Australia’s 1999 tour of West Indies will be unforgettable for cricket fans because of the genius of two men – Brian Lara and Glenn McGrath. The thrilling four-Test series went back and forth from start to finish, with Lara and McGrath’s performances pretty much dictating the outcome of each match.
It was on April 4, 1999, when Lara got his third century of the series in the fourth and final Test. The Windies were leading 2-1 at that time and their skipper was on a mission to see his team win the series. But McGrath had other ideas, putting in determined spells in both innings to help Australia draw the series.
The duel started with Australia winning the opener in Port of Spain by a huge margin of 312 runs. Lara got a 62 in West Indies’ first innings but McGrath’s five-wicket hauls in both innings proved to be too good for the hosts.
The second Test saw Lara fight back with a vengeance and hit a sublime double-century. McGrath got another five-for in the match but it didn’t stop West Indies from winning by ten wickets.
With the series tantalisingly poised at 1-1, Lara went on to play arguably the greatest fourth-innings knock to help his team take the lead. Set a target of 308 at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, the left-hander turned on beast-mode to remain not-out on 153 and take his team over the line with one wicket to spare. McGrath was quite brilliant in that match, too, picking up nine wickets, but he was simply outdone by Lara.
“Things escalated on the final day at Kensington Oval, becoming cricket’s version of Muhammad Ali v George Foreman. There cannot have been many battles more intense between a legendary batsman and bowler, both at the peak of their powers,” wrote Colin Benjamin for ESPNCricinfo.
Heading into the final Test at St John’s, Antigua, the hosts had their eyes set on a memorable series victory. They had come from behind to take a lead and were being rallied forward by the skill and determination of their skipper. With scores of 62, 3, 213, 8 and 153*, Lara had stamped his authority on the series. In West Indies’s first innings of the fourth Test, too, he scored 100 and it seemed he was destined to power West Indies past the mighty Aussies.
However, McGrath, who had matched Lara’s brilliance every step of the way, was yet to have his final say. After picking up three wickets in the first innings, the right-arm pacer got another three-for in the second, which included the key wickets of Lara and the in-form Sherwin Campbell.
Australia won the fourth Test by 176 runs. Lara finished the series with 546 runs and McGrath with 30 wickets. The series ending at 2-2 was a fair result, in hindsight, as neither player deserved to end up on the losing side. The fact that Lara turned around a dire situation before the series (with his captaincy coming under the scanner) to produce such magical innings will be one of cricket’s greatest stories. And like most heroic feats, his achievements were elevated by the brilliance of his adversary too.
Relive that unforgettable series here: