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Honouring the Prince of Port of Spain

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Brian_Lara_West_Indies_cricketIf you happen to look at the map of the beautiful islands of the West Indies, then you'd find that there are visible distances between Jamaica and Antigua, St. Vincent & The Grenadines and St. Kitts and Nevis. Plenty of small, picturesque islands are separated by water, segregating the multicultural but sprawling Caribbean entity.

Cricket romantics who still fancy Tests over the mindless bashing of T20s would note that there was once a time in West Indies' history when the islands separated by individual identities were united by a singular force. That magical power was that of a certain Brian Charles Lara.

One of modern cricket's greats, "The Prince" was the carver of many marvels that shone on the legacy of West Indian cricket. Breaking into a side that had already begun its painful slide downhill, Lara, unflustered by the decline in his side’s fortunes, produced exemplary knocks that have become classics.

Here was a man challenged by difficulties, something he became almost accustomed to face with extraordinary will, but unsullied by the might of the opposition who came to challenge his willow.

Remembering Brian Lara is a great trek up a mountain where the pleasure wasn't just in reaching the highest altitude but in conquering the tricky and unpredictable terrain that made the climb joyful and thrilling at the same time. In a career where he scored 53 centuries and 111 fifties (in Tests and ODIs), finishing as the highest run scorer for the West Indies in both formats, Lara scaled many arduous peaks.

In his tackling of world's best bowlers of the class and calibre of Murali, McGrath, Pollock, Donald and Shoaib, Brian Lara displayed an energy that astonished audiences, moved the harshest of critics and lifted the game of cricket to a sublime level where it seemed that doing the nearly impossible was quite possible. The only requirement for magic to happen was to have Brian Lara on song in the middle.

An elegant player who produced gorgeous strokes with a high backlift, here was a batsman who dominated and made hearts throb. Lara is the scorer of cricket's only quadruple century and the only player to pass the 500-run mark in First-class level. Part-warrior, part-poet, but every bit a champion as described in DJ Bravo's musical hit, Lara’s poetry with the bat enlivened otherwise dull cricket.

On the eve of his 47th birthday, we relive the "Lara magic" through 5 of his high class knocks.

1. 153 vs Australia, 1998-99 Frank Worrell Trophy

Coming into the series against Australia at home, the West Indies had lost heavily to South Africa. Heads were turning and tempers rising. Given a literal condition of 'perform or perish', Lara entered the Barbados test with a heavy heart.

The Aussies were brimming with confidence with the likes of Warne, McGrath and Gillespie ready to tame the Windies at Bridgetown.

Scuttling Australia for 146 in the second innings after their commanding first innings score of 490, largely thanks to Steve Waugh's 199, meant that Windies still needed 308 to win after scoring 329 in their first innings.

With the West Indies already becoming notorious for inconsistent batting, Australia began to shatter their hopes of a win. Starting the last day at 91 for 4, one man stood between Waugh's imposing stars and the West Indies: Brian Lara.

In perhaps the best chase innings ever played, according to both Wisden and Mark Waugh, who watched helplessly from the slips, Lara sent Aussies packing with his masterful 153 not out.

Scoring 19 boundaries and a six off Warne, Lara ran over Australia and drove Windies home, rescuing an embattled side single-handedly against McGrath, Gillespie, Warne and Macgill.

2. 400 vs England, 4th Test, 2004 Wisden Trophy

How often does one see a test batsman go past a hundred, then a double hundred, then reaching a triple hundred and finally compiling a quadruple century while finishing his knock with a strike rate in the upper ends of 60?

Not frequently.

When Lara helped the struggling Windies score in excess of 750, two completely unexpected but monumental feats were garnered. Lara's personal score read 400 not out. In so doing, he batted with a fantastic strike rate of 68.72 and crafted 43 boundaries and 4 sixes, his final six off Gareth Batty taking him on par with Mathew Hayden's record Test score of 380 and, in the process, passing his own personal best of 375.

 

It took an elegant sweep to backward point for Lara to take what David Gower called, "perhaps the most significant single a batsman has ever taken in test cricket". Lara had now climbed mount 400.

On April 12, Mathew Hoggard, Simon Jones, Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff didn't just contest West Indies. They were run over by Brian Lara at his steely best.

3. 111 vs South Africa, Karachi, 1996 World Cup

11 days prior to the crucial World Cup game against South Africa, West Indies crashed to a humiliating loss to Kenya. Lara's own form in the game was anything but admirable.

But who knows what Proteas captain Hansie Cronje was thinking when he left out Allan Donald to pick an additional spinner, Paul Adams, against West Indies. Lara welcomed the decision with glee.

Scoring a handsome century, marked by his typical flamboyance against both pace and spin, Lara stamped his authority on an unprepared South Africa and finished with a graceful 111 from just 94, including 16 boundaries. In the context of the Windies' own fortunes in the tournament, their early success helped by Lara's mastery took them ahead to the semis and sent South Africa packing.

4. 156 vs Pakistan, VB Series, January 2005

Some of Lara's majestic, most mature knocks have come in situations that were arrestingly at odds with his youthful age. But Lara's 2005 epic versus Pakistan came with the Prince having caught up with age.

One of Lara's most fluent and imposing centuries, a free-flowing 156 came when he was 35.

Joining hands with fellow record scoring bat Shiv Chanderpaul in a crucial 187 run stand, Lara took West Indies to a mammoth 339 for 4 in an important tri-series game against a Pakistan powered by Azhar Mahmood, Abdul Razzaq and Shahid Afridi.

Despite batting with a sore wrist, Lara hopped and jumped, defended, and fired with aplomb, particularly blasting the spinners Hafeez and Afridi while compiling his 5 sixes and 12 fours.

With help from newcomer Dwayne Bravo, then a relatively unknown medium pacer, who claimed 2 economical scalps, West Indies made light-work of Pakistan, scuttling them for 281.

In the end, it was Lara's charismatic stroke-play that fanned the Windies’ flames.

5. 116 vs South Africa, 2003 World Cup

How often have we seen the world's leading batsmen stamping their authority in their very first game in a contest of epic proportions?

Now consider an unstoppable Lara at the peak of his form, firing against a mighty South Africa in Cricket's grandest carnival: the World Cup. The visual spectacle of such a fiery contest holds as much power as it did way back in 2003.

In the first game of the 2003 World Cup hosted in South Africa, Cape Town arose with jubilation thanks to a magical Lara knock.

Coming into bat in the 5th over with the West Indies crawling at 4-1, Lara looked vulnerable, slightly unsettled and, at the first sight, anything but the vintage champion that he's often looked from the very start. Being dropped on naught by an unsettled Jacques Kallis in the slips did help Brian's fortunes, as he ended up with 116 off 134 balls with 12 fours and 2 sixes.

A watchful study of the tempo of the game heightened by economical spells from Klusener and Pollock meant that Lara took time to reach his first fifty. But as the innings progressed, Lara began to flex his muscles and challenge the South Africans hunting for his prized wicket.

A blitzkrieg of boundaries soon followed after the 35th over, and Lara had taken control.

Holding centre-stage in his duel with Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini, Lance Klusener and the great Allan Donald, Lara's ton stunned South Africa in the end.



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