“What is meant to be always finds a way.”
If you are destined for something, then all the forces come together in a bid to make that happen. Take the case of Brian Lara’s knock of 501 not out, scored while playing for Warwickshire against Durham in 1994.
For starters, he was not even the second-choice overseas player for the county that year. That spot had been occupied by the South African fast bowler Allan Donald since 1987, but international duty had made him unavailable for the 1994 season. Players like Shane Warne, David Boon, Phil Simmons, and Manoj Prabhakar were considered as replacements.
Eventually, Prabhakar made the cut, but he too couldn’t join the team owing to an ankle injury. That’s when Lara’s name started doing rounds.
1994: The Brian Lara Year
Mind you, till 1993, Lara had shown promise, but he was far from being considered one of the greatest. In 11 Tests, he had scored 830 runs at an average of 46, with just one century (277 against Australia in 1993).
But three and half months into 1994 during England’s tour to the Caribbean, he brought about a huge positive change. In five Tests, Lara scored 798 runs at a Bradmanesque average of 99.75, including the record-breaking 375 in the fifth Test.
Eventually, he signed for Warwickshire just a few days before he scored his triple-century. On this, the then-county coach, Bob Woolmer had said (as mentioned in Lara’s biography by James Fuller):
“Fortunately we had signed Lara just two days before this epic innings; one can only imagine how the price would have rocketed had it taken place a week later.”
Lara’s arrival turned the fortunes of The Bears, who had finished 16th in the previous year’s championship. It inspired both his teammates and the opponents. In a cheeky comment, Roger Twose (who later on went to play for New Zealand), wrote on Lara’s locker, “Welcome, to the second-best left-hander at the club.”
By the end of the season, Lara had proved that not only was he the best at the club, but also on the verge of becoming the best in the world. He began with four consecutive centuries in as many innings, and then scored a fifth in his sixth innings. In hindsight, this was just a prelude to his fifth symphony.
In their fifth match of the season, Warwickshire were asked to take the field as Durham took first strike on a bating-friendly wicket. Durham brought up their highest-ever total of 556 for 8.
In response, Warwickshire lost their first wicket at the score of just eight, and in walked the Prince of Trinidad. There were no initial signs that he was going to conquer a peak which had never been done a batsman in First-Class cricket.
On the contrary, he gave multiple chances in the early part of the innings. But then he settled, and was unbeaten on 111 at the end of Day Two.
“Do you think I can go for the record?”
Rain wiped out any possibility of play on the next day. Thus, on the final day, only academic interest was left in the game after the home side had avoided the follow-on. To say that Lara was in an attacking mood would be an understatement. He scored 174 runs in the morning session and was on 285 at lunch. But his appetite had not been satiated.
In fact, as per Keith Piper (who scored an unbeaten 116 in that innings), Lara had his eyes set on the highest ever score of 499 in First-Class matches by Hanif Mohammad, at lunch itself. He had asked Piper, “Do you think I can go for the record?”
The wicket-keeper thought that Lara was referring to his own score of 375 and said that it would be a cakewalk. But when Lara mentioned that he was talking about Hanif’s record, Piper was speechless.
Well, with more than 200 runs needed for the record, Piper’s surprise was obvious. But then this was Brian Lara. He scored 133 runs in the next session and was on 418 at tea. In order to break the record, the Trinidadian had to score 82 runs in about an hour and a half in the final session.
Yet again, he was relentless in the last session, and it seemed that the record was for the taking. When on 497, he was calmly waiting to do the inevitable, or at least that’s what he thought.
After the first four deliveries of the over, he was informed by his batting partner Piper that it was the last over the day. Lara was surprised to say the least. Nevertheless, with just two balls to go, he hit the next one to the boundary and a record which had stood for 35 years had been broken.
Lara’s good form continued, and Warwickshire won the County Championship for the first time since 1972. They went on to also win the Sunday League and the Benson & Hedges Cup.
Coming back to the 501, it is a record which has stood tall for the last 26 years and will probably do so for many many years to come. And as far as Brian Charles Lara is concerned, it is one of the many numbers, apart from the numerous victories and charm, that define him.
Note – All the quotes are from Brian Lara’s biography by James Fuller