Nineteen years ago to the day, Brian Lara authored one of the greatest moments in the annals of cricket. Edgbaston, June 6, 1994. If that doesn't mean anything to you, you probably don't qualify as a cricket nut.
In this part of the world, the cricketing slang Nelson (derived from the one eyed, one armed, one legged English Admiral Nelson) evokes a great deal of trepidation. It applies when a batsman or a team is on 111. Lara, of course, wasn't one for superstitions.
The Trinidadian started the day unbeaten on 111, after rain washed out the third day's play and following a customary rest day on Sunday. By lunch he had already raced well past 250. Gladstone Small, his Warwickshire teammate, recalls the instant when Lara made his intentions clear. "We were sitting in the dressing room at lunch…me, Brian and Keith Piper (the wicket-keeper). He said, 'I'm going for the record'. I asked, 'What the 375?'. He said, 'No. Hanif Mohammad's 499'. I asked him 'Are you serious? You're still 250 runs away'. He said, 'You watch me'," recalled Small.
As a plethora of records fell by the wayside, the teammates began to take notice. By the time tea was taken, he was just 82 shy. "We then realised that Durham could walk away 30 minutes before the end of play, because the match was heading to a draw," remembered Small.
Nick of time
As Lara reached 497, two runs shy of Mohammad's 36-year-old record, the fact just dawned on him. John Morris, a part-timer who had hit a double ton for Durham, was bowling the over.
"The fourth ball of the over he bowled a bouncer that hit him on the head. The next ball, he hit a beautiful off-drive, and we declared the innings. If he hadn't hit those runs, Durham would have walked off. As soon as he hit the boundary, skipper (Dermot Reeve) declared the innings," said Small.
The legendary moment would have never arrived had it not been for a bit of luck early in his innings. Lara was bowled off a no-ball when he was on 12, but the decisive moment came on 18. "The form Lara was in that season was just unbelievable. I reckon he must've edged just 3 or 4 balls all season. For an attacking left-handed batsman that was incredible. But on 18, he nicked one and the Durham wicket-keeper Chris Scott dropped it. He said at the time, 'I hope he doesn't get a hundred'."
A century, of course, was the least of his concern. The innings capped a memorable 50 days for Lara, who since he broke the Test world record with 375 against England in Antigua, went on a run of 7 hundreds in 8 first-class innings. Bradmanesque!
The other love
The season was also a defining one for Lara, his first in English cricket. Warwickshire won the treble, and he found his other great sporting passion – golf. "The Belfry Golf Course (which has hosted the prestigious Ryder Cup) is on the outskirts of Birmingham. At the time, Lara had never played golf. Brian was one of those guys where batting was the only thing he did left-handed.
He bowled right-handed, signed autographs right-handed, he even played golf right-handed. He had a twenty handicap, but he played so much golf that year. His great Trinidadian friend Dwight Yorke was with Aston Villa (Birmingham based) at the time and two would always head to Belfry when they would get time off. Roger Twose, the New Zealander, was also in our team and he played lefty. His golf clubs were also left-handed. Brian borrowed his clubs, but he couldn't play golf that well as a southpaw," recalled Small.
A day after the match Lara headed to London to do the breakfast show circuit, many interviews were lined up and he spent a good part of the day there. In the night he went out partying to celebrate the momentous feat. The next day, Warwickshire were playing a domestic limited over match. "He was really tired, he could barely keep his eyes open.
He asked the skipper to be put on the boundary. That didn't work out. He then asked to be put at slips. He just couldn't keep his eyes open and he asked the umpire to go off the field. We were set a target of over 250. We lost a few early wickets, he somehow managed to get it all together, and went out to bat. He got 70-odd and we won. What a player!"
Indeed. What a player!