Warner came close to breaking it but emerged unbeaten on 335. And that was that; his team would go on to register an innings victory thereafter. Clarke came close too, going as far as 329 but would stop voluntarily, in a bid to pay respect to the great Sir Don; deciding against overtaking a true cricketing god.
A gesture that will forever mark Clarke’s greatness.
Forget not that others have come much too close, most noticeably the great Jayawardene. The right-hander would come within a strike distance of the mega record before getting dismissed for 374.
But Brian Charles Lara’s 400* remains where it is; untouched and unmoved in the annals of Test cricket.
And from a West Indies-fan perspective, unembraced despite the passage of time!
In the context of West Indies cricket, Lara’s dazzling feat is quite simply, a feat like no other. The big runs. Rather, make that the huge quantum of runs. The team it came against. The very fact that the record has remained intact in what is currently, over eighteen years from the date of its conception.
400 unbeaten runs against an England comprising Steve Harmison, Andrew Flintoff, Matthew Hoggard and Simon Jones was no mean feat, but you instantly realize the mightiness of what the Trinidadian did when you put a context to the period in which he made those runs.
Why Lara’s 400 is revered and perhaps envied is not just because the best batsman of his time scored what was then- and still is- Cricket’s only quadruple hundred.
The score has gone on to achieve mega fame since the century came at a time when West Indies cricket found itself buried in dismay.
At Jamaica, the curtain-raiser to what was a memorable series, the West Indies were 47 all out.
You’d reckon not an awful lot has changed for the side in the years hence when you realize the Windies, two-time T20 world cup winners, were 55 all out in the 2021 World cup.
More misery would come for a team that was actually led by Brian Lara, lest you forget.
They’d be 94 all out at Barbados.
And back then, there were no real superstars in the Caribbean outfit that today have become poster boys of cricket.
Gayle was young and only just beginning. Barring Hinds and Chanderpaul, true heroes for the side, there wasn’t much to fall back on.
No Pollards, no Hetmyers, Poorans or Holders and no signs of Hope either.
The only name that was carrying the torch of West Indies cricket, ensuring the flame wouldn’t die out was Brian Lara.
The batsman who, prior to setting foot at St. John’s in Antigua, had collected only 100 runs from the series.
The very man who was back then, horribly short of runs, the man whose head they all wanted; the captain who had done nothing inspirational
upto this point.
That is when things changed. And changed much too brightly for the West Indies and horribly so for England.
The occasion was big for the visitors as they were one Windies hammering away from registering a clean sweep in the series.
But Brian Lara, the prodigal son of the West Indies, was one game away from being stripped of captaincy. An act you think would’ve essentially ended his Test career.
Had that happened, they’d just have remembered the sensational 277 at Sydney or what was in ‘94, the glorious 375, also at Antigua, a knock with which Lara overtook Sir Sobers.
Most would’ve conveniently stated that Lara, forever the inveterate lover of big innings had nothing more to offer. That the show was over, the romancing was done and that there was no fuel left in the tank.
And yet despite facing the imminent danger of the situation, finding himself in midst of something that wasn’t make or break but essentially pointed to a breakdown from cricket, Brian Lara hit 400 unbeaten runs.
He resorted pride in the Caribbean, found the long lost belief for his team that had perhaps forgotten how to avoid the humiliation that was a Test drubbing and most importantly, crowned himself a champion of the world cricket.
He did that at a time when he was, unquestionably, at the lowest ebb of his life and had nothing to fall back on instead of past glory.
Perhaps that is what underlines the significance of Brian Lara’s 400 at Antigua and it’s that each time the left-hander found himself cornered he counter-attacked bravely.
The old adage goes that a wounded tiger is even more dangerous than an unhurt predator.
Lara on April 12 was the predator that had been scarred all series by an England that perhaps saw none of what was to happen to their bowlers.
Had no premonition of it whatsoever.
Decades will come and go and there’ll be plenty of chatter about how Pollard made hitting big sixes a common habit. They’ll talk – and rightly so- about Gayle storm, the likes of which took down Proteas in the first T20 World Cup contest ever.
But when talk will happen as to who saved West Indies cricket and with it, his own career, many a time from the brink of despair, you’ll not hear a word about the white ball Casanovas; only one name will fill the room with boundless joy.
Brian Charles Lara of Port of Spain!
It’s not just the 400 runs that Brian Lara produced that earned West Indies a draw, a hard-fought result that was perhaps, how badly they performed, sweet like victory.
It was the magnitude of focus that Lara displayed and against overwhelming odds that paints a beautiful portrait called 400 not out with colours of courage.
When Lara swept Batty to fine leg and brought up what has since remained cricket’s only quadruple century, he’d have faced his 582nd delivery of the Test match.
He’d soon complete 776 minutes at the crease. No other West Indian has spent more time batting in the middle in a single Test knock ever since.
Why Lara occupies a regal seat amid the pantheon of greats is that each time he was confronted with body blows he’d wreck the opposition causing double the harm.
His batting, beautiful, artistic, arresting that it was, wasn’t about vengeance as such; it was about upholding the beautiful art of batsmanship, it was experiencing the highs whilst enduring the hurt.
It was about giving hope to the begrudged Caribbean fan to remain seated and not vacant the stands.
That is why what Lara did back in 2004, and much too admirably that even as some of his contemporaries have reserved scorn ; perhaps out of frustration), much of the world has saluted what was a truly heroic effort given we’ve never come to see another magnanimous knock ever again.
(Special thanks – Prashant Kumar Banjare)