Mankind cannot imagine itself in the absence of certain events.
Some life-altering moments simply change the course of our history.
Can the state of Israel ever forget about the significance of May 14, 1948- the year of its birth?
Can Germany ever deny the momentous occasion that came at the best of the fall of the Berlin Wall, circa 9 November 1989?
But if you are a cricket fan particularly from the breezy Caribbean, then chances are, you’d unfailingly regard 30 March 1999 as one of the most important dates in the region’s history.
With all due respect, the great Sir Gary Sobers’s birth anniversary or the dates whereupon the Darren Sammy-led side lifted 2 immensely thrilling T20 World Cup titles may not carry that big a value.
But if you were a witness to the enthralling events that took place at Bridgetown’s Kensington Oval on the tumultuous evening of 30 March 1999, then your standard question to all around may have always been:
“Where were you when the best Test innings of Brian Lara did the unthinkable?”
While cricket in the region has gone on to see several dark days never before did it glow with such bright light and at the back of one man’s genius.
The 153 unbeaten runs that the West Indian stroked amid massive uncertainty was Cricket imitating mythology: David defeating Goliath.
Not that Lara’s David was minuscule in the strength of character; just that the collective might of Glenn McGrath and Gillespie, Waugh brothers and Ponting made Australia impossible to slay or should one say, equivalent to a seemingly unbeatable Goliath before Lara’s magic caused a change in opinion.
It’s frankly surprising if not baffling to note the relative ease with which modern sides chase down 300-plus totals today.
Is it flat decks or just small grounds?
Nonetheless, 2 decades back in time, an era where there was no such thing as T20 cricket, forget The Hundred, a time where switch hits were as unheard of as strategic time-outs, Test cricket captured attention as the litmus test to gauge one’s mental toughness.
A time where few batsmen passed inscrutable examinations with the great resolve that Lara displayed.
When you faced a side as daunting as it was nearly impenetrable as Australia- consisting of a quintuplet of unquestionable greats in Warne, Waugh, McGrath, Ponting, and Gillespie, you seldom won a contest.
At best, you could secure a draw, provided you played out of your skin.
You felt scared first and retreated to what often were hapless defeats later.
Except not every batsman thought in that fashion, for there could be only one Brian Charles Lara.
And on March 30, 1999, essaying an unprecedented display of batsmanship of a very high class, the best Test inning of Brian Lara shook the fan to the core.
A master-class that lasted for 355 minutes dented Australia’s confidence, lifted West Indies’, and ultimately resulted in a seminal work in the highest annals of the game that could, for sheer value, be compared to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
To a generation that communicates through emojis and hangs out on Insta more often than it utters sentences that communicate anything remotely poignant, it may never matter that Lara played a great knock that Wisden describes as “One of the great all-time Test innings of all time!”
But to a team that had been whitewashed only weeks before in 5 Tests and then crushed in 6 (of 7) ODIs by South Africa, this Test match was a make or break event.
A do or die event; a moment that might have brought an element of finality in a macabre sense for the very man who altered the narrative with sheer guts in the end.
Prior to walking out to script an inning of an enigma, Lara had captained not led the West Indies to an embarrassing series loss down in South Africa.
A repeat outcome here would’ve prompted a very public trial, a court-martial equivalent where it would’ve been a disparaging sight of Lara vs the people of the West Indies, the latter feeling let down.
The runs weren’t coming, the stack of losses cutting a grim picture.
Imagine a cluster of decaying, lifeless bodies.
When he walked out, his team in pursuit of 308, the scoreboard read 91 for 4.
Initially, the team were 72 for no loss, precisely when the customary Caribbean collapse set in akin to an unwanted health scare.
From 2 for 78, West Indies went to 3 for 78- Campbell, Joseph, and Pedro Collins back- before the fourth LBW, in the form of Griffith threw the game wide open, Australia now hovering all around the West Indies as Lara emerged as the only hope.
As another 217 were needed, Lara may not have been blamed for hoping something substantive from Carl Hooper, widely regarded as “King Carl” in cricketing circles in the Caribbean.
But Jason Gillespie, on fire that Barbados morning, had other plans as the mighty right-hander departed for just 6.
With another batsman biting the dust, half the team were now back.
Only Lara stayed on. In one Stuart MacGill over, Lara creamed 14, including 3 stately boundaries, lofting the leggie over mid-wicket, Jimmy Adams watching in awe from the other end.
Even then, the contest wasn’t really in the hosts’ favor.
But implicit in what followed next, and what did occur was a steely 133-run stand, was Adams perhaps crafting his most valuable Test inning, the 34 coming off 125, as the last of the team’s recognized batsman held onto an end with the Prince staying put at the other.
With West Indies huffing and puffing at 238 for 6, McGrath and Gillespie exposing obvious chinks in West Indian’s armour, the equation was simple.
It was and had to be Lara doing the unthinkable versus the Australians in the advantage of the inevitable.
Yet, two quick wickets later, in walked Curtly Ambrose akin to an amateur dancer in a Michael Jackson-esque concert, with the world hoping nothing else but for the Antiguan giant to maintain balance on the skating rink.
Gladly, Lara was still there.
How a 54-run stand developed is something no mystery writer, not even John Le-Carre could’ve possibly conceived amid circumstances that were devilishly alien to its conception.
And just then Gillespie- 3 wickets in the match- found an edge off Ambrose’ bat to the slips.
The final equation read- West Indies needing 6.
That is when Michael Holding perhaps in a moment of grave tension remarked, “That’s the sight no West Indian wishes to see,” describing Courtney Walsh striding in.
In a moment where Australia were just a wicket away with their opponents still 6 mighty runs adrift, the man renowned for familiar ducks dug in.
As fans, you wondered if Walsh’s unbeaten 0 off 5 had more value than a ton conjured by a batsman especially in those moments of raw nerve?
Until then, Lara, batting on 149, had done pretty much everything, hung in there, swept, cut, pulled, danced down the track and remained vigilantly in the hunt for what had seemed since the very beginning an improbable ask.
And finally, there came the moment of sublime magic when against the very bowler who’d haunted his team on that precarious duel between life and death Lara creamed perhaps the most important stroke toward the covers on the first ball of the 121st over.
West Indies were over the line, and perhaps over the moon, Australia halted to a state of disbelief, as Lara authored the winning runs, holding the team gallantly whilst standing on a precipice.
The sounds of familiar Calypso beats were reverberating the land of Sir Garfield Sobers and the mantle of the world’s best batsman came, once again, to the man who half a decade back had conquered the world he once again decorated through valiance.
Then, scoring Test cricket’s highest individual score, the 375, now in possession of a moment of wizardry: the 153 not out.