On March 14, 1999, West Indian batting legend Brian Lara scored a superb 213 to single-handedly reverse his side’s dwindling fortunes, after months of consistent defeats. The innings not only inspired the West Indies to win the Test by a big margin, but, against all odds, they also went on to square the series in an emphatic fashion. Karthik Parimal looks back at one of Lara’s most magical knocks.
“ ‘This guy’s fragile and ready to offload the captaincy,’ I told my team as soon as I got back in the room. However, we would have been well served had we listened to Justin Langer, who popped his head up and said, ‘Just be careful, we’ve heard that from him before,’ ” writes Steve Waugh in his autobiography Out of My Comfort Zone.
What transpired before the Jamaica Test?
West Indies travelled to South Africa, where they were humiliated by the hosts and, Brian Lara being the skipper was castigated from all corners by his own people. Australia visited in the March of 1999, and the first Test went the tourists’ way, as they sapped the West Indies by 312 runs. Also, it was believed that the once feared Windies had hit nadir, for Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie shot them out for 51 in the second innings of that Trinidad Test. Never before had West Indies registered a double-digit score at home.
Therefore, it was understandable that not many hopes were pinned on the home side before the commencement of the Jamaica Test. In fact, Lara was booed by the crowd when he walked out to the middle for the toss alongside Steve Waugh. When the Waugh exchanged pleasantries during the spin of the coin, Lara replied, “This is the last time I’m going to put up with this shit [booing].”
And so it begins
Having elected to bat first, Australia were bowled out for 256, a little after Tea, as Courtney Walsh picked four wickets and Pedro Collins finished with three. Had it not been for Steve Waugh’s hundred and Mark Waugh’s meticulous 67, they would have been shot out for much cheaper. Nevertheless, the Australian bowlers would have licked their lips at the prospect of having a go at a fragile Windies batting line-up in the last hour of the day’s play. It went as per the script when McGrath and Gillespie, destroyers-in-chief at Trinidad, knocked out the top-order once again. West Indies finished the day at 37 for four, with Lara and Collins at the crease, as yet another defeat loomed large.
A historic innings
On March 14, 1999, the second day of the Test, Lara resumed from his overnight score of seven by steering Gillespie to the fine leg boundary. McGrath was often restrictive, but he paid the price whenever the ball was pitched short; Lara had no troubles playing the pull, or the hook. The on-side was plundered during the morning session. When the seamers’ efforts proved futile, Stuart MacGill’s wrists were called into action. His first legal delivery was a neatly wrapped Christmas present, a slow full toss, that Lara gleefully accepted by smashing it towards the mid-wicket boundary.
Throughout the day, MacGill tried in vain to get his length right. Often considered a force to be reckoned with, thanks mainly to the flight he manages to generate, he was rendered ineffective this time around. All MacGill could do was consistently deliver low full tosses, or half volleys, thereby not giving it enough time to spin. The southpaw however, made merry.
The most anticipated duel between Shane Warne and Lara turned out to be a one-sided contest too. Although the latter dealt Warne with caution during the initial stages, he launched an assault thereafter. The champion leg-spinner appeared perplexed, and a barrage of short deliveries — that were rightly dealt by the batsman — followed.
At 171 for four, when Lara was batting on 84, he survived a leg before wicket (lbw) appeal off MacGill. The replays concluded that the ball would surely bang into the stumps, and this left the bowler bewildered. Now MacGill is known to be put off when correct decisions go against him — almost every bowler is, but MacGill’s history of snubbing the umpires when such decisions transpire is well documented — and he lost his rhythm. Lara capitalised by scoring two boundaries off consecutive deliveries.
When Lara was on 99, drama unfolded. It had all the makings of a Bollywood masala potboiler. Gillespie tucked it in short of good length, and Lara responded by tapping it towards the leg before setting off for a precarious single. Langer, who was fielding at square leg, immediately swooped in and threw the ball at Lara’s end. The rattling sound of timber excited the Australians and they all went up in an appeal, but the crowd, oblivious of the fact that umpire Steve Bucknor had called for a television replay, deliriously invaded the ground and environed an anxious Lara to congratulate him. They assumed the maestro had reached the three-figure mark. Once the trespassers had been evicted, it was revealed that Lara had indeed crossed the crease and, a thunderous applause ensued.
There were no dry spells even after the first landmark had been attained. MacGill bore the brunt of the attack, and two sixes were hoisted in one of his overs, before a neat single was pinched to reach 150. West Indies had rallied to 282 for four, an epic innings was still underway, and amidst all this, Jimmy Adams, silently but solidly, dropped an anchor at the other end.
Nothing could rattle Lara; not even McGrath’s usual chirping. The reply, though, came via his willow. Greg Blewett was given the ball when Lara was batting on 183. Four consecutive boundaries — a pull over mid-wicket, cut over the slip cordon, lofted shot over mid-off and a lovely on-drive — propelled him to 199.
That his 200th run was scored off Warne, through another glorious on-drive, made the knock all the more special. There was spectator invasion, yet again, and Lara managed to escape into the confines of the dressing room this time around before coming out to acknowledge the saner sections of the crowd.
What happened next?
Lara eventually fell to McGrath for 213, caught behind by Ian Healy, however by then, not only was the danger well-averted, but West Indies now had a fighting chance to knock the Australians off the podium. The hosts, against all expectations, went on to win the Test by 10 wickets. The series too was well contested, as both teams shared the Frank Worrell Trophy with two victories apiece.
Brief scores: Australia 256 (Steve Waugh 100, Mark Waugh 67; Courtney Walsh 4 for 55, Pedro Collins 3 for 79) and 177 (Greg Blewett 30, Justin Langer 24; Nehemiah Perry 5 for 70) lost to West Indies 431 (Brian Lara 213, Jimmy Adams 94; Glenn McGrath 5 for 93, Stuart MacGill 3 for 84) and 3 for no loss by 10 wickets.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)
First Published: March 14, 2013, 11:01 am