Within a few weeks in 1994, Brian Lara set a new record for the highest Test score and then – astonishingly – passed 500, playing for Warwickshire against Durham. In the 1995 edition, Wisden spoke to some of the eye-witnesses.
Bob Woolmer, the Warwickshire coach in 1994, is believed to be the only man to have seen both Hanif Mohammad’s old record 499 and Lara’s 501.
It was a freak that I saw the Hanif innings. I was at prep school at Tonbridge and my father was working in Karachi. I was flown out on a BOAC Comet 4. That was a story in itself: we were actually forced down by fighters in Baghdad, where there was political trouble. I was 11 and I was very scared. Dad dropped me at the ground at Karachi where Hanif was closing in on the record and then he went to work. I don’t remember much about it. There was a big crowd, a matting wicket, a very rough outfield and a bloke getting run out. My father asked me what happened and I said: ‘Well, someone got 499, Dad’.
Lara’s innings is a bit clearer in my mind. At lunch, Brian said to me, “What score’s the first-class record?” I said, “499. You’re not going for that?” He said, “Well, are you thinking of declaring?” And Dermot Reeve said, “Well, sort of. We’ll see how it goes”. So it was agreed he could at least go for the Warwickshire record, 305, and I said to Dermot, “Let him go the whole way”.
He was just so single-minded, it was always inevitable, almost mystical. I don’t think I remember any one shot in the innings so much as a Sunday League stroke at Taunton a couple of weeks earlier, against Payne of Somerset, when he flat-batted him into the old stand. I just remember him getting the 501 and his face. He signed a picture for me of his pull with the front foot off the ground. He put: “Try to teach this one, coach. I shall frame that”.
Note: Mushtaq Mohammad, who played in the Karachi match, raced to Edgbaston from his office in Birmingham, having been tipped off by a phone call when Lara was past 450, but arrived too late.
Alex Davis, a retired quantity surveyor and Warwickshire scorer since 1990, was also the scorer on the England tour of the West Indies. He is thus believed to be the only man to have watched every ball of both Lara’s record-breaking innings.
For me, the two innings are very different, because the first I was doing manually in a scorebook, whereas the second I was doing on the computer and a manual scoresheet, so I was working twice as hard. And the second one was scored at such a rate, we kept having to answer the phone to the press to give the details of each of the fifties. At one time the pressman said: “Shall I stay on for the next 50?”
The advantage of the computer is that it does do the adding-up for you, so you don’t have to do so much cross-checking. When there’s 800 runs on the board that makes a difference. There wasn’t a problem of space, because I was doing it on a linear system, down the page. But then I copied it on to the standard scoresheet. Fortunately, with the 375, Simmons and Williams were out for eight and three, so there was loads of space to spread Lara. With the other one it wasn’t so easy because of the runs the other players made, so I had to dodge round the spaces. So far as I know, I’m the only person who saw both all the way through.
A lot of people didn’t bother coming to Edgbaston on the Monday because the game looked completely dead and we had a semi-final at The Oval on the Tuesday. Mike Smith, who was the England manager in Antigua, missed it. My wife Christine normally comes and she never misses a ball: she used to score for Warwickshire Colts and she saw all the 375. But the general feeling was it wouldn’t be much of a day. I got a terrible telling off for not ringing up. But she’d have had to come in on public transport from Solihull. And you can’t do that with cricket. It used to happen when our son played: she used to ring up and tell me he was doing well and by the time I got there he’d be out.
Anderson Cummins, the Barbadian fast bowler, was 12th man for West Indies during the 375, but was playing for Durham and on the opposing side for the 501.
I had a good idea he was capable of record-breaking innings after seeing his 277 against Australia at Sydney. He’s the type of individual who wants to be the best at what he does and that means going for records. He was running into form when he made his 375 against England. It was a very flat wicket and he set his stall out to produce something big. I don’t think there was much else England could have done. With that sort of ability and determination, it was going to be very difficult to dislodge him.
He started slowly but confidently. He didn’t miss much. He has the natural art of picking the gaps and he played better and better. I never thought of the record until he was past 200, but we were all behind him to go for it. We had won the series and we knew it was something he wanted. When he made his 501 against Durham we bowled very well at him early on. We tried to exploit him stepping across his stumps early in his innings and we had our chances. He could have been out first ball. Knowing the type of player he is, I knew he would go for it if I banged one in. It lobbed off the end of his bat just out of my reach. He was on ten when I bowled him with a no-ball. It was a deliberate leg-stump yorker and he stepped inside it. But he started to play really well after about 90 minutes at the crease.
I had batted on the pitch and I knew it was as flat as hell, and the way the game went it was set up for Lara to do something like that. Things usually go better for people who really believe in themselves. He was helped by the short boundary, which meant he could clip the ball off his stumps and it would go for six, but I was very impressed by his stamina. I knew he had the ability, but to concentrate for that long and keep going was amazing. I don’t think anybody thought we had given it to him. Nobody flagged and we stuck at it right to the end. People forget that the match ended in a draw. We could have set something up to give them a target, but we were a bowler short because David Graveney was injured and at that stage of the Championship we didn’t want to give anybody points.
Keith Piper, the Warwickshire wicketkeeper, batted with Lara through the last 165 of his 501.
I’m not one for records, but he told me that 424 was his first target. Then, when he went past that score, he said that 500 was next. He didn’t say much, just told me to keep concentrating. All through the season he kept on saying that if he batted for an hour, then he shouldn’t get out and he expected a hundred. Yet he was so relaxed about everything that I felt none of the pressure I expected batting with someone who finally scored 390 that day.
When he got hit on the helmet by John Morris towards 5.30 pm, I went down the pitch to see if he knew what I knew. I’d checked with both umpires, and they told me that we could not claim the extra half-hour and so I told Brian that he had two balls left to go from 497 to 500. He just nodded and smashed the next ball through the covers for four.
Brian’s the best I’ve ever seen. The first thing I noticed about him was his backlift, which is the biggest and highest I’ve seen. Normally, that leads to looseness and mistakes but, once he is in perfect position at the top, he lets the arms go with such timing that he does something I have never seen before. He will bring the bat down straight, looking as though he must play the ball somewhere between mid-off and mid-on. Then, in the last part of the stroke, he will open or close the face of the bat and the ball scorches away square of the wicket.
A lot of people talk about his power, and he does hit the ball hard, but it is the timing that beats the field and gives the impression he is always finding the gaps. He is like a squash player: the timing comes from playing the ball late under eye and head level. That’s why he seldom hits the fielders.
John Thicknesse of the Evening Standard was one of a handful of reporters to cover the 375 and to rush down to catch the end of the 501.
There were 45 fours in Lara’s 375 and I can recall only one that did not go where he intended – an edge off Caddick at 286 that would have been a chest-high catch to first slip if Thorpe had not been moved out in the hope of saving runs. If any given stroke brought Lara more boundaries than any other it was probably the extra-cover drive. But the shot I shall remember longest was the pull off Lewis with which he went from 365 to 369 – less because it gave him sole possession of the record than because it hit the advertising hoardings almost exactly where Richards smashed Botham with what has always been my favourite stroke in his 56-ball hundred in 1985-86.
As a right hander, Richards was batting at the opposite end from Lara, and, rather than pulling a short ball, he was scything one at full stretch that, left to itself, would have been a leg-side wide. It was a fast good-length ball from Botham bowled from wide of the crease, pitching a few inches outside Richard’s leg stump – arguably the hardest type of ball to hit in cricket. Somehow it was entirely fitting that eight years later Lara’s record-breaking stroke went to almost the same spot.
It was a marvellous piece of luck that, when Lara scored his 501 not out seven Mondays later, England were wrapping up an innings win over New Zealand at Trent Bridge, which, with Jack Bannister at the wheel, proved to be no more than an hour’s fast drive away. We arrived at Edgbaston in time for the last 130, witnessing another aspect of Lara’s cricket: his fitness. Tiring, was he, after six hours at the crease? Pigs might fly. At 396 he hit an extra-cover drive 18 inches short of the distant Rae Bank boundary … and sprinted to 400 with an all-run four.
The Man Himself
In 1994, Brian Lara was, beyond dispute, the greatest batsman in the world.
The 375 in the Antigua Test match was on a marble top of a pitch, ideal for batting. I knew if we won the toss we would make a big score and it did cross my mind it would give a chance of scoring another double-hundred in Tests. But it was only after the first day’s play, when I was on 164, that I thought it might be a big innings, maybe a world record.
The next morning I started carefully, playing out two maiden overs from Angus Fraser. I knew it was up to me. If I kept my concentration and didn’t do anything rash, I knew I had a chance of making history. I was not too tense. The tension only got to me in the early hours of the next morning when I woke much earlier than usual, and my mind was churning over what it would mean to me if I managed to score 46 more runs. My whole life flashed through my mind. I thought of all the people who had faith in me. I knew I couldn’t let them down.
The year before in Australia I was given a chance of breaking the record when I passed 200 in the Sydney Test but was run out on 277. That was the best innings of my career and still is. Most players never have a second opportunity. I knew I had to do it this time. The Antiguan innings was chanceless. I played a little sketchily on the third morning but I didn’t give a chance. The one that went wide of Jack Russell’s glove was a foot or so away from him. The 501 at Edgbaston was different in so many respects. The pitch was not quite so good but the outfield was faster. And obviously Durham’s attack wasn’t anywhere near as good as England’s.
On the Friday night I batted so poorly that I was bowled off a no-ball and dropped behind by Chris Scott at 18. “Jeez, I hope he doesn’t go on and get a hundred,” he said. At tea I went to the nets to try and correct the faults in my batting. It was unbelievable that both records should be broken in such a short space of time. The 375 was more important because it was in a Test match, but I will cherish both records. Test cricket is the highest form of cricket and to have broken the record of Sir Garfield Sobers in a Test in the West Indies meant more to me than anything I had achieved before. If only my father who did so much for me had been there to share the moment with me.
Interviews by Matthew Engel, Tim Wellock, Jack Bannister and Brian Scovell.