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Glory to Lara
AT THE ANTIGUA RECREATIONAL GROUND – For God so loved the West Indies he gave us Brian Lara.
Yesterday the modern game’s greatest exponent of batsmanship took the burden of all his West Indian people on his shoulders and transformed despair into a triumph. As Christians around the world celebrated the ascendancy of the Prince of Peace into heaven, there were also celebrations here as the Prince of Port-of-Spain rose to cricketing heights.
His unconquered 313 on Day 2 of the fourth Test has put the West Indies in full control, but Lara said he was not focusing on Matthew Hayden’s highest Test score of 380. He would rather be there at lunch today and see the West Indies reach 700. He and the world know that if this happens he’ll be well beyond 400.
The catch is no man has ever recaptured the Test record after having it taken away, and 400 would make him the first man to reach that summit in a Test as well as make 500 in a first-class innings.
The magic moment came at 5:23 p.m., shortly before the close when Lara gathered his 300th run with a clever glide to backward point off Gareth Batty, in the same in which Batty found a fierce straight hit too hot to grasp.
Immediately on reaching the triple Lara jumped in the air, raising his bat and removing his helmet to salute the 8 000 fans who all rose to their feet. He looked to the heavens and gave thanks to the Almighty. A group of birds flew over the ground signalling to Lara, while flags of all nations near and far; including one from Ethiopia, heralded the moment.
It took 576 minutes and 404 balls for him to become the second man to reach 300 twice in Test cricket. The other is the legendary Sir Don Bradman.
So far he has been in for ten hours, faced 426 balls and thumped 34 fours, three sixes and a five. Yesterday the West Indies gathered 387 runs in 102 overs. Of those Lara contributed 237.
“It’s not much to rant and rave about,” was the 34-year-old’s reaction after the day’s play. “Accolades and milestones will fall into place at the right time.”
Lara previously held the world record of 375 set at this venue ten years ago. Hayden eclipsed the mark against Zimbabwe last October.
“This pitch is very batsman-friendly and even if I get the record, the fact that we are 0-3 down [in the series] would stay with me. West Indies cricket is foremost. We need the team to be doing well. We want to bat beyond lunch and I’m looking beyond 380. I feel happy today but the standing of the series dampens the occasion.”
It was simply a Lara parade on a pluperfect batting pitch on a sun-baked Sunday.
He showcased his wide repertoire of shots and his three straight sixes – two off Batty and the other off skipper Michael Vaughan – all disappeared into Factory Road at the southern end.
Starting the day on 86, he motored to his century in just over three hours off 131 balls with 13 fours. It was his 25th in Test, putting him one behind Sir Garfield Sobers in the West Indies all-time list. His double, the seventh in his illustrious career, came from 260 balls in 6 1/2 hours and brought him level with Wally Hammond with the second-most in Test history. Sir Don leads this club with 12.
Lara’s other doubles were the 375, his breakthrough 277 in Australia in 1992, a back-to-the-wall 213 against Australia in 1999, 221 in Sri Lanka in 2001, 209 against Sri Lanka in St Lucia last June, and 202 in Johannesburg last December.
It is now the fourth highest score by a Test skipper and the others to scale are Mark Taylor’s 334 not out, Sir Don’s 334, and Graham Gooch’s 333.
It was hard to keep such a fascinating player from scoring, and England tried. But the ultimate surrender was noticed when at 1:23 p.m. Lara played what looked like a firm defensive push of Simon Jones, the England fast bowler.
The ball rocketed through wide mid-off and after initially looking like he would make a diving effort Steve Harmison could only admire the stroke and retrieve the ball from the fence. Vaughan applauded, admiring the gem of a stroke, and probably called on a greater power for assistance.
But cricket is not about mere statistics and landmarks.
Yesterday’s battering of England brought back hope to the lives of West Indians living in the Caribbean and those abroad. Here was a man ridiculed and hounded for the three horrific defeats earlier in the series. Only last weekend he wept openly in front his team as England won within three days in Barbados.
Now he went about his mission. He said there was no way he would stand idly by and watch England whitewash his men in their own yard – the feelings and well-being of his people mattered.
Today, he’ll bask in the glory as he tries to bring back one of cricket’s most cherished batting standards to West Indies soil.
Resuming with him today will be Ridley Jacobs on 47 and they have so far added 126. Earlier Ramnaresh Sarwan fell ten short of a ton, after helping the skipper add 232 for the third wicket.
After that Ricardo Powell looked uncertain in making 23 on his return to Test cricket after a four-year hiatus. His dismissal, caught at third man pulling, and that of Ryan Hinds, caught and bowled by Batty for 36, were amateurish and disappointing as they both wasted chances to advance their causes and learn the art of batsmanship under Lara’s wing.
Weather: sunny; Pitch: placid; Outfield: fast in parts
C Gayle c and b Batty 69
D Ganga lbw b Flintoff 10
B Lara not out 313
R Sarwan c Trescothick b Harmison 90
R Powell c Hussain b S Jones 23
R Hinds c and b Batty 36
R Jacobs not out 47
Extras (lb2, w2, nb3) 7
Total (5 wkts, 157 overs) 595
To bat: T Best, P Collins, F Edwards, C Collymore
Wkts fell at: 1-33 (Ganga, 13.4), 2-98 (Gayle, 25.5), 3-330 (Sarwan, 83.4), 4-380 (Powell, 95.5), 5-469 (Hinds, 121.6)
Bowling: Hoggard 18-2-82-0 (nb2), Harmison 30-5-79-1 (w2), Flintoff 28-7-92-1, S Jones 23-0-113-1, Batty 36-3-141-2, Vaughan 7-0-33-0 (nb1), Trescothick 15-2-53-0
England: M Vaughan (captain), M Trescothick, M Butcher, N Hussain, G Thorpe, A Flintoff, G Jones, G Batty, M Hoggard, S Jones, S Harmison.
Umpires: Darrell Hair (Australia), Aleem Dar (Pakistan); TV Umpire: Billy Doctrove (Dominica); Reserve: Clancy Mack; Match referee: Mike Procter (South Africa)Compliments of the Nation News
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