Having followed West Indies cricket for a long time and being a massive fan of Brian Charles Lara, the date March 13, 1999, will always be a memorable one for me. After all, it was the first day of the second test match at Sabina Park between West Indies and Australia, where true to his talismanic abilities, Lara shone bright.
Though truth be told, the real significance of what Brian Lara achieved against the Aussies cannot be actually felt without realising the somber precursor to the epochal series.
For prior to Australia setting foot in the Caribbean, there wasn’t anything as such that went right for the West Indies, who were, quite simply, outplayed whilst being in the Protea land.
There were several games, but you just couldn’t label them as ‘contests’ as such.
A torrid time in Caribbean cricket and one to which Lara bore harsh witness alongside the company of his side that had witnessed some gruesome bashing in the great game.
As a result of what happened in South Africa in the previous series, losing both Tests and the ODI series badly, the pressure had been enormous on the Prince of Trinidad.
However, his woes were further exacerbated as there seemed to be no respite from the brutal onslaught unleahed by yet another havoc wreaking oppnent: Australia.
Having suffere humiliation in the first match of the Frank Worrell trophy in Brian Lara’s hometown of Trinidad (at Port of Spain), the pressure was so intense that even the biggest admirer would have doubted whether Lara could mount a come back.
But then, we have got to remember that the greats glitter in gloom and so did Brian Charles Lara.
Though, none of it was ever easy; his leadership in South Africa was publicly criticised and he was placed on probation for the first two test matches of the home series against mighty Australia.
What more could be possibly lose? Perhaps, only significant gains from hereon in were the only logical step ahead in the journey of Lara.
Since Brain Lara replaced Courtney Walsh as captain in 1998, many had thought the crowd in Jamaica would be hostile to him. But in reality, it wasn’t the case, and Courtney Walsh’s full support went to his captain both on and off the field.
You could say, that’s exactly what the doctor ordered for Brian.
On a surface that was conducive to both batsmen and bowlers, Steven Waugh won the toss and elected to bat first. Soon after, he found his team in trouble as they lost three quick wickets for 46 runs. In front of his home crowd, Courtney Walsh scalped the first three Australian wickets. During those days when West Indies struggled for test victories, their bowling was far more potent than it is today; Ambrose and Walsh were the two old warhorses who batsmen dreaded.
And boy, did they give it their everything.
There is no doubt that the Australians are hard to crack as per the norm and even back then, they proved that despite a poor start, they weren’t in the contest to offer a meek surrender.
The Waugh brothers forged a strong partnership to anchor the innings. However, the Windies also continued to take wickets at regular intervals, and the Australians wouldn’t have reached 256 had Steve Waugh not shown the steely determination to score his first test century as captain.
When Brian Lara played the victor
In the event that Australia was bowled out at the fag end of the day’s play, the home team had to withstand hostile bowling from McGrath and Gillespie. To make matters worse for skipper Brian Lara, Chanderpaul and Hopper were not part of the test match because of personal reasons.
Surely, in different patches of his career, Lara had the great fortune of being anchored by these two committed sons of West Indies cricket but any intrepid analyst would concur that it was Lara often by himself and alone when his team battled the harshest storms as one found out on this occasion.
Furthermore, the inexperienced opener Suruj Ragoonath and the experienced Sherwin Campbell both departed cheaply, bringing Brian Lara to the crease.
This was the moment. A moment like no other. A momeht that, as later turned out, proved to be the key game changer: a true and gritty great walking into the middle whilst facing all sorts of music he’d otherwise have never enjoyed.
And the beginnings were ominus indeed for the Australians.
Brian Lara hit the first ball he faced from his nemesis McGrath for four, and the crowd grew hopeful that Prince could rescue his team from yet another humiliation. However, the batsmen played recklessly at the other end and gave up the fight much to the disappointment of the Caribbean fans. At the end of the first day of play, West Indies were 37 for 4 with Lara and Collins at the crease.
As Collins retired hurt with only 54 on the board, another West Indian disaster threatened.Then Jimmy Adams Joined skipper Lara in the middle and together, they formed an unbroken partnership on 322 runs. On the first and third days of the match, 14 wickets fell each. However, on the second day, there was no success for Australia despite the outstanding bowling from McGrath and company.
Taking into consideration the fragility of the West Indian batting lineup, it was an impressive feat and Lara praised Adams for his diligent and astute assistance. Initially, Lara was cautious, however, his confidence grew and he later smashed MacGill and Warne all over the park.
He then went on to blast Blewett on four consecutive fours. Perhaps one of the more savoury moments for the home crowd, which by then was witnessing the rise of the Prince again.
Forget not that Lara had a lucky escape on 44, when Mark Waugh failed to take the catch at slip and could have been run out for 99 when Langer demolished the stumps when he scampered for a quick single to complete his ton. It was desperately close and Steve Bucknor reached out to the third umpire to make the deciding call.
Simultaneously, a large crowd of individuals flooded the space around the batsman with cheers and sweat.
The whole of West Indies had one name on its lips: Brian Lara. A resurrection was on the cards. The tempting construction of which had been seen ball by ball, over after all.
Lara attempted to get away from the crowd and ended just yards away from the dressing rooms, where Courtney Walsh emerged in order to protect him. He had performed his best, showing extraordinary grit and determination in this particular innings. Perhaps it’s meaningful to remember that the hallmark of a great player is the ability to bring forth his best performance when the stakes are high.
Lara did exactly that.
Eventually, Brian Lara yet another four against Blewett to reach 199. Shortly after, he flicked Warne on onside, this time effortlessly, and further rejoicing ensued. A wonderful double hundred from a remarkable player.
Pehraps amongt the best that anyone had witnessed in this incredible game of ours.
His incredible batting performance had a huge repercussion, leaving the Australians all out for just 177 runs in their second innings. This was a great setback to the mighty Australians. Much to the joy of the passionate Caribbean fans, West Indies clinched a win by 10 wickets in the match. Even to this day it is considered without a doubt that the turnaround in this Test cricket series is indeed one of the most impressive stories in sporting history.
Brian Lara was the hero who managed to defy unfavourable odds and difficult circumstances to make things happen. He truly delivered remarkable results from an impossible situation.
Though what must be remembered beyond the weight of his runs is the sheer pressure they came amid. Diamonds, after all, are made amid pressure.