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Brian Lara makes highly anticipated County debut for Warwickshire against Glamorgan

Brian Lara was in great touch during the English County season for Warwickshire in 1994 © Getty Images (File Photo)
Brian Lara was in great touch for Warwickshire in 1994 © Getty Images (File Photo)

Brian Lara made his County debut for Warwickshire. against Glamorgan on April 28, 1994. Michael Jones looks back at his eagerly anticipated County debut.

Allan Donald had made his debut for Warwickshire as a twenty year old in 1987, and quickly established himself as a regular for the county. At first, he was playing alongside Alvin Kallicharran, but in 1991 a new regulation was introduced limiting counties to one overseas player per season. It was an easy decision: Kallicharran was close to retirement anyway, so Donald got the nod for the long term. When he had first signed for the county, South Africa had still been banned from international cricket, so it seemed likely that Donald would never have any other commitments, and be available for Warwickshire as long as they wanted him; by 1991, however, the apartheid regime was being dismantled, and the path prepared for South Africa’s return. Two months after the end of the county season, Donald took to the field at Eden Gardens for their first international match in two decades, and with figures of five for 29 in the match, it was clear he would be a fixture in the national team for the foreseeable future. When a tour to England was scheduled for the 1994 season, it was clear that Warwickshire would need a replacement overseas player.

Their first approach was to David Boon after his success in the 1993 Ashes series, but negotiations with Boon were terminated after the captain Dermot Reeve expressed his preference for a batsman who could also bowl, and Manoj Prabhakar was signed instead. During India’s tour of New Zealand in March 1994, however, Prabhakar injured an ankle, missing all the international matches, and was requested to fly to Birmingham to undergo fitness tests. The Warwickshire doctor’s assessment was that the ankle was unlikely to stand up to a full county season; Prabhakar’s contract was cancelled, and with only weeks left to go until the first match, the club had to start their search again.

 

Warwickshire’s chairman Mike Smith was also overseeing England’s tour of the Caribbean at the time, given him plenty of opportunities to examine the West Indian players, several of whom were not already contracted to counties. Brian Lara had scored 167 at Georgetown early in the series, and despite him not fulfilling Reeve’s wish for an overseas player who could contribute with the ball, Smith was impressed enough to recommend that the county should contact Lara’s agent. By the end of West Indies’ defeat in Bridgetown, the negotiations were complete and the ink was dry on Lara’s Warwickshire contract.

Less than two weeks remained between the signing of the contract and Lara’s scheduled arrival in England, but what happened in those two weeks turned the eyes of the entire cricketing world on Edgbaston. When the contract was signed, Lara was no more than a young batsman who had shown great potential, with a Test score of 277 to his name; by the time he flew to England he was a world record holder, and the hottest property in world cricket. Warwickshire couldn’t believe their luck: had the contract been signed after Lara’s record innings, they might not have been able to afford his fee.

A week later, Lara landed in England and was whisked off to Edgbaston for a press conference. Cameras flashed as he was presented with a sponsored car bearing the number plate L375 ARA (which was taken off as soon as the photographers had gone, to be replaced with the rather more prosaic real number of L289 URW). He received his county cap immediately: a record Test score was enough to bypass the usual system of a player being awarded his cap only when his performances for the county were judged to merit it. In front of the assembled journalists, Lara tried to play down expectations: he was aware that his only previous experience in England, on West Indies’ 1991 tour, had brought a modest return of 344 runs at an average of under 25. That was swept under the carpet by the questioners: having seen him break one record, they wanted to see more. He said he was aware that the press and fans were expecting good performances from him and he hoped he would be able to deliver them, but stopped short of predicting anything more. He later admitted to having felt somewhat intimidated — his record innings had thrust him instantly into the limelight, and he still hadn’t got used to the media attention — and was relieved to be assured he had made an excellent first impression.

Lara had little time to rest: the first Championship match of the season, a home fixture against Glamorgan, started the next day. With the crowd and press far outnumbering those usually seen at a county fixture, Hugh Morris won the toss and immediately disappointed all those present, save for a handful of travelling Welsh fans, by choosing to bat. When the visitors were reduced to 158 for five by the middle of the day, it looked like the crowd might still get a glimpse of Lara before the close, but David Hemp launched a recovery, adding 64 for the sixth wicket with Tony Cottey and an unbroken 69 for the seventh with Ottis Gibson — another West Indian making his county debut. Hemp reached his century shortly before stumps, and Glamorgan closed on 291 for six.

Hemp and Gibson continued to frustrate the home side on the second morning, taking their stand past 100 before the breakthrough finally came. The tail was wrapped up without difficulty, and Glamorgan were all out for 365. Dominic Ostler and Roger Twose opened the innings for Warwickshire; Ostler hit a quick 42, before being bowled by Gibson shortly after lunch, and the moment everyone was waiting for had come.

Lara walked out with a brand new bat, having decided to keep the one he used during the 375 as a souvenir, to face his first ball in a match since the record innings, and his first in England for three years. He started carefully, finding — as he would throughout the county season, and for years to come — that he was bringing out the best in the bowlers: the wicket of the record-breaker was the one every bowler coveted, and Gibson in particular was striving for extra pace whenever Lara was on strike. He failed to middle his first six balls, but then Robert Croft bowled one wide of off stump, Lara smashed it for four and he was away. He continued in similar vein for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening session, despatching the bowlers to all parts and reaching his century without giving a chance, while Twose was virtually a spectator at the other end. This was what the crowd had come to see.

Lara had scored 147 off 160 balls, with one chance spilled shortly after passing 100, when he edged a ball from Croft to Matthew Maynard at slip. With 23 fours and two sixes, he had dominated the partnership of 215 with Twose. As he departed, the Glamorgan fielders looked at each other and realised that none of them had a single stain on their trousers: Lara had picked out the gaps in the field with such precision they had never had a chance to make a diving stop. Hugh Morris, who had had plenty of opportunities to watch Viv Richards bat when he was Glamorgan’s overseas player the previous season, commented “I never thought I would see anyone better than Viv {Richards], but now I am not so sure”; Lara was modest enough to suggest that Morris “wasn’t thinking straight at the time”.

The rest of the innings was almost an anti-climax: Twose, having been outshone by Lara, reached his hundred shortly before stumps, and Warwickshire closed the day on 322 for two. The next day Asif Din departed for 42 after a partnership of 107 for the third wicket; Twose was joined at the crease by Reeve, whose own comment on Lara’s innings had been “I feel sorry for the fans, that they are going to have to watch me after he gets out”. More partners came and went, but Twose ploughed on: past 200, past his entire aggregate of runs the previous season (224), until Reeve closed the innings with Twose on 277 not out and the total 657 for seven, equalling the Warwickshire record set in 1899. A few days earlier Lara had found a tongue in cheek note stuck to his locker: “Welcome to Warwickshire, from the best left-hander in the club”; Twose had temporarily justified the label with the highest score for the county by a left-handed batsman, although his record — along with a host of others —would be eclipsed by Lara a few weeks later.

The home team had a first innings lead of 292, and after Morris and Adrian Dale fell for ducks on the third evening, they never looked in danger of being made to bat again. Gladstone Small claimed most of the remaining wickets the next day, and Warwickshire won comfortably. For the team as well as for Lara, it was a taste of things to come.

Brief scores:

Glamorgan 365 (David Hemp 127, Ottis Gibson 61; Tim Munton four for 57) & 189 (Steve James 61; Gladstone Small 5 for 46) lost to Warwickshire 657 for 7 decl. (Roger Twose 277*, Brian Lara 147; Ottis Gibson 2 for 134) by an innings and 103 runs.

(Michael Jones’s writing focuses on cricket history and statistics, with occasional forays into the contemporary game)

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