The last four years of Brian Lara’s Test career, one that resulted in 11953 runs, were magnificent. For instance, in 2003, he plundered 1,344 runs in one year and in the final year of his appearance in the five-day game, fired 250 shy of 1,000 runs in cricket’s top flight.
Even at 36 and 37, the way Brian Lara was smoking bowlers and grinding the field to dust wherever he played goes to show what a genius he really was.
But it’s what Brian Lara did in the penultimate year of his Test journey that found worldwide claim, once again, much like those breathtaking innings of his- whether one speaks of his unbeaten 153 at Bridgetown, Barbados or what has since its inception remained Test cricket’s only quadruple century, hit in 2004.
For many hitting runs overseas holds much value. That Brian Charles Lara- batsman extraordinaire and bowler smasher of the highest accord- struck an emphatic 226 away in Australia in 2005, a few months before bidding adieu to Test cricket was amazing.
That he went past the great Allan Border’s run tally in Allan Border land to become the highest individual Test scorer was commendable.
It then reinstated the Prince to the throne of the best batsman in the world, winning him rich plaudits- and rightly so- in the battle against Tendulkar, a close friend of his.
That the great Border’s highest Test score was 205 would in no way have impacted Lara, who lest it is forgotten, in his maiden assignment Down Under had fired away 277 at Sydney.
From Sydeny to Adelaide, the scene of his devastating 226, Brian Lara ensured that Australia was a battlefield where he lorded with usual elegance.
But there was so much more to that 226, scored against Warne, McGrath, Lee that mattered.
In some ways, the knock is truly considered special since Lara’s ability to rise like a phoenix marked him in a league of his own.
He himself said lot of times that he had seen failure more than success in his life and that the one who comes back from adversity to redeem himself in his respective field is regarded as true champion.
Little surprise then Lara too was one. Is one.
From SCG’s 277 to Barbados’ epic 153- all were knocks regarded as the stuff of champions.
But in carving his name as Test cricket’s highest scorer in his 226, what I liked most about Brian Lara was the manner in which he came back to the top amid severe criticism and excruciating pressure.
Forget not that even in that 2005 series, much like many Brian Lara’s classic, his peaks came against the narrative of his team’s decline. West Indies would go down 3-0 to the Aussies.
It was a familiar sorry tale evident during the disastrous tour of South Africa and seen in the Lara heroics against mighty Australia. But again something which returned to the fore after a lean phase for most part of 2000s culminated into 688 runs in three test matches in Sri Lanka.
However slight the reason for their celebrations, it was largely due to Brian Lara’s solo heroics that the West Indies flag fluttered, the little it did.
And the 226 was rich indication of the pain, agony and yet, the classic Brian Lara ecstasy- team in trouble and one man, much like a solo bread winner of a family coming to one’s rescue.
But here’s a context to what happened right before the classic summer knock that blazed around Adelaide.
Brian Lara had arrived in Australia to play super series (3 ODIs and one off test match ), representing the World 11 and 3 Tests for his West Indies.
Cricket fans in the Caribbean and around the world were expecting great performances from him. He also needed some runs to surpass Allan Border as the leading run scorer in Test.
But would the runs actually come? Lara had looked a bit rusty and out of touch in the super series.
The great man showed little form in second innings of solitary test at SCG but Warne got him out.
To make things worse, Brian Lara injured his finger in the tour match. Did you know of this truth?
In the First Test at Gabba, despite looking a bit scratchy he was a figure of great determination. One bad decision ruined a knock there too.
But sadly, his wretched form continued in the few more innings of the series. Nothing was going right for him as he got some rough decisions from the umpires again thereafter, but he never complained about that, showing a great sportsman spirit.
It’s exactly the thing that Brian Lara is never appreciated for or even considered as having in the first place.
And then, after bouts of frustration, never expressed verbally but always accepted graciously, though with inner torment, came the big Brian Lara breakthrough.
It’s the part I as a Lara fan consider his rising from the Ashes.
Before the start of the Third and final Test match of the tour, poised for Adelaide, the left-hander needed to score 200 odd runs to break Border’s record.
Windies batted first and were off to a poor start and in came the Prince, amid testing waters as always, to take on the Aussies.
Poor starts of Windies and Lara had so often been the most sturidiest if not the happiest of dates.
But something was to give at Adelaide. Something was poised to be different. It wasn’t a make or break for at 36, Lara had courted many a storm to even think of beginning again but every artist aims to sign off with a masterpiece- doesn’t he- so too aimed Lara.
It’s why another low score would come to have hurt him badly. Glad, it wasn’t to be.
Here’s how the famous 226 panned out.
Once out there, Brian Lara started slowly, but cautiously. Soon, his innings flourished after spending time at the crease.
At the end of the day’s play, the magifican had tricked those who would’ve thought that the runs had dried and the bat had quietned itself.
A double century had been reached. Courtesy a punshing pull to the square leg boundary off Lee.
The coming down the pitch to Warne, the lifting of Brett Lee over extra cover in the most Brian Lara-esuqe of fasions were the headliners of that day. As was the whip off the hips toward the fine leg boundary.
Tony Cozier’s classic “vintage Lara” was for all to see.
Then came the one leg up in the air pull stroke of McGrath, of which Lara was the commander. A pioneer of sorts of the exquisite stroke.
You are a special batsman if you score a ton inside a day. But you are Brian Charles Lara, genius unparalleled, if you score a 200 run knock with the team’s total being 343.
The next day, he became the leading run scorer in the history of Test cricket. Interestingly, 243 of his series’ 345 runs came at Adelaide.
What was he doing there? Gobsmacking bowlers, stamping his authority, scoring in spurts of bulk and genius, with a very gluttonous appetite.
What I want to say here is that other players might have taken both innings to reach that milestone, but not Brian. He was different.
The one who once he got his eye in, was set for a huge score. Also, he was in the twilight of his career that time. Knowing that you never know what time may bring, read the next series, Lara left nothing to chance.
He is a true inspiration for the current crop of talented cricketers who just fade away from the scene after couple of failures.
In that rests the big lesson. Don’t quit. Let adversitites strike. Let setbacks take hold. But don’t be dominated by them- dominate them.
They really must look up to Lara’s career and learn how one can rise from adversity and make a name for the self. Looking down at a challenge isn’t the answer, but staring up to all that can be achieved amid adversity is the key for me here. Are you listening, my dear West Indians?
– with inputs from Dev Tyagi