THE SECOND MASSACRE AT ANTIGUA RECREATION GROUND: PART III OF BRIAN LARA'S CARIBBEAN TRILOGY
"Brian Lara is in the mood then on 95 he'll try to bring up a 100 with a six....................he started on 77 and six balls later finished on 99."
So went David Hookes as the Prince swatted Adam Dale across the line to mid-wicket for four. The man, who on debut thrashed Tony Greig for 5 fours in a row and knew a thing or two about aggressive batting, was almost disappointed that it was just a four and not a six. It was the 79th ball the Trinidian & Tobagian had faced. The indiscriminate bloodbath in the preceding 67 balls, almost made the succeeding two scoreless deliveries feel like Ken Barrington's 131 ball scoreless blockathon of Bapu Nadkarni. He then bent down on one knee and swept Shane Warne's replacement, Colin "Funky" Miller. The Second Massacre At Antigua Recreation Ground meant that the field was spread out, so the top-edge fell safe in no-man's land and Brian Lara had breached three digits. He had gone 26 innings without a 100 and like London buses, 3 had come along in the last 4.
TUGGA DROPS ANCHOR
Shane Warne, months after his shoulder surgery (which caused him to miss 4 Ashes tests in 1998-99), had bowled 503 balls in the first three tests and taken just 2 wickets. His ineffectiveness on a crumbling 5th day track in Kensington Oval, had forced Steve Waugh to over-bowl Gillespie and McGrath. Warne bowled 144 wicket-less deliveries on days 4 and 5. McGrath, a fast bowler, had bowled 20 more overs than the lead spinner in the last innings. Sachin Nadal had denuded Warne a year earlier and Brian Federer had no option but to step up and step up he did. He single-handedly batted the Victorian out of the series. Warnie was replaced by fellow Victorian, Colin Miller. The then injury-prone Gillespie was crocked and replaced by Adam Dale.
Waugh won the toss for the 4th straight time and decided to bat, again aiming to use his spinners in the fourth innings of the test. It was the 12th straight time Australia won the toss, 8 of them by Waugh's predecessor Mark "Tubby" Taylor. Ambrose and Walsh continued their probing attack as the home side never let the Aussies out of sight. After a 60 run opening partnership, the visiting side wobbled to 96/3. The Aussie captain replaced his twin at the crease and dropped anchor. He shared 50 plus run partnerships with Langer and Ponting and propped Australia to 221/5 at stumps on the opening day.
A good night's rest did wonders for Ambrose as he quickly picked up 3 wickets in his opening spell to reduce Australia to 242/8 in his home ground. Some lusty hitting from the comeback kid Funky Miller quickly pushed the visiting side close to the 300 mark. He fell 7 runs short of a well-deserved 50 to the part time spin of Jimmy Adams. Ambrose returned to have McGrath caught behind to complete his 1st 5 wicket haul in 10 innings. It ultimately turned out to be the 22nd and final 5 wicket haul of his legendary career. Waugh batted for more than 5 hours for his unbeaten 72 and Australia ended up with 303 runs in their first innings.
THE PRINCE CHANNELS HIS INNER KING
Eleven days before the 13th anniversary of the First Massacre At Antigua Recreation Ground, West Indies began their first innings aiming to bat Australia out of the test and the series to regain the Frank Worrell trophy after 4 years. McGrath, in his usual miserly avatar, and Dale, also picked for his parsimony, bowled 12 tight overs, 5 of them maidens. Griffith & Campbell managed to add 19 runs in those 12 overs. Waugh removed McGrath and introduced the medium-pace of Miller. He almost immediately broke the opening partnership and in his 2nd over removed the other half of the starting pair. The number 3 batsman, Dave Joseph was on 1.
In walked the man of the hour, the Prodigal Son turned Messiah, having scripted a 468 minute epic in Jamaica and an even more epic 355 minute saga in Barbados. The energy spent in concentrating and focusing against the relentlessly accurate McGrath for almost 14 hours and the additional pressures of a viciously demanding press would have broken any other man. Understandably, not much was expected from Brian Lara. He began in circumspect fashion and remained scoreless for 12 balls, all against the precise Dale. The 13th ball of the innings was clipped off his pads for 2 runs to square leg. His nemesis returned for a second spell. Lara mistimed his pull off the 3rd ball of the over straight to the man of the moment, Miller.
Flawless until then, Funky dropped an absolute sitter at midwicket. Joseph was batting on 5. It seemed to shock Lara into coherence and like an engineer taking a vacation after a tough assignment, the Prince began to decompress. In the next over from Miller, Lara hit 3 boundaries, each more gorgeous than the last. It was uncharacteristically aggressive. Lara was a firm believer in the maxim "give the first hour to the bowlers" but that day he ignored his own advice and went medieval on the Aussie behinds. Minutes before tea, Tugga introduced MacGill and Lara danced down the track to lift him over Dale for his 6th four of the session. West Indies went to tea at 58/2. Lara was on 31 off 44 balls. Joseph was on 7.
After playing out a maiden off MacGill as if to just reset, Lara began his carnage. He took 11 balls to score 23 runs with a 6 & two 4s to bring up his 4th 50 of the series off just 61 balls. The last 48 balls had produced 51 runs. Joseph was on 11. The 6 overs after the New South Welshman's maiden went for 4, 11, 7, 9, 9 and 14 runs as Brian Lara, the Prince, channeled his inner Viv Richards, the King, to give the raucous crowd a sequel to Richards' whirlwind 56 ball 100, 13 years previously. West Indies were 112/2 in the space of 42 balls. Lara moved from 31 to 77 in just 23 balls but this was nothing. The best was yet to come. David Rolston Emmanuel Joseph was batting on 15.
MacGill was taken off after conceding 38 runs in his spell. The niggardly Adam Dale was brought back to stem the tide. He had bowled impeccably to concede just 25 runs in his 10 overs before tea.
10.1: Slightly short and Lara nonchalantly pulls it to midwicket for 4. 81 (74), 12x4, 2x6
10.2: Another short ball of almost a spinner's pace and Lara deposits a thigh high ball slightly in front of square and into the crowd for his 3rd six. 87(75) 12x4, 3x6
10.3: Dot ball. Why does Lara want to bore the crowd with such defensiveness? SMH. 87(76) 12x4, 3x6
10.4: Dale bowls a length ball, Lara's rapier comes down with force of indra's vajra and goes through the line sending the cherry over the head of the ducking Joseph. David Hookes in the comm box "That is the.....absolute backing up batsman killer." Had Joseph not ducked the ball would have taken his head along with it not unlike arjuna's arrows depositing jayadratha's head in vṛddhakśatra's lap. 91 (77) 13x4, 3x6
10.5: Dale goes round the wicket and bowls a full toss. To a batsman who has scored 60 runs of his previous 25 balls. LAWL. Lara, now seeing the ball like a wrecking ball, thrashes it over mid-off. "So what can Adam Dale do now?" laments Hookesy. 95 (78), 14x4, 3x6
10.6: Back off a length incoming delivery, Lara swats it across the line splitting the two men at short midwicket and short mid-on for his fourth 4 of the over. Adam Dale is a broken man. Joseph is batting on 15. 99 (79) 15x4, 3x6.
Six balls of pure mayhem as Lara moved to 99 in a flash. Joseph played out a maiden from McGrath. Waugh takes out Dale and re-introduces, Miller, who switches to off-spin from medium pace. Lara defends two balls. It was as if he was letting his fellow Caribbean countrymen, gasping for the eight element in the periodic table, catch their collective breaths. After the top-edge landed safely, Lara removed his helmet and raised his bat for the 3rd time in 3 tests. 100 off 82 balls against McGrath (13 off 19), Dale (35 off 22), Miller (14 off 13), & MacGill (38 off 28). He walked in at 20/2. The total when he scored his 100th run was 136. 100 runs off the 116 scored during his liquidation of the best bowling attack in the world. Joseph was batting on 15.
The short break allowed McGrath to regroup. He bowled a dot ball, a huge achievement given the situation. He drew in all his experience and energy to produce a rising short ball into the ribs of the centurion. Lara skipped, his feet off the ground and fended it off his glove. The ball was millimetres away from hitting the ground before the agile and alert Healy took a brilliant one-handed catch to dismiss the man in the finest form of his career. Lara was the third man out. Joseph was batting on 15.
The remaining 7 wickets managed just 86 runs thanks largely to the 47 runs scored by Carl Hooper. Either side of one of the most scintillating passages of test cricket, the Windies managed 106 runs giving Australia a priceless 81 run lead. Langer dropped anchor to score his 3rd test hundred. It helped Australia pile a 387 run lead. This was beyond an extremely fatigued Lara and the match was over when McGrath trapped him in front of the stumps late on day 4. Australia completed the last rites on the fifth day to share the series 2-2 and more importantly continued to keep the Frank Worrell trophy. It stays with them even today after 18 years. West Indies have never come close to owning it after being so close in April 1999.
The last part of Lara's Caribbean trilogy ended in disappointment. It was keeping in line with most trilogies. The third part almost never manages to match the expectation and the excitement built up by the first two parts. It is only natural. Godfather III is a fine movie on its own but when juxtaposed with parts I & II, it pales in comparison. Lara's breathtaking assault in comparison to his 213 & 153 is anti-climactic but viewed separately and purely as entertainment, there are few passages of play better than the 101 destructive minutes on the 4th day of April in 1999. The articulate Michael Atherton's summary of Brian Lara's batsmanship is almost a perfect encapsulation of the Second Massacre At Antigua Recreation Ground.
Lara stands for batsmanship at its purest, at its most instinctive. The image of him with his backlift so high...recalls the unfettered batting of a golden age, when attacking instincts dominated and when wristiness and placement mattered more than the size of the muscles and weight of bat.