When Brian Lara's hundred failed to win West Indies the Frank Worrell Trophy

Brian Lara smashed Australia to all parts of Antigua Recreation Ground and scored an attacking century, his third of the series © Getty Images

On April 4, 1999, Brian Lara scored his third consecutive hundred against the Australians, this one in just 82 balls. The elegance of the first two knocks was certainly missing, but the result was no different; Australia were on the backfoot yet again. Karthik Parimal revisits that thunderous innings at Antigua.

Antigua was the venue where it’d all end. After being dismantled in Trinidad, where they were castigated for registering their lowest total ever, West Indies scripted a jaw-dropping comeback at Jamaica and Barbados, riding solely on Brian Lara’s brilliance. He scored 213 and 153 to steer his side to a 2-1 lead and, hence, as he walked out to bat on April 4, 1999, with West Indies on 20 for two in reply to Australia’s first innings total of 303 during the final Test, received the loudest cheer from the Antiguan public. From experiencing a harsh welcome in the first game to getting a rousing reception towards the end of the series- the journey of this West Indian prince was quite dramatic.

Part three of the blitzkrieg

Lara began tentatively against the likes of Glenn McGrath and Colin Miller, taking 13 balls to get off the mark. Adam Dale was then brought into the attack. Lara’ welcomed him with a sublime cover-drive and an aggressive pull; things looked ominous for Australia. In the next over, McGrath pitched a delivery short outside the off-stump. He was exasperated since Colin Miller, fielding at silly mid-on, dropped the southpaw off a mistimed pull. Miller popularly called as ‘Funky’ soon learnt a lesson – “Why dropping Lara was not the best of the things to do?” Leather chasing now topped the Kangaroos’ menu.

Lara cut loose immediately thereafter. He cut ferociously, pulled with utter disdain, hooked effortlessly and drove exquisitely the seamers. Miller had no place to hide; he was taken to the cleaners by Lara — who used his feet effectively against the only leg-spinner in the absence of Shane Warne, Stuart MacGill, and treated him with contempt.

Steve Waugh, Australia’s hapless captain, mixed his bowlers around and set the most attacking fields, but it was of little use as Lara pierced them nonchalantly with a precision of a surgeon. The latter moved to fifty in just 61 deliveries, collecting eight fours and a six in the process. And then it was the annihilation of Dale. The 36th over of the innings proved to be the costliest, as Lara hammered, with brute force and little elegance, to all corners of the Antigua Recreational Ground. A four and a six followed by three more boundaries — of which one threatened to take non-striker Dave Joseph’s head off — produced 22 runs. Former stalwarts Michael Holding and Sir Vivian Richards watched with great joy and couldn’t stave off a smile as they witnessed the action from the cosy confines of the commentary box. In fact, it would have reminded Richards of his 56-ball hundred at the same venue against England fourteen years ago.

That over from Dale took Lara’s individual tally to 99. Miller, who now resorted to bowling off-breaks, pitched one short and it was half-swept by Lara to the leg for a single to bring up his hundred off just 82 balls. It was the third fastest century by a West Indian at the time [behind Richards and Roy Fredericks who had scored a 71-ball hundred against the same opposition at Perth in 1975-76]. The scoreboard read 136 for two, so that gives a fair idea of the southpaw’s dominance. His partner, Dave Joseph, had meandered to 15 off 64 deliveries.

Unfortunately for West Indies though, Lara fell two balls later to McGrath, and hence came to an end one of the most power-packed innings. Although it didn’t have the stamp of class of the previous two knocks it was scripted with exceptional tenacity and precision; it showed the grip Lara had over the Australian bowlers throughout that series.

Captain drops his deputy

This was Waugh’s first series as captain and he was already confronted with volatile situations. Shane Warne, Australia’s finest leg-spinner and vice-captain of the team, had taken just two wickets in the first three Tests and, his partner MacGill had done a better job. Moreover, Waugh realised that bowling with two leg-spinners in tandem was ‘proving largely ineffective in the series’.

According to Waugh, if Australia were to win the final Test, it was hard to see Warne in the starting eleven. “Shane knew his spot was up for debate. I had flagged it to him at an official function the day before, but knew he’d be desperate for one more chance. At the meeting we all had our say, with Geoff (Marsh) and I agreeing that Shane wasn’t 100 per cent fit and that we needed to change our line of attack by letting the multipurpose Colin ‘Funky’ Miller use his away-from-the-left-hander offies. Hopefully, we argued, this would cause the Windies batsmen to rethink their strategies. Warney put up an emotional argument that included some very valid points, but when it came to summing it all up, AB (Allan Border, a member of the selection panel) agreed that the tough call had to be made,” recollects Waugh in his autobiography Out Of My Comfort Zone.

Apparently, Warne ‘handled an extremely tough situation stoically’.

The result

Despite Lara’s magnificence, West Indies fell 81 short of Australia’s first innings total. Waugh’s choice of bowling attack paid rich dividends, as MacGill, Dale and Miller, apart from McGrath’s usual, all delivered. Australia went on to win by 176 runs, riding on Justin Langer’s hundred in the second innings, and drew the series 2-2, thereby retaining the Frank Worrell Trophy. Lara fell to McGrath for seven in West Indies’ second outing.

Brief Scores: Australia 303 (Steve Waugh 72*, Justin Langer 51; Curtly Ambrose 5 for 94) and 306 (Justin Langer 127, Mark Waugh 65; Courtney Walsh 4 for 78, Curtly Ambrose 3 for 55, Carl Hooper 3 for 69) beat West Indies 222 (Brian Lara 100; Glenn McGrath 3 for 64) and 211 (Adrian Griffith 56; Glenn McGrath 3 for 50, Stuart MacGill 3 for 80) by 176 runs.

(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 )