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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 April, 2004, 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK
Lara climbs highest mountain
By Tom Fordyce

How Brian Lara scored his runs

Poor old Graham Thorpe.

To be in the field for the entire duration of one record-breaking Brian Lara innings could be considered bad luck.

To be chasing the ball around the field again for another 13 hours, 10 years on, must feel like the cruellest form of cricketing deja-vu.

Lara's quadruple Test century - sounds strange, doesn't it - came at a time when West Indies cricket is at its lowest ebb.

Lara was in serious danger of being the first Windies captain to preside over the wrong sort of home whitewash.

England's bowlers have been rampant. The West Indies batting has been abject. Lara himself has looked ordinary, troubled by Steve Harmison's lift and bounce and uncertain in his handling of his troops.

From that mess he produced the greatest Test innings of all time.

Only Don Bradman has scored more than 300 twice in Tests. No-one has ever broken the Test batting record twice.

The statistics on the innings are staggering. Lara made 139 in singles alone, another 172 just in fours.

But this was about more than mere maths. If you are going to set a new world record, it takes a special kind of bravery and sense of occasion to do so by crashing a six over long on and then, next ball, sweeping a four.

Brian Lara leaps for joy as he reaches the record
Lara leaps for joy as the record falls

Lara barely gave a chance in his two and a half days at the crease. There was the potential leg-side catch that Geraint Jones missed once he had made 350, but that apart it was a near-flawless performance.

To bat for that long, and with those levels of concentration, was remarkable enough when he was 24 years old.

To do so at an age when your natural physical gifts are on the wane, and when all around are calling for the end of your captaincy, takes immense mental resolution.

You could quibble if you wanted about the injuries England suffered to Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard, and point out that Harmison was forced out of the attack for running on the wicket.

You could snipe about the flat nature of the batting surface at St John's or the diminutive size of the Antigua Recreation Ground.

Then again, if you want to be picky, if the track is that flat, how come England ended the day on 171-5?

You think the attack was weak? Was the Zimbabwe bowling that Matty Hayden took for 380 a lot stronger, or the Pakistan opposition that Sir Garry Sobers belted around Kingston almost half a century ago?

The scoreboard showing Brian Lara's 400 not out
When did a mere century look so ordinary?

There is also the perverse argument that, somehow, Lara's innings has done more harm than good to West Indian cricket - covering up the serious flaws in the side, making his position as captain invulnerable just when a new man should be given his chance.

That reasoning is flawed. Would a young, inexperienced side benefit more from another soul-crushing defeat than an inspirational show of force from their natural leader?

Lara's innings contained within it every lesson that his tyros need to learn.

Conscious of the pivotal nature of his innings, he cut out the flamboyance in favour of steady run-scoring all around the ground.

Aware that he is not flawless, that he has that weakness against the short ball, he stood firm in the face of England's early assault.

Above all, there was a single-minded absorption in his task that only broke briefly - and understandably - when Hayden's old mark fell.

Hey, at least Graham Thorpe can say to his grandchildren, "I was there when Lara broke the record - twice."

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