The Frank Worrell Trophy, 1999
West Indies had been humiliated and suffered their first five-Test series whitewash in history in South Africa. West Indies cricket was at an all-time low after a payment dispute between the management and the players. Brian Lara, the West Indian captain was making the headlines for all the wrong reasons. There were doubts over Lara’s leadership and he was blamed for the lack of unity in the team.
West Indies were clobbered by a massive 312 runs in the opening Test at Port of Spain and were bowled out for 51 in the second innings – their lowest Test score till then in history!
Lara had not registered a Test hundred in the last 14 Tests he had batted. He averaged just 35.42 in this period registering only 7 fifties in 27 innings.
Time was running out for the great left-hander. There was pressure from fans, cricketing pundits, the West Indies cricket board - everyone was gunning for his head.
What followed for the next few weeks is the stuff of legends!
Second Test: March 13-16, Jamaica:
Australia posted 256 in the first innings. Lara came out to bat at 5 for 2. McGrath and Co. made further inroads reducing the hosts to 37 for 4 at close of play on Day 1. Lara was still at the crease.
Collins retired hurt early on Day 2 and Jimmy Adams joined Lara at 56 for 4.
What followed stunned the cricketing world!
Lara took control. He took Warne to the cleaners, then launched into MacGill. His confidence drew – the pulls, hooks and exquisite cover drives followed. There was a pitch invasion and then a thunderous uproar when the third umpire turned down a run-out appeal with Lara on 99. It was a magical hundred. Whatever the Australians threw at him, including some verbal rants, Lara countered it with a greater force with the bat.
Lara smashed Blewett for four consecutive boundaries and hit a majestic on-drive off Warne to complete his double ton - there was another crowd invasion and Lara had to sprint to the dressing room to escape the delirious crowd.
There was absolute frenzy at Sabina Park. Australia went wicketless on the day.
Lara was finally dismissed on Day 3 for 213 in 344 balls after putting together 322 for the fifth-wicket with Adams (94).West Indies had amassed 431.
An inspired West Indies team skittled Australia for 177. West Indies won by 10 wickets. It was one of the greatest comeback victories in Test cricket history.
Lara scored almost 50% of the total runs scored by the West Indies in the match.
His innings was the HIGHEST IMPACT BATTING PERFORMANCE in West Indies cricketing history.
(IMPACT measures a player’s performance relative to the performances of other players in the match and gives context to every innings taking into account match situation, strike rate, runs scored, series scoreline, opposition strength etc).
His Batting Impact in this match was higher than the collective Impact in his last six Test matches.
Third Test: March 26-30, Barbados:
West Indies came from behind and despite a first innings deficit of 161, chased down 311 in the fourth innings to take a 2-1 lead in the series.
And once again it was that man who was their hero – Brian Charles Lara!
Lara came into bat at 78 for 3 in the second innings which soon worsened to 91-4 and 105-5. But once again he found an able partner in Adams and the pair put together 133 for the sixth-wicket. In what would go down as probably the greatest finish in Test history, Lara single-handedly batting with the lower order and tail took West Indies to a sensational one-wicket victory. He put together 54 for the ninth wicket with Ambrose and remained unbeaten on 153.
His innings was rated by Wisden as the second-greatest Test innings of all-time.
In terms of Impact, it was Lara’s second-highest and overall the third-highest impact batting performance by a West Indian batsman in Test history.
Lara went on to smash his third hundred of the series in the fourth Test at Antigua – a scintillating 100 off just 84 deliveries including 15 fours and 3 sixes, albeit in a losing cause as Australia managed to draw level the series 2-2.
He aggregated 546 runs in the series at an average of 91.
Lara’s ability to rise to the occasion against all odds and adversity and produce two of the top three highest impact performances in West Indian cricket history in successive matches in one series was a testimony of his greatness.
He captured the minds and hearts and the imagination of the entire cricketing world in the 26 days from the second to the fourth Tests.
Those were Lara’s few weeks.