The year 1999 saw a batsman stand firm at his crease at the Kensington Oval, trying to save his team single-handedly against Australia. It was an innings which, according to Wisden, will later be termed as the second-best innings in Test history after Sir Donald Bradman’s 270 in the Ashes. Australia had set the West Indies a target of 308 runs to win.
Sherwin Campbell, who scored a century in the first innings for the West Indies, was sent back to the pavilion after making 33 runs off 138 balls. No other batsman was able to score past 40. Six of them failed to reach double figures, but the will of Brian Charles Lara did not allow him to surrender.
He stood tall against the likes of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, faced 355 deliveries for his 153 runs, cracked one maximum and 19 boundaries to see off the target with one wicket remaining.
The only batsman to score a hundred, a double century, a triple century, a quadruple and a quintuple century in his first-class career, Lara is one of the greatest West Indies batsmen. His penchant for playing such massive innings is second only to Bradman.
With a high backlift, poised on bent knees and eyes low and focused, his batting style was not only effective but also uniquely aesthetic.
The 10th in a family of 11 children born and brought up in Trinidad, cricket was a part of Lara’s life since he was six. He was inducted into the Harvard Coaching Clinic and later went on to become a master of his own class. At just 14, Lara scored an impressive 745 runs with an average of 126.16 and earned a chance in the West Indies U16 side. The first foundation of his illustrious career was laid.
A year later, he was picked for the U19 side while in 1990, at the age of 20, he was made the youngest captain of Trinidad and Tobago, leading them to victory in the Geddes Grant Shield. He also went on to make his Test debut the same year, scoring 44 and six against Pakistan.
After four years, Lara stamped his mark in history. Within a span of two months, he made 375 against England, the highest Test score at the time and a 501 not out for Warwickshire against Durham, the highest first-class score.
However, his record of the highest Test score was later broken by Mathew Hayden in 2003 against Zimbabwe at Perth, when he scored 380 runs.
Lara went on to reclaim the record against England at St John’s — the same ground where he had achieved the record previously. He took 778 minutes, faced 582 balls, scored 43 boundaries and hit four sixes to finally amass a 400 not-out record; the first and only quadruple century in international cricket.
Lara also holds the record for scoring the highest number of runs in a single Test over when he hit Robin Peterson of South Africa for 28 runs in a single over in 2003.
Lara captained the West Indies side when they were facing serious disciplinary issues. However, it was also under his captaincy that the West Indies suffered first whitewash against South Africa. He then reclaimed captaincy in 2003, when Australia came to the Caribbean, where he scored 110 in his first test back in charge to show his stellar return.
He then led the team to a 1-0 victory over Sri Lanka in a two match Test series and also to a Champions trophy triumph in 2004. In 2006, he was made captain of the team for the third time, after the West Indies board had earlier removed him from the role due to a dispute. He then led the team to ODI series wins against Zimbabwe and India and to another Champions Trophy final in 2006, where they finished runners-up.
A gem of a human being, a great cricketer and one the best batsmen the world will ever witness, Lara would always be remembered as the man who made the bowlers dance to his tunes.
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Brian Lara is the greatest batsman I have ever bowled to.
He [Brian Lara] was my toughest opponent among the cricketers of the world.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 7th, 2014.
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