June 6, 1994. Brian Lara became the first batsman in the history of First-Class cricket to score half a thousand runs in an innings. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the day he ended his colossal innings at 501 not out for Warwickshire against Durham.
For 35 years, the highest score in First-Class cricket had hovered heartbreakingly on the fringe of half a thousand. In 1959, Hanif Mohammad had been run out going for that elusive run which would have taken him to 500. And on this day at Edgbaston, three and a half decades later, Brian Lara drove John Morris off the penultimate ball of the match to gallop from 497 to 501. This was just two months after he had rewritten the Test world record of Garfield Sobers, hammering 375 at Antigua.
Five hundred and one is huge enough when one talks in terms of the team score. The benign wicket and the rather ordinary attack notwithstanding, scoring five hundred runs in a single innings is a miracle of immense proportions. After the triumphant batsman had raised his arms heavenwards and left the ground, a queue hastily formed — of about as many people as the number of runs he scored — all demanding the complete scorecard of the game. There was a sense of dazed satisfaction that pervaded the ground. History had been scripted, of the most epic proportions. The mementos were now in demand, to prove that they had been there, cheering all the way to as the master crafted his way to the milestone.
Dennis Amiss was the Chief Executive at Edgbaston in 1994. A couple of months earlier he had spoken to Cricketcountry and had recalled the day: “I was busy with something and when I looked up he was on 150. I became busy again, and the next time I looked up he was past 200. I looked down again and up again, and he was past 300. I said to myself that this was something special and better to see the whole thing through.”
The most exhausted man in the ground was perhaps Brian Hunt, the Durham scorer. He admitted never having worked this hard in his life, but it had been well worth it.
Durham batsman David Graveney had one of the best views on the ground. He stood at gully, almost throughout the innings, and his eyes followed the ball as they left the rapier like bat and hastened through the off-side. A major portion of Lara’s runs that day came through the covers. Graveney tried to follow the old adage of watching the bat to anticipate the ball, but later admitted that most often it was just a blur.
Lara had been graced with luck and bountiful blessing of the elements. On Friday he had been bowled off a no-ball when at 10 and dropped by wicketkeeper Chris Scott six runs later. He had piled on 111 by the end of the day, his world record seventh hundred in eight matches — and somehow, the most fortuitous one. And then rain had poured through Saturday, stripping the match of any chance of a result, leaving Lara with the full license to strive for the personal summit.
Yet, 390 runs in a day is not something mortals aim for. And neither were runs gifted to him. Durham captain Phil Bainbridge later said that his team was trying their utmost to salvage bonus points. The bowling was tight —by standards that do not bind all but the genius. And we need to consider that for a considerable while during the day Lara had been gifting the strike to Keith Piper, shepherding his teammate to a century.
On the Monday, he did flounder once on 238 — a half chance which was not taken. At 413 he hit it in the air and in the direction of Michael Burns, his Warwickshire teammate who was fielding for Durham. Burns, by volition or otherwise we will never know, failed to reach it.
He took a while to reach top gear, adding just 27 runs to his overnight 111 in his first 41 balls. Then the strokes erupted in a flurry of exquisite drives, cuts and pulls — 147 from the next 78 deliveries, including a gigantic six off David Cox over mid-wicket, taking him to 285 at lunch. With the refreshments of the break came the whiff of what could happen. Lara asked Dermot Reeve not to declare.
Records tumbled continuously till the end of the match. The triple hundred, the first ever at Birmingham, came soon enough — in 278 balls with 44 fours and seven sixes. At 306, he passed the highest ever score registered by a Warwickshire batsman. At 325, he emulated Don Bradman by scoring 1,000 first-class runs in only seven innings. The quadruple century was reached soon enough, from 350 balls in a little over six hours.
Just before tea, he swung Simon Brown over square- leg to go past Graeme Hick’s 405 for Worcestershire against Somerset in 1988, the highest score in England in the twentieth century. And just after the break, he nudged Cox to third man to go past Archie MacLaren’s 99-year-old record for the highest score ever achieved in England — 424 for Lancashire against Somerset in Taunton in 1895.
And at 458, he went past Charlie Macartney’s effort against Nottinghamshire in 1921 which had brought him a world record 345 runs in a day.
He reached 475 with his 60th boundary, to go with nine sixes. It was a new record for the number of strokes amounting to four or more.
At 497, occasional medium-pacer and double centurion in the first innings, John Morris, started bowling what would be the last over of the match. Strangely, Lara was not aware of the approaching end. He played three dot balls and then was surprised by a bouncer to be hit on the helmet off the fourth. It fell upon Piper to run down and remind Lara that the game could be called off in another two balls. That was enough. Lara drove the next ball past extra-cover for four and the final batting frontier fell to the exploits of his willow. He walked away in the direction of the pavilion, having brought up his half-thousand in 474 minutes and 427 balls, with 62 fours and 10 sixes. Every Durham player applauded as he was cheered off the ground by spectators.
Reeve declared immediately, at 810 for four in response to 556 for eight. The match ended at that moment.
When contacted by BBC radio, Hanif Mohammad was gracious and charming. “First of all let me congratulate Brian. It is a magnificent achievement to score 501 in first-class cricket. I knew he was capable of it because he broke the world record in Test cricket. I’ve been watching him for the last three years and he’s a magnificent cricketer. “When I got 499, people said nobody could break that, but I said ‘I broke the world record of Sir Don Bradman after so many years,’ so records are meant to be broken.”
Lara, for his part, just expressed the desire to sneak into Antigua quietly once the county season was over.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix