scoring after his captain departed.
"I can hardly remember my hundred," Richardson said afterwards. "It was difficult playing and being a spectator at the same time."
By the time Lara fell he had hit 38 fours, with his 277 runs coming at a strike rate of 74.46. To put his effort in context, that is as many fours as Australia had hit in their first innings.
The match would end in a draw, and with Australia’s momentum halted, the West Indies went on to win the next two Tests and take the series 2-1.
ODI: 153 against Pakistan at Sharjah, 1993
By late 1993, Pakistan’s bowlers were sick at the sight of Lara.
In February, he had played them with ease at Durban, scoring 128 in an ODI tri-series featuring South Africa. The following month he dealt out similar punishment in Kingston, scoring 114 off 116. He followed that up with an unbeaten 95 at Queen’s Park Oval.
On 5 November in the final of a tri-series in Sharjah, Pakistan went with their latest plan to try and contain him, with Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis bowling outside off with a packed offside field.
Chasing a sizeable target of 285, Lara knew he could not afford to wait out the Pakistanis and simply backed himself to beat the field. He pounced on anything fractionally short with his cuts and pulls and drove anything too full. Even deliveries that had nothing wrong with them found themselves racing away to the ropes.
Eventually, he perished for 153 off 143 but by then he had already made victory for the West Indies an inevitability.
Test: 375 against England at St John's, 1994
For 36 years, Sir Garfield Sobers’ unbeaten 365 had stood as Test cricket’s highest ever score.
On 18 April 1994, Lara claimed the record for the first time in his career. Having shown a knack for turning starts into big scores with his maiden century, in his 16th Test Lara scored 375.
Taking on England, he reached stumps on day one unbeaten on 164, with the West Indies cruising at 274/3. A 179-run stand between Lara and Jimmy Adams had resuscitated the innings from 12/2.
If day one was long for England, day two was torturous as Lara marched on to 320, with the West Indies only losing one wicket by stumps.
Needing another 46 runs to claim the record, Lara struggled to sleep going into day three, waking up at 4am and eventually starting his day with nine holes of golf.
On day three the signs of fatigue would start to show but there would be no denying him history. On the 530th delivery he had faced, he pulled Chris Lewis and mere moments later the field was flooded by fans in a mass pitch invasion to celebrate the record-breaking feat.
Among those to come onto the field to congratulate him was Sobers himself.
"He is the only batsman today who plays the game the way it should be played – with his bat," Sobers said of the innings. "He never uses his pads, and it is always a pride and joy to watch him play."
Enjoying a serious purple patch, Lara scored an unbeaten 501 off 427 for Warwickshire against Durham less than two months later. It remains the lone half-thousand in first-class history.
ODI: 169 against Sri Lanka at Sharjah, 1995
Two years after demolishing Pakistan’s bowlers in an ODI at Sharjah, Lara did the same to Sri Lanka’s at the same venue.
It wasn’t quite single-handedly, but ‘the Prince’ powered the West Indies to the huge total of 333/7 – sizable in any era.
In an all-out assault on Sri Lanka’s attack, Lara belted 169 runs off 129 balls, smashing 15 fours and four sixes.
To put those numbers in perspective, the only other West Indian batsman to pass 30 was Shivnarine Chanderpaul (62 off 45), who was also the only other player to make a notable contribution with a strike-rate above 80.
Having claimed the records for the highest Test and first-class scores in the past 18 months, Lara set to do the same in ODIs. With Viv Richard’s record score of 189 in sight, he perished to Kumar Dharmasena with plenty of time still left in the innings.
ODI: 146* against New Zealand at Queen's Park Oval, 1996
Playing at his home ground of Queen’s Park Oval, Lara penned another classic against the Black Caps in the third ODI of a five-match series.
In a tricky chase of 220, Lara was both the bedrock and the motor of the West Indies’ pursuit, helping himself to 146* runs off 134 deliveries.
It was the eighth century of an ODI career that was growing more impressive every game. The great-in-the-making finished the match in style, hitting a six to wrap up the chase with more than four overs to spare.
As was often the case when he was in full flow, no one could keep up with him, with Lara dominating hundred-run stands with Phil Simmons and Jimmy Adams.
Test: 213 against Australia at Kingston, 1999
By 1999 the sun was setting on the West Indies’ era of dominance.
Going into the second Test against Australia of the Frank Worrell Trophy, the team had suffered six straight defeats in the format. They had been trounced 5-0 by South Africa and in their last Test against Australia, they had been bowled out for 51.
Suffice to say, Lara was a captain under pressure and things were looking ugly when the side finished day one at Sabina Park limping at 37/4 in reply to Australia’s total of 256.
Across 344 deliveries and nearly eight hours at the crease, Lara turned the match on its head, hitting 29 fours and three sixes on his way to a brilliant 213.
It was a performance that saw Lara shelve his attacking instincts early, taking 140 balls to bring up his fifty, before taking the sword to Australia’s all-star attack once he had got himself set, hitting four successive fours at one point.
The double-century powered the West Indies to a 10-wicket victory and in retirement, he would rate it the favourite performance of his career.
Test: 153* against Australia at Bridgetown, 1999
Just a match later, Lara would produce what many rate as his greatest ever innings.
Chasing 308 to win on a wearing Bridgetown pitch, the West Indies were in trouble at 85/3 going into the final day’s play. Lara resumed the day on two, having scrapped his way through a difficult period in shadowy conditions on day four.
He could do little as the situation quickly deteriorated for his team, with Jason Gillespie removing Adrian Griffith and Carl Hooper to reduce the hosts to 105/5.
In Adams he found a company, dominating a 133-run stand in which his partner contributed 38 before having his timber rattled by Glenn McGrath. Adam’s 38 would turn out to be the second-highest score of the innings as Lara carried the team to the most improbable of victories.
Incredibly, he did most of it in the company of the tail as McGrath struck twice in two balls to leave the hosts on the brink at 248/8, still needing 60 runs to win.
The dashing left-hander put on a 54-run stand with Curtly Ambrose, who scored 12 runs but more importantly stood stubbornly for 82 minutes.
When Ambrose fell, the West Indies still needed six runs to win. A wide and a no-ball helped the cause before Lara finished the match with a four off Gillespie, cueing delirium in a crowd that quickly took to the field.
Test: 221 against Sri Lanka at Colombo, 2001
Lara had struggled in Test cricket in 2000, averaging 29.23 for the year.
Heading into the tour of Sri Lanka his average had slipped to 47 and he was coming up against a man at the height of his powers in Muttiah Muralitharan.
It was on the island nation against the beguiling spinner that he reignited his Test career.
He plundered a ton in the first Test and 74 in the second but it was in the third that he really took things up a gear.
In a first-innings total of 390, Lara scored 221, hitting 25 boundaries in a 354-ball stay. It was a performance that had the West Indies on course for a big score, only for the final six wickets.
Incredibly, Lara was not done there. He stepped up again in the second innings, scoring an excellent 130 in a total of 262.
It was not enough to save the West Indies from a 3-0 series whitewash, but it did leave an impression on Muralitharan, who would state in 2003: “I think, of all the batsmen in the world, he plays my bowling better than anyone else, including Sachin Tendulkar.
“His eyesight and hand coordination is very good and he’s able to adjust very quickly to very good deliveries.”
Test: 400 against England at St John's, 2004
For six months between 2003 and 2004, Lara did not boast the record for the highest score in Test cricket.
In October 2003, Australia’s Matthew Hayden had eclipsed Lara’s 375 with a score of 380 against Zimbabwe at the WACA.
In April the following year, Lara did what no player in Test history ever has. He reclaimed the record for the highest score in the format, doing the unthinkable but seemingly inevitable as he scored Test cricket’s first 400.
Almost 10 years on from torturing England at St John’s when he first claimed the record, he dealt out similar punishment to the same opponents at the same ground to make his unbeaten 400.
It was an innings played with haste throughout. The first 50 runs came in just 61 balls, the first 100 in 131. By the time he reached his triple-century, he had faced 404 deliveries, hitting 36 of them to the ropes.
On day three he belted Gareth Batty into the stands to equal Hayden’s 380 and on the next he went past the Australian, kissing the St John’s pitch in gratitude afterwards.
He brought up his quadruple-century after the lunch break, declaring the West Indies innings at 751/5.
It was not enough to conjure a victory for the hosts but it did ensure they avoided a series whitewash.
Test: 226 against Australia at Adelaide Oval, 2005
Fittingly, we round out this list where we started it. In Australia.
In his final Test on the Australian soil where he had first announced himself as a star, he scored a brilliant 226 off 298 at the Adelaide Oval.
Incredibly, despite coming out to bat at No.4, he raced to his double-century on the opening day’s play.
By lunch, he was only on 27 off 67 balls. Whatever he had during the interval worked magically, as he belted 175 runs off 199 deliveries across the final two sessions of the day.
An attack featuring Warne, McGrath, Brett Lee and Stuart MacGill was not meant to be played that easily. That much was shown by the fact the next highest score in the West Indies’ total of 405 was Dwayne Bravo’s 34.
On day two Lara claimed one more record in a glittering career, going past Allan Border’s tally of 11,174 for the most runs in Test cricket.
"It's a great feeling," Lara said. "With stuff like this you'd like to do it in front of your home crowd but it's special with Allan Border being an Australian. The reception this morning was excellent and it's really touching to be appreciated by a country I've had great battles with throughout my career."
Border was effusive in his praise of the West Indian after the record was broken.
“I have had the pleasure of seeing him play a lot of cricket and there is no doubt he is a genuine genius,” Border said. “I am sure I am not the only Australian who is pleased to see him hold this record."
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