There were few sights better than Brian Charles Lara in full flow. While grace and his ability to accumulate runs are something cricket experts remember him by, it was his ability to do the unimaginable that won the hearts of everyone watching.
Sachin Tendulkar had the consistency, Ricky Ponting the aggression but Lara had pure genius.
As Lara turns 50, here’s a look at five of his finest knocks:
153 vs Australia (1999)
The southpaw’s steel came to the fore in the summer of 1999 in Barbados.
Chasing a monumental 308 against the mighty Australians, West Indies were struggling at 105/5. Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie were running rampant and Lara was waging a lone battle.
On the final day, the Windies still had around 60 runs to chase down at Tea with just two wickets in hand. Like a surgeon, Lara would pierce gaps on the off-side against McGrath and Gillespie; cutting, driving, and pulling away to glory.
The packed Kensington Oval cheered every time Curtly Ambrose blocked out a delivery, but he departed with West Indies needing six runs to win. Courtney Walsh saw out a McGrath over in the most tailender-way imaginable and Lara came back on strike.
One of the greatest run-chases in Test history was complete when Gillespie was driven through the covers. Barbados was shaking in collective delirium and Lara had etched another glorious chapter in his career.
277 vs Australia (1993)
This was the innings that helped Lara announce himself on the big stage. The Australian bowling attack comprised of Merv Hughes, Craig McDermott, Greg Matthews and Shane Warne. A 23-year-old Lara, till this knock, was recognised as a talented batsman but notorious for not converting starts into a big score.
Despite Australia setting a mammoth first-innings score, Lara smashed the bowling attack to all parts of the Sydney Cricket Ground, an arena that was not a happy hunting ground for the Windies. “I never felt comfortable with a hundred, I never actually played to get a hundred,” Lara was quoted as saying by cricket.com.au.
“Every time I got to a hundred I marked my crease and felt ‘I need to keep going’ because I just wasn’t satisfied.” Lara missed out on a triple hundred after feasting on the Australian bowlers. This knock was the launchpad for many epics to come. The knock is a special one to Lara too and years later, named his daughter Sydney.
221 vs Sri Lanka (2001)
The series was dubbed as a Lara vs Muralitharan contest but there was only one winner from this contest, despite West Indies being whitewashed 0-3 in the series. The Sri Lankan spin legend and pacer Chaminda Vaas were in the form of their lives. Barring Ramnaresh Sarwan, none of the other West Indian batsman had answers but Lara was at his vintage best and his performance in this series may go down as one of the greatest performances by a non-Asian batsman in the subcontinent.
Lara scored 221 out of West Indies’ 390 runs in the first innings. He followed that up with a 130 in the second innings and for once, Muralitharan cut a frustrated figure, unable to find answers against the supple wrists of Lara.
375 vs England (1994)
The series was already wrapped up with West Indies winning three out of the four Tests. West Indies, over the last few decades, reserve their best against England. Lara was not going to miss out and rubbed salt into the visitors with a world record score. The insipid England side missed a few chances on the field and Lara made them pay.
Lara would go past Sir Garfield Sobers’ then record of 365 with a punch through the off side. Just as he completed the shot, the supporters ran onto the pitch. Among them was a delighted Sobers, who embraced his countryman amidst a sea of fans. Lara had truly cemented himself as a modern-day great. He would make an unbeaten 501 while playing for Warwickshire during a county season.
400 vs England (2004)
This time, Lara was against a different England outfit. They were on their way towards becoming the best Test side in the world and ending a 16-year wait for the Ashes.
Steve Harmison and Co had run through the Windies, winning the first three Tests fair and square. Another dead rubber and lightening struck twice, ten years later. Yet again, the visitors missed a couple of catching opportunities on the field and Lara made them pay, trundling along towards another run-a-thon.
Australia’s Matthew Hayden had gone past his 375 a few months earlier against Zimbabwe. The match was out of reach and Lara would get back the record he held for a decade. The captain became the first player to break the individual batting record twice, and has held it for the last 15 years.