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20 yrs ago, Lara scored record breaking 400 with 'god given artistry', sans any blemish

By Harsh Thakor* 
Brian Lara on April 12th completed the 20th anniversary of his record breaking 400 in 2004, at Antigua cricket ground, the first ever in history of test cricket to penetrate the barrier of the quadruple.  For 766 minutes and 682 deliveries Lara did not commit a blemish, to climb an epic, with his god given artistry. The very manner he climbed his summit is a separate story itself, resurrecting glory in the manner of a messenger of god. 
Ironically, it took place, after West Indies faced a 3-0 whitewash, in previous tests. Thus the innings did no more than salvage wounded pride for West Indies cricket. Lara became the first batsmen ever to regain a world test record score, which he first broke in his 375 at the same venue, 10 years before, when he surpassed Gary Sobers’s 365, scored in 1957-58.Vibrations were exuded of famous monument like Taj Mahal erected.
 On reaching those pinnacles, Lara was an epitome and concoction of power, grace and concentration, like arguably no batsmen before. When reaching those milestones, the sheer ecstasy he displayed kissing the ground, manifested sporting glory in divine heights, resembling emperor Alexander acknowledging a victory. 
One got the sensation of a figure carrying the whole world on his shoulders. Possibly none resurrected the great Muhammad Ali making a comeback more than Lara. Ironic that it was not batsmen with monumental patience like Sunil Gavaskar, Alan Border Geoff Boycott or Hanif Mohammad ,but a stroke player like Lara who climbed the untouched pedestal. Lara simply never looked like being dismissed, resembling a concoction of an architect and a painter.
It was heart touching the manner Sir Garfield Sobers jumped out on the field to congratulate Lara in 1994 and how in 2004 Lara lent his bat to the Sky TV team in the dressing room, before marching out to make history. 

 Best batting of Lara 

Still it must be noted that Lara’s world breaking scores were not his best innings in terms of virtuosity. They were eclipsed by his unbeaten 153 at Barbados against Australia in 1999 and 213  in the same series at Kingston ,or even 277 at Sydney in 1992-93.The unbeaten 400 and 375,were scored in dead rubber and thus did not influence or turn the course of a series, nor did it win game. 
No more ample illustration that in cricket the mere figure is not an indication of the moral virtuosity or impact of an inning: testifies that the game’s merit is not measured by mere statistics, with Wisden’s best centuries ,including so many below scores of 150.The lower hundreds have won or turned games more than the  150+ scores, double centuries, 300+ scores  and the sole quadruple.
Lara’s 277 at Sydney in 1992-93, was one of the greatest ever counter attacking innings, on a turning pitch or bowler friendly conditions. The domination was complete on either foot, scaling zones rarely penetrated. I can’t forget how he placed the likes of Craig Mcdermott, Merv Hughes and  Shane Warne in a cocoon.
In 1994, Lara broke   the first-class record facing some close shaves  Lara was bowled off a no-ball on 12 and then was dropped by wicketkeeper Chris Scott on 18 In all, Lara faced only 427 deliveries, and clobbered 62 fours and ten sixes. On the final day he plundered 174 runs before lunch. Lara was unbeaten on 111 by the end of Day 2, while the third day was washed out. 
Lara started cautiously on the final day and managed 27 off his first 41 deliveries. He then escalated his scoring rate like pressing the pedal of a motor car , slamming 147 off the next 78 balls to be on 285 at lunch. Lara added 133 runs in the second session; leaving him 82 short of Hanif Mohammad's record score. 
Lara was batting on 497 when he defended three consecutive deliveries from the part-timer Morris. The fourth one was a well-directed bouncer, which struck Lara on the helmet. His partner Piper then notified  him that the match could technically be called off after the end of this over, and the very next delivery was dispatched for four, enabling Lara to achieve immortality
In England in 1995, in 3 successive tests, Lara’s batting gave overtones of the craft of Viv Richards, scoring 3 delightful centuries, all surpassing 150.
At Kingston in 1999, against Australia, after Australia had scored daunting first innings total , Lara mesmerized a powerful Australian attack, to resurrect his team from the depths of sheer despair at 37-4 after facing a massive defeat in the 1st test, and turn the entire complexion of the Frank Worrel trophy. In the subsequent test at Barbados, in the 2nd innings Lara scored an unbeaten 153 out of 308,to take his team home in precarious run chase, to resurrect his team from the grave, to reach an almost miraculous victory.
Never have the likes of two of the greatest bowlers ever in the history of the game, Glen McGrath and Shane Warne, been ripped apart together at this scale. Lara reminded one of captain singlehandedly manning a sinking ship or a surgeon performing an operation, taking batting craft, domination and temperament to a height almost unparalleled in cricket. Overall Lara scored 546 runs in that series, averaging around 91, resurrecting a nation from the doldrums, like possibly none else before.
When scoring 688 runs at an average of around 114 on turning tracks in Sri Lanka in 2001, Lara transcended scale of domination of spin bowling, unparalleled, literally reducing bowling to submission. He virtually scaled zones untraversed in batting for a losing side, scoring the highest percentage of team’s run s,by a player in a single series in a losing cause.
In 2004-2005 Lara’s 226 at Melbourne was virtually as imperious as any double hundred scored down under, literally making the bowling attack shiver.
In 2003, Lara’s 202 in South Africa at Johhanesburg  ,compared favourably with their best ever in that nation, taking the attack to the sword, with strokes almost surreal. Overall he averaged over 66, aggregating 531 runs.
In 2007 in his final game Lara scored a blazing double century in Pakistan, a most appropriate way of signing off.
In ODIs although overall not even half as consistent as Viv Richards or Sachin Tendulkar, compiled some genuine classics. In 1993 at Sharjah, when tearing apart the likes of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younus,Lara resembled ripping of flesh. In 1996 World cup, his dazzling 120, literally resurrected West Indies from disarray, to stage a dramatic upset. In 2003 his century against South Africa, turned the tables, as few ever did in a world cup.

Batting ability and playing style

 No batsmen has blended domination with artistry more than Lara or cultivate strokes with  more creative genius. In full flow Lara transcended metaphysical regions or barriers unscaled in inventiveness, reminiscent of a scientist penetrating new realms of discovery, producing strokes which were surreal. When dissecting an attack he often bestowed manifestation of the divine, reminiscent of an orchestra performing. The attack would be torn to shreds but still with the grace of gardener watering the roses.
Few batsmen executed a more stunning pull shot, or embezzled as much when driving ball through the covers. Lara’s technique was a complete anti-thesis of an unorthodox one. His high backlift made him fallible to Yorkers, but it gave his hands space to execute cross bat shots. His razor sharp eyesight and footwork paved way for his astonishing ly late adjustments, to his shots. Few batsmen were ever equally stylish, when executing a pull shot or even in defense.
No batsmen after the war bore the brunt or single handedly carried the mantle of weak team to the degree of Lara or  single handedly turned  the complexion of game like Lara. Lara accumulated marathon scores, never curbing his run rate. He scored in test cricket at a spectacular run rate of over 60, surpassed only by Virendra Sehwag and Adam Gilchrist.
Lara was not as technically correct as a Sunil Gavaskar or Sachin Tendulkar, as blatantly intimidating or punishing as Viv Richards, or Adam Gilchcrist as graceful as David Gower or Frank Worrell as tenacious as Alan Border or Steve Waugh..Still in a total package, he possibly overshadowed all of them. Possibly no batsmen, has executed as many truly great innings as Lara. 
In many ways Lara was like a left-handed equivalent of late Denis Compton.

Statistical performances 

Brian Lara amassed 11,953 runs in his test career, scoring 34 centuries at an average of 52.88 in 131 tests and 232 innings. In matches won Lara aggregated 2929 runs and averaged 61.02, scoring 8 centuries. In lost causes he scored at an average of 42.19, scoring 14 centuries and  5316 runs .In drawn games he averaged 71.30, scoring 3708 runs. 
Lara was not as technically correct as a Sunil Gavaskar or Sachin Tendulkar, as blatantly intimidating or punishing as Viv Richards
In the first part of his career from 1990-96 he averaged 60.32, from 1996-2001 39.95 he averaged and from 2001 to 2007 he averaged 60.90, aggregating 5,420 runs. In the last phase Lara possibly represented one of the weakest batting sides ever.
Facing pace Lara averaged   51.54 while against spin averaged 81.29. He averaged 70.17 in the first innings of a test, but only 35.12 in the fourth innings. He scored 3 double centuries in defeats, which nobody else has ever done. He scored 351 runs for a losing side in a test, which is unequalled. 
He scored the largest proportion (53.83 per cent) of a team’s runs in a test at Colombo in 2001 (221 out of 390 and 130 out of 262).  In ODI’s he scored 10405 runs at an average of 40.90 runs scoring 19 centuries, averaging 61.82 in wins.

Weaknesses

Lara’s main weakness was his inconsistency in phases and his inability to enable West Indies cricket to revive it’s glory. He often went into patches of lost form and was entangled in controversial duels with the board.
He also amassed many of his best innings in losing causes. In many ways. Lara manifested a losing hero, salvaging pride. He also did not have as outstanding a record overseas, as at home, like Viv Richards,Sachin Tendulkar or even Sunil Gavaskar. Lara averaged 47. 80 overseas, compared to 58. 65 at  home.
Often Lara would be a victim of extravagant strokes. Towards the end, he was even found floundering against top pace, getting hit several times. After retiring, he hardly left West Indies cricket intact, where only in flashes, has it resurrected memories of it’s days of past glory. 
Lara’s 400 was a perfect illustration of how Lara salvaged untold personal glory, but only to wipe out memories of grave defeats. Lara played on the losing side in 63 out of 131 tests. It’s notable that Lara scored centuries against likes of Alan Donald , Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis only in ODIS ,and not in tests.
In 4th innings, Lara averaged 35.18, much below his average of 70, in first innings.

Analysis of place amongst greats 

Brian Lara is a strong contender for the spot of the runner up to Don Bradman amongst batsmen in test cricket. In the rating’s evaluation of Ananth Narayana of cricinfo blogs in 2009. Lara was ranked only 2nd to Bradman. The main criteria that placed Lara on this pedestal was the sum of his match performances which assessed average percentage score of team’s total, influence on game, nature of pitches strength of bowling attack, strength of opponents and team played for etc. 
It’s notable that no post-war great had as high an average percentage score of team’s total as Lara. No great batsmen ever after George Headley had as weak a supporting cast. It diagnosed that Lara had a more profound effect in turning games than Sachin Tendulkar .Often Lara’s slump coincided with golden period of Tendulkar.
In his peak eras, considering the strength of the team he represented, Lara arguably surpassed Sachin Tendulkar in test cricket. It is virtually impossible to separate Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara’s merits in test cricket, with even margin of a whisker, hard to separate them. Possibly never have two best batsmen of an era, been as close to each other as this pair. 
Making a comparison may do grave injustice to both players, who were both outstanding in their own right. Tendulkar had more mastery, Lara more genius. Tendulkar had better grammar being a better player technically, Lara was more poetic, with higher level of artistry. 
Tendulkar was more clinical, Lara more destructive. Tendulkar was more consistent and had greater longevity at the top , Lara was better at his best and at his peak more impactful . Tendulkar had amore staggering aggregate and number of centuries, but Lara had better highest test scores and displayed more superiority over peers, at peak. In my personal view, Lara was better in turning the complexion of test match or better match-winner and by a whisker, a better player of spin, pace or in negotiating a crisis. Still on bad wickets, they were inseparable. No era had two batsmen of such stature, as head and shoulders above others. 
Considering ODIs I would overall rate Sachin a touch ahead. In an all-time test match XI I may select both Lara and Tendulkar, but if forced to make a choice with a gun on my head, my just give the vote to Lara, for his prowess in turning games single-handedly.
Lara could literally blow absolutely hot or cold, with his form or touch fluctuating 360 degrees. On his day he would rule with the majestic aura of an emperor while on another would like someone in no man’s land. It is hard to evaluate whether to attribute his inconsistency due to the weakness of the team he played for.
Commendable that Lara averaged 51 against Australia, 53.31 against Pakistan and 46.6 against South Africa who had the best bowling attacks of that era. He overall scored 20% of his team’s runs overall, with only Bradman and George Headley higher in that respect.
Amongst left –handed batsmen, subjectively Lara would get my nod as the best ever, even if Gary Sobers ,K umar Sangakkara and Graeme Pollock  had higher batting averages or Alan Border surpassed Lara’s average, overseas. 
Lara turned games in a crisis with spectacular consistency, which Sobers, Sangakkara and Pollock did not equal  and wore down great bowlers more than Border. No doubt Sobers dazzled more and Border was more prolific against top pace, but Lara withstood more testing conditions and circumstances, with a more prolonged tenure at the top and at his best, could be even more mercurial.
If one mathematically scales what Lara would have performed had he played for a team as strong as Viv Richards did or even Gary Sobers, it is possible he may have even overshadowed Viv and Sobers  However that is hypothetical and mathematical tabulation can never completely give correct picture. Lara did not equal to Viv as a pure match-winner or ability against express pace but was more proven in a crisis or single handedly holding a team’s mantle as well as  had higher longevity.
 I have no doubt that no Caribbean batsmen or left-hander was Lara’s equal against spin.
Although he averaged less Lara was more dynamic than George Headley. Lara would win my vote as the best ever Caribbean test match batsmen. David Gower ranks him in 6th place amongst his 50 greatest cricketers, while in selection of top 100 cricketers Cristopher Martin Jenkins places him 24th and Geoff Armstrong 21st.
Pakistani cricketers like Saed Anwar and Inzamama UL Haq or even Wasim Akram, have preferred Lara over Tendulkar in an all-time XI, but this is highly debatable. Glen McGrath and Jacques Kallis , rate Lara the bets batsmen of their era.25 cricketers selected him in their all-time XI, including  Zaheer Abbas, Bob Willis, Abdul Qadir, Alec Stewart, Jacques Kallis, Alan Donald, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Saed Anwar, Inzamamul Haq, Rahul Drvaid and Kapil Dev.
In pure test cricket I would rate Lara, behind only Bradman and Jack Hobbs, and just a whisker ahead of Tendulkar.  Overall, adding ODIs, I would rate him, amongst the 5 best batsmen ever, behind Bradman, Hobbs. Tendulkar an d Viv Richards.
 Amongst the greatest cricketers I would place Lara, in the top dozen ever. Amongst left-handed cricketers I would behind Sir Garfield Sobers virtually dead heat Lara with Wasim Akram, rating them both a whisker above Adam Gilchrist.
---
*Freelance journalist

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