Precisely, 18 years back on this day, ie April 12 2004, Brian Charles Lara scored an unbeaten knock of 400 against England at St John’s, Antigua, in West Indies. Thus, the West Indian became the first batsman in the history of the game to score a quadruple century, a record that is intact till now. The mammoth knock in the fourth and final Test turned out to be very crucial for the Caribbeans as it aided them in avoiding the ignominy of a whitewash in their backyard because the visiting English side was leading the four-match series 3-0.
The superlative knock came off 582 deliveries and it was studded with 43 boundaries and 4 sixes. Resultantly, Lara went past Australia’s Mathew Hayden’s 380, against Zimbabwe in 2003, to be crowned yet again as the all-time individual high scorer. Interestingly, the 400 proved to be a timely knock for Lara to get even with Hayden, who had only a year back overtaken the former’s 375 to create a new world record.
Despite the record-breaking effort, Lara’s 400 was always at the receiving end of some unflattering remarks. Several people, especially Australians and Englishmen, were of the view that the knock was at best self-serving rather than a match-winning feat. Prior to the big knock, Lara was not exactly in good form as he had a meagre 100 runs to show from 3 Tests. So, the cynics felt that the knock was completely aimed at resurrecting the cult of the West Indian batsman and it was not even remotely meant to help his side win the Test match. Also, the critics pointed out that the Windies continued to bat in the Antigua Test without bothering about having enough time to dismiss England twice to win the match.
“It’s hard to imagine an Australian player doing it. It’s generally not the way we play our cricket. Their [West Indies] whole first innings might have been geared around one individual performance and they could have let a Test match slip because of it. They ran out of time in the game – that’s not the way the Australian team plays,” said Ricky Ponting, emphasizing the fact that Lara put himself above the team in the Antigua Test.
“I have to praise it for the sheer fact that he stayed in for so long but it wasn’t an innings that you could be in awe of. It was clear he had the record in mind and was just going to keep on grinding it out until he got there. As far as I’m concerned that is not a good way to play the game, especially when you’re the captain. It shows that Brian Lara is not a very good captain,” Late English commentator Tony Greig said questioning Lara’s approach in the game.
Well, one can only take these views as typical rants by the white men who simply cannot digest the growth of cricketers from other countries. By closely observing the match it becomes crystal clear that Lara’s 400 not out had a strike rate of 68.42, a decent one in Test cricket. Also, the Windies did not bat too long, as alleged by the critics, for they declared their innings quite early on day three and had enough time to dismiss the Englishmen twice. It is just that bowlers were unable to dislodge the “stubborn” England batsmen who fought valiantly for 137 overs in the second innings to eke out a draw. So, instead of ridiculing or belittling a rare feat critics would be better off seeing the larger picture: Lara used as many as eight bowlers but could not break the English resistance and the pitch got easier for the batters as the match progressed. So, it is time to marvel at Lara’s knock rather than find lame excuses to demean the same.