June 6, 2014, tomorrow, will bring Durham’s cricketers to Edgbaston to face Warwickshire in a Twenty20 match.
All being well the weather will be good and the excitement high. There will be thrills galore. Sixes, fours, flying stumps, leg-byes – that sort of thing. Maybe even a few broken records.
But however exhilarating tomorrow’s T20 feast of entertainment is, the occasion will struggle to match events which unfolded when Durham visited Birmingham 20 years earlier to the day.
June 6, 1994, is a date which will tower forever in cricket history.
It was the last day of a rain-affected championship match already sentenced to end in a draw. In reply to Durham’s 556 for eight, Warwickshire resumed on the final morning (the third day having been washed out) on 210 for two.
Visiting captain Phil Bainbridge refused to negotiate with opposite number Dermot Reeve to make a game of it, so it was just left to the Bears to bat on.
And what happened? Well, something that had never happened before, has not happened since and might well never happen again. A batsman scored 500.
The close of play score: Warwickshire 810 for four. Keith Piper finished 116 not out – not bad but overshadowed ever so slightly by Brian Lara’s unbeaten 501.
The bare statistics – 501 runs from 427 balls in 474 minutes with 62 fours and ten sixes – are astounding but even they cannot portray the full majesty, control and unprecedented scale of the innings.
Lara’s innings was the highest score by a batsman in first-class cricket, contained the most runs by a batsman in a day’s play and the most from boundaries in an innings. It also made him the first player to score seven centuries in eight first-class knocks – he was in decent nick.
It was a virtuoso day’s work which entranced the cricket world, had people flocking to Edgbaston as the news spread and, in the days before instant internet updates, was monitored minutely via radios throughout the country and, indeed, the world.
And as engrossed as anyone was a young all-rounder called Dougie Brown, down in Northampton. Brown had seen Lara’s innings begin on day two but was missing the rest as he was playing for Warwickshire 2nd XI against Northamptonshire.
“Brian was 111 not out at the end of the second day,” said Brown, now Warwickshire’s director of cricket. “I saw those runs but then a second-team game started in Northampton. We were playing down there and gradually news came through of what was happening back.
“There was a lot less mobile communication in those days, but Neal Abberley phoned people back at the ground and we knew Brian was past 300 and then 400 and we were asking ‘what’s the world record?’ It was clear something very special was occurring.”
And someone very special was responsible for it: A batsman who was to leave his signature all over the record books for West Indies and Warwickshire – and whom Brown rates as highly as can be.
Amongst the pantheon of all-time great bastman, it is Lara whom Brown would choose if challenged to name a player to bat for his life.
“When people are asked who they would have batting for their lives they usually say Steve Waugh or Sachin Tendulkar,” Brown said. “Fair enough, they are great players, but for me it would be Brian Lara.
“I would trust him implicitly to bat for my life. If you look at some of the great Test innings ever played, he has played them. Like the mammoth one against Australia when Stuart McGill was turning it square out of the rough. Just unbelievable batting.
“It was a privilege to play alongside Brian. When he first joined, there was I, a young lad from central Scotland, batting with a world-record holder. I had to pinch myself.
“Just to bat with Brian and be around him gave you belief and made you raise your own game.”
Without question Lara was one of the finest batsmen cricket has ever seen but his approach to certain aspects of the game raised a few eyebrows. But Brown is adamant that Lara was, in many ways, “misunderstood”.
“Perhaps Brian could be a little bit flippant in his attitude at times,” he said. “But I think that was because he played such an unbelievable amount of cricket. I think, as a person, he was misunderstood. He was quite a selfess character.
“When Brian made his debut against Glamorgan he was on 99 when last man Tim Munton went in. They were offering him singles and he was turning them down. I thought ‘this guy is awesome’ – he is turning down a century. Then, after four balls in the over, they brought the field in of course and he hit a four and a one!
“He had a reputation for being quite precious and distant but in fact he was anything but that in the dressing-room. There was always banter flying round and he was part of that. He would spend time with the less experienced players and was really generous with his time.
“Sometimes in the gym he would not do all the work that other players did but he did what he needed to do. As a batsman, he was properly driven. I think he found the day-to-day side of it a challenge, playing one day then travelling and playing somewhere else the next.”
Brown was fortunate enough to be in Lara’s team most of the time but did oppose him a few times (and dismissed him twice) in ODIs for England v West Indies. He cites one small example from those clashes as a glimpse of Lara’s imperious talent.
“In an ODI in Sharjah I was bowling to Brian with Alec Stewart keeping wicket and Graeme Hick quite wide at slip,” Brown said. “Brian guided the ball between Alec and Graeme for four and our captain, Adam Holloiake, gave him some verbals, saying he was lucky.
“The next ball Brian played it through the same spot, a perfect shot, deliberately played, very late. Brian just looked at Adam and smiled.
“It was a privilege to be on the same field as him. Luckily, a lot of the time he was on my team!”
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