Brian Lara, 213 in West Indies v Australia, Kingston, 1999

first_imgBy Tony CozierON its own, Brian Lara’s 213 against Australia in the second Test of the 1999 series appears as simply another in the long list of exceptional performances by a batsman as brilliant as any the game has known. For a host of reasons, it was much, much more.“In its context, with due deliberations and apologies to George Headley, Sir Garry Sobers and a host of other greats, I cannot identify a single innings by any West Indian batsman in our 71 years of Test cricket of such significance,” I was moved to confidently assert at the time. Nothing since has changed my judgement.No captain had ever been under such pressure; never had West Indies cricket been in such a state of crisis. Lara had been placed on probation for the first two Tests by the WICB, which warned that he needed “to make significant improvement in his leadership skills”.The trouble could be traced back to four months earlier, when Lara and his team had remained ensconced in a London hotel, refusing to leave for their momentous first Test series in apartheid-free South Africa until they sorted out their grievances over pay and terms with the WICB.On their insistence, board president Pat Rousseau flew in from Jamaica to hear their complaints. After stripping Lara of the captaincy and planning to pick an alternative team, Rousseau backed down so that the tour proceeded, if a week late.West Indies were thrashed in all five Tests and six of the seven ODIs. Lara, already established as the most exhilarating batsman of his time, averaged 31 in the Tests and 11 in the four ODIs he played.A month later, in the first Test against Australia at the Queen’s Park Oval, his home ground, his fate seemed sealed when he was dismissed for 3. West Indies were swept aside for 51 in the second innings and thrashed by 312.At the toss in the second Test, Lara told Steve Waugh, “This could be the last time I’ll be doing this.” By the close of the first day, another trouncing appeared inevitable. After restricting Australia to 256 in their first innings, West Indies limped to 37 for 4. Lara survived; he was on 7 as he carried nightwatchman Pedro Collins with him into the next day.What followed was sheer wizardry. Overnight, Lara was seemingly touched by some magic wand that transformed the timidity one had seen in South Africa into the assertive self-belief that had been his hallmark. Against bowling spearheaded by his long-time adversaries Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, he was in command throughout the next day, moving past his first hundred for 27 innings and carrying on to his third double.Lara reeled off strokes of every variety in all directions; there were three sixes and 29 fours. At each of his landmarks, an invasion of the ground by dozens of jubilant spectators sent him scampering for escape – at 200, all the way into the dressing room.The Australians didn’t claim a wicket in the 90 overs. Collins kept going for an hour until a blow to his midsection from McGrath caused him to retire. Jimmy Adams replaced Collins and remained Lara’s virtually anonymous partner to the close. Lara ended the day on 212. Adams, his fellow left-hander, on a vital, if hardly noticed, 88. Inspired by their captain’s mastery, West Indies would not be denied. They scuttled the shocked Australians for 177 the second time round; three runs fewer would have ended in an innings defeat. Mike Coward wrote in his Wisden report: “Lara seduced the people of a bankrupt nation, resurrected his career as a batsman of rare gifts and reignited cricket throughout the Caribbean.” It was, he added, “by universal consent one of the great Test innings”.In only one respect was his judgement premature. Two weeks later, at the Kensington Oval in Barbados, Lara’s unbeaten 153 clinched victory by one wicket and sent West Indies ahead in the series. It was by universal consent even greater. But it was the 213 that sparked the counter-attack. (The Cricketer)last_img

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