Brian Charles Lara: A magician with the willow born to entertain
One of the greatest ever batsman of all time, Brian Charles Lara from Trinidad and Tobago celebrates his 49th birthday today. Every follower of the game who watched cricket during the 90’s and early 2000’s was blessed to witness this left-hander do his magic with the bat.
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Brian Lara’s batting is his high backlift and the way he played the pull shot on one leg. Although the West Indian star has played many memorable innings in Test cricket, the one innings that can never be forgotten and is now a part of cricketing folklore is the unbeaten 153 against Australia at Barbados in 1999. Here's how it unfolded...
The Series' outlook
The Frank Worrell series between West Indies and Australia was tied at 1-1 going into the third Test match at Barbados. It was Brian Lara’s mammoth 213 in the second Test at Jamaica that helped West Indies level the four-Test series.
At this stage, it was very clear that the series was shaping up as Brian Lara versus a very strong Australian side.
Australia in the ascendancy
It was all Australia for the first three days of the Test match. After scoring 490 in the first innings, Australia drove home the advantage by bowling out West Indies for 329 and thereby take a crucial 161 run lead.
After a breathtaking double hundred in the previous Test, all eyes were on the home side’s captain Brian Lara but the left-hander disappointed as he was dismissed for only 8. Steve Waugh’s Australia were sensing a 2-1 lead at this stage.
Lara takes centre stage
Chasing 308 to win, West Indies were in early trouble when Lara walked in to bat at 78-3. The bowling attack of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Shane Warne and Stuart McGill was too strong as they quickly picked up two more wickets, off Pedro Collins (night watchman) and Carl Hooper; the score read 105-5.
With more than 200 needed for win, Brian Lara now had only Jimmy Adams and the tail for company. How did Brian Lara go from here? Well, like a champion batsman he took over the onus of scoring as many runs as possible and let Adams play the blocking role at the other end.
While Lara was immaculate in picking gaps and scoring boundaries at will, Adams was doing his part well, defending. The left-handed pair put on 133 for the 6th wicket and just when the supporters started to believe, McGrath produced a peach to dismiss Adams and West Indies further needed 73 runs.
Prince of Trinidad wins it on his own
Once Ridley Jacobs and Nehemiah Perry fell in quick succession, Australia looked clear favourites to win as West Indies were 63 runs away and only two wickets left in the bank. Among other great qualities in his batsmanship, Lara's ability to stroke boundaries off good balls and pristine placement was on show on that day. AS expected Lara tried to face as many deliveries as possible and shielded Curtly Ambrose very well. Even though Steve Waugh had almost all the fielders on the boundary, Lara did manage to find the ropes frequently to keep the pressure on Australia.
Ambrose played his part quite well but could not see them through and was dismissed when West Indies were just 6 runs away from a famous victory. The crowd goes completely silent when they see a certain No 11 Courtney Walsh walk out to bat. Lara plays a hook shot off McGrath's first ball next over and takes the first run quickly in a hope to come back for second but the fine leg fielder does well to keep Walsh on strike. Now the Pigeon had 5 balls to go past a genuine tail-ender.
Each and every ball Walsh was defending, the crowd would cheer as if the winning runs were scored. When Walsh left alone the last ball, the cheering just got louder as Lara would now be on strike to finish the game.
Then came the moment when the cricketing world came to a standstill. Jason Gillespie bowled a good length delivery around off stump and Lara with his trademark cover drive pierced the off side field and the ball raced to the cover boundary to signal one of the most memorable wins for West Indies and more importantly we witnessed one of the best Test innings ever.
Brian Lara has played many record-breaking knocks but this has to be his best because of the circumstances that surrounded this series. West Indies were on their way down in international cricket by then, the series was solely dependent on him and he was up against two of the best ever bowlers to have played the game.
Happy Birthday, Brian Lara!