Just six months after Matthew Hayden snatched his record, Brian Lara took back what was his at the same venue he initially set the record. The stylish West Indies batsman once again became the holder of the highest individual score in Tests and became the first man on the planet to score 400 in an innings, on this day in 2004.
Lara was always known to play the big innings – be it his maiden century, a gigantic 277 at Sydney in 1993 or 213 at Kingston in 1999, twin centuries (221 & 130) in Colombo in 2001 or the 375 he scored against England in 1994 – with his elegant strokeplay left the world in awe and always left them wanting a bit more.
His talent was never in question right from a young age when he became the youngest captain of Trinidad & Tobago at the age of 20 in 1990, leading them to victory in the one-day season right away. His appetite for runs became more evident when he scored an unbeaten 501 for Warwickshire against Durham in 1994, which he got off just 427 deliveries, accumulating 308 of those runs in boundaries. This is still the highest score in first-class cricket and in 10 more years, he would – achieve feats not many have come close to replicating, let alone breaking.
However, many considered Lara’s innings to be a selfish one – Ricky Ponting was particularly critical of it. "It's generally not the way we play our cricket," he said. "Their whole first innings might have been geared around one individual performance and they could have let a Test match slip because of it. They ran out of time in the game - that's not the way the Australian team plays."
Former England captain Tony Greig too seemed to echo Ponting’s views, even attacking Lara’s captaincy credentials. "I'm certainly not raving about the innings. I have to praise it for the sheer fact that he stayed in for so long but it wasn't an innings that you could be in awe of. It was clear he had the record in mind and was just going to keep on grinding it out until he got there. As far as I'm concerned that is not a good way to play the game, especially when you're the captain. It shows that Brian Lara is not a very good captain," he said.
Going into the final match at Antigua, Lara in the previous three Tests had registered scores of 23, 0, 0, 8, 36 and 33. It was safe to say, his place in the side was in jeopardy, let alone his captaincy. England were 3-0 up in the series and West Indies were staring at a humiliating whitewash. It was the English fast bowlers who had played a major part in their success on the tour. They bowled out West Indies twice for under a 100 and stuck to their plans against Lara by tucking him, bowling at his body and thereby not allowing him to play freely.
West Indies were no strangers in salvaging some pride after being 3-0 down. The record run-chase against Australia, less than a year ago at the same venue gave everyone hope that they could avoid a whitewash.
It was a flat wicket, designed to give West Indies a chance to win at least one game in the series – a pitch prepared by another Antigua legend, Andy Roberts. However, nobody imagined the pitch would be this flat.
By the end of day one, Lara had scored 86 and by the end of the second, he was unbeaten on 313, while the team’s total was 595 for 5. For a team looking to win the match, this total would have probably been enough, but Lara wanted to go on, perhaps in a bid to really ensure that they do not bat again in the match.
There have been a few instances where certain individuals have had a chance to break the record – like Michael Clarke, who sportingly declared on 329 against India in 2012 when he had all the time in the world to go for the record. More recently, it was David Warner who had a chance to do so, but his skipper declared when he was batting on 335 against Pakistan – both times it resulted in a comprehensive victory for their respective sides. Perhaps the only thing that went against Lara in the match was the fact that he could not get the job done as the match ended in a stalemate. Would we still be questioning Lara’s character had his team gone on to win?
While in ’94, he pulled Chris Lewis towards mid-wicket to break Garry Sobers’ record, this time he swept Gareth Batty to fine leg to bring up his 400th run on day three of the Test and send the entire stadium into celebrations. Soon after that Windies declared on 751 for 5. The West Indies bowlers bowled England out for 285 and they were asked to follow-on. However, on this occasion, the hosts were not as destructive with the ball as they were in the first innings and let England off the hook as they managed to play out the remaining 137 overs, eking out a draw.
Lara used eight bowlers to dismiss England, but failed, yet it is him who has to bear the brunt for West Indies drawing the game. Instead, his innings of 400 should be remembered as an achievement that is probably going to remain untouched for many more years.
However, the great man has backed a couple of players to break his record.
Lara’s career is nothing short of a celebration. Being the 10th sibling out of 11 children in the family, growing up was not always easy for Lara, who was also a good soccer player before he turned his attention to cricket. He idolized another left-handed batsman in Roy Fredericks growing up and it is believed that Lara replicates Fredericks’ mannerisms with those cuts and pulls.
Lara is still the leading run-getter in Tests for West Indies, and in ODIs he was recently overtaken by Chris Gayle, which is certainly not an easy feat. More than the runs he scored, it was the way Lara scored his runs – with grace, elegance and a touch of class – a legacy which will live on. While history may judge him as a below-par captain, his contributions with the bat easily overshadow it.