The year 2000 was not a very good one for Brian Lara. Across nine Tests (17 innings), the left-hander averaged just 29.23 (497 runs). There was talk of a lack of motivation, he had some eye trouble and murmurs about how the West Indian might be past his best were starting to do the rounds.
In stark contrast, 2000 was a very good year for Muthiah Muralitharan. Across 10 Tests (17 innings), the off-spinner averaged 19.50 with 75 wickets, his largest ever haul for a single calendar year. The Sri Lankan had found his rhythm and was nearly unplayable at home.
And that was the backdrop to the West Indies tour of Sri Lanka in 2001. Sri Lanka were looking for their first Test series win over the men from the Caribbean but Lara felt that he had a thing or two to prove to his critics.
“Brian watched a lot of tapes of Muralitharan,” West Indies opener Darren Ganga told ESPNCricinfo later. “Our coach at the time, Roger Harper, tried to assist the batting group by inviting many local spinners with similar actions in some cases to bowl at the net sessions.
“Of course, facing Muttiah was difficult enough and this didn’t help all of us much, but without the burden of leadership, those specific sessions complemented Lara’s personal preparation perfectly for the task at hand.”
|First Test - First innings||178 runs, 294 balls, 19 fours (top scorer)|
|First Test - Second innings||40 runs, 99 balls, 2 fours (top scorer)|
|Second Test - First innings||74 runs, 154 balls, 8 fours, 2 sixes (top scorer)|
|Second Test - Second innings||45 runs, 110 balls, 4 fours|
|Third Test - First innings||221 runs, 354 balls, 23 fours, 2 sixes (top scorer)|
|Third Test - Second innings||130 runs, 215 balls, 14 fours, 1 six (top scorer)|
The preparation clearly helped. From the first innings of the first Test, Lara set the tone. While wickets fell like nine pins around him, he took his own batting to a different plane.
The most astonishing part of his batting was the ease with which he played Muralitharan, in conditions that the off-spinner loved and exploited so well. The other West Indian batsmen struggled to pick the doosra but Lara was comfortable using his feet and even using the depth of the crease to constantly leave the bowlers guessing.
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Simply put, he made batting look easy and was the top-scorer in five of the six innings played in the three Tests. If the world needed affirmation of Lara’s genius, the 688 runs he scored on the tour were it. He had scored 42% of runs scored by the West Indies, a record for a series of three or more Tests, and the second-highest aggregate runs in history for a three-Test series.
WI series batting averages
SL series bowling averages
Sri Lanka wrapped up the 3-0 series whitewash over West Indies with Chaminda Vaas taking 26 wickets and Muralitharan taking 24 wickets. But the abiding memory for most who watched the series will be the manner in which Lara tamed the Sri Lankan off-spinner.
In the third Test, Lara had the consolation of becoming the first player for almost three decades – and only the fifth in history – to make a century and double century in the same match.
The last player to achieve a century and double century in the same Test was Australia’s Greg Chappell (247 not out and 133 against New Zealand at Wellington in 1973-74). Lara, though, was the first player to do so and still finish on the losing side.
In the eyes of many, though, if cricket would have been an individual game, the series would have belonged to Lara.
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