By: St. Clair Sazam Hull
Brian Lara at his best was nothing short of magical. Even his batting stance was thrilling and throughout the history of Test cricket, he managed to produce some of the finest innings the game has ever seen. However, if I was asked to select my 5 favorite knocks after scrutinizing multiples of them, I would pick his 277, 226, 213, 153 not out all of which were scored against Australia, and his 375 which was scored against England. Sure he made an unbeaten 400 and countless others, but those five have a special place in my heart for a number of reasons.
If I was compelled to pick just one out of those five innings, I would choose his 213 at Sabina Park in Jamaica on March 14, 1999. Without doubt, that was the most imperative innings he played during his career.
Words alone would not do justice to the importance of that innings, as West Indies were humiliated 5-0 in the Test Series prior in South Africa under Lara’s watch. Upon returning to the Caribbean, Lara was placed on two-match probation as captain for the series against Australia. The first Test match in Trinidad ended with a 6th successive defeat, as West Indies were shattered out for 51 in their second innings. The second Test started and West Indies ended the first day in disastrous fashion at 37 for 4 after Australia made 256. Lara occupied the crease for the entire second day, hitting 29 fours and 3 sixes. Every bowler was treated with complete contempt.
A few years ago, Wisden who regard themselves as “the Bible of Cricket” decided to pick the 100 best Test innings. The maximum possible rating for any particular innings was 300. Don Bradman’s 270 not out verses England in 1937 was given the highest rating with 262.4 and Brian Lara’s 153 not out verses Australia in 1999 received the second highest with 255.2. To my bemusement however, Lara’s 213 was ranked at number 14 with a rating of 221.3. Over the years, Wisden has developed a reputation for ranking players and selecting teams, without even giving an explanation as to how they arrived at certain conclusions.
The last condemning act they committed was to pick an all time greatest 11 and had W.G. Grace as Jack Hobbs opening partner. Grace played in 22 Test matches, batted in 36 innings, scored 1098 runs at an average of 32.29 with 4 centuries and 5 half centuries. His First- class career tells a better story, 870 matches, 1478 innings, 54211 runs, at an average of 39.45.
No player should be given consideration for a world team solely as a batsman, with an average of 32 in Test and 39 in First-class cricket. If Wisden was to say they picked Grace because of his First-class record, they could have picked Graeme Hick who displayed mediocrity in Test cricket but was a tremendous First-class player. Hick scored 136 First-class centuries and averaged over 50. Imagine Grace made the team while Sunil Gavaskar, Gordon Greenidge and Matthew Hayden were all left out but that is for another discussion.
However, on this occasion they did indicate on how they arrived at their decision by using a 12-paraemter system. Whenever I am scrolling through any list, I am always keen to know what the top ten looks like because it is always difficult to pick a top 10 regardless of the order. As I scrolled and realized that Brian Lara 375 was ahead of his 213 I was forced to check every single last parameter in detail.
Interestingly, Wisden never said which parameter carries what weight so we don’t know for example if a given parameter contributes 90% of the “innings rating” or 10%. What I would like to know is the exact weight each parameter carries to determine the final tally. Let‘s take a look at his 375 which was once a world record and ranked at number 10 on Wisden’s list and make a comparison with his 213 by using Widen’s rules. We are going to examine each parameter in its context.
1. Batting Base points: The Batting Base points are issued for runs scored so his 375 gets a higher value than his 213 because he scored 162 runs more. No problem 375 (1) 213 (0)
2. Pitch Index: This index is based on the amount of runs scored in a match and the amount of wickets that fell. At Sabina Park 867 runs were scored for the loss of 30 wickets. Certainly this parameter awards more points to his 213, in Antigua when he made his 375, 1229 runs were accumulated in the match with just 15 wickets falling after the match ended. 375 (1) 213 (1).
3. Bowling Quality Index: The Bowling Quality Index has to do with the quality of bowlers who bowled during the innings. A minimum of 4 and a maximum of five were taken into consideration. I can’t imagine anybody in their right mind who will compare, Caddick-Fraser-Lewis-Tufnell to McGrath-Gillespie-Warne-MacGill. Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne were probably better than England’s entire bowling attack combined. 375 (1) 213 (2).
4. Percentage of Score Index: This parameter reflects the team runs scored by the batsman. When Lara made his 375 West Indies scored 593 and when he made his 213 West Indies scored 431. This parameter is in favour of his 375 because he scored 63% of the team’s runs. When he made his 213 he scored 47% of the team’s runs. 375 (2) 213 (2).
5. Point of Entry Index: This has to do with when the batsman entered the wicket, for example 3 for 1, 6 for 2, 24 for 3 etc. When Lara scored his 375 he came in when the score was 11 for 1 and when he made his 213 he came in when the score was 5 for 2. This one is on the side of his 213 since he came in when the team had lost an extra wicket and had scored 6 runs less. To make it even better when he made his 375 West Indies batted first so there was no target score. For his 213 Australia batted first and scored 256 so West Indies were chasing a target score. 375 (2) 213 (3)
6. After point of Entry Index: This Index has to do with let’s say the batsman entered when the score was 12 for 2 and then had a third wicket partnership of 150 or entering at 12 for 2 then the score ends up at 20 for 4. In his 375 he had a 2nd wicket partnership with Phil Simmonds of 1 run and a 3rd wicket partnership of 179 with Jimmy Adams. For his 213 he had a 3rd wicket partnership of 12 runs with Sherwin Campbell and a 4th wicket partnership of 17 runs with Dave Joseph. Again this one is in favour of his 213 due to the fact that when you combined both partnerships for his 375 they amounted to 180 runs. When you put both partnerships together for his 213 only 29 runs were scored. 375 (2) 213 (4)
7. Wickets falling while at crease Index: This has to do with the number of wickets that fell around the batsman while he was batting. For the 375, Lara came in with one wicket down and was the 5th wicket to be dismissed. Therefore, during his period at the crease he saw 3 wickets tumbled. For his 213, he came in when 2 wickets were down and was removed as the 5th wicket. He only witnessed 2 wickets going down during his 213 so this parameter is on the side of his 375. 375 (3) 213 (4).
8. Support Index: This reflects the support given to the batsman during his innings. During the course of his 375 Lara had partnerships of 1 run, 179 runs, 183 runs, 219 runs. Simmonds scored 1 run with Lara, Adams made 59, Arthurton made 47 and Chanderpaul scored 75 not out. Total support cast 182 runs. For his 213 he had partnerships of 12 runs, 17 runs, 22 runs and 322 runs. Campbell scored 7 while batting with Lara, Joseph 14, Collins 13 and Adams made 83. Total support cast 117 runs. This one again is on the side of his 213 since he got more support from the other batsmen during his 375. 375 (3) 213 (5).
9. Shepherding of Tailenders Index: This index is based on the way the batsman nursed the 8 to 11 batsmen and constructed partnerships. During his 375 Lara didn’t nurse any such batsman; he batted with all recognizable batsmen with Chanderpaul being the last at number 6. For his 213 Lara did nursed Tailender Pedro Collins who was sent in as night watchman when Dave Joseph got out. If for argument sake Wisden says Collins batted at number 6, I would still debate that Collins is a Tailender who was sent up the order because of the circumstances. I am tempted to give this one to his 213 but let’s be generous here and call it a tie. 375 (4) 213 (6)
10. Highest score Index: This index is if the innings was the highest score for the team. This one is even as his 375 was the highest for the team as well as his 213. 375 (5) 213 (7)
11. Match Status Index: This has to do with the status of the match. According to Wisden, The highest value is given to a close fourth innings chase which is why Lara 153 not out a week later is rated as the best fourth innings chase in the history of Test cricket. When he made his 375 as I mentioned before, West Indies batted first so they were not chasing runs. For his 213 they were chasing Australia’s first innings score of 256 and were successful by scoring 431. 375 (5) 213 (8)
12. Result contribution Index: This is particular parameter is based on the sum of the 11 parameters mentioned above and reflects the value of the other player’s contribution, through the innings that was given consideration, to the end result of the match. The match should be a win or a draw for this index value to be allocated. For his 375, the game ended in a tame draw and for his 213 West Indies won the match so this again is in favour of his 213. 375 (5) 213 (9)
So of the 12 parameters listed by Wisden, Lara’s 213 outscored his 375 by almost twice as much. If Wisden were to make the argument that his 375 is more than the 213, it won’t hold any water simply because there are only three scores in the top 10 that are more than Lara’s 213. Bradman’s 270 and 299 not out and VVS Laxman 281 not out. In addition, if they placed the 375 ahead of the 213 because of the percentage of runs scored for the team, it also means that Lara’s 213 should have been ahead of Laxman’s 281 not out, which was made out of India’s score of 657, and Azah Mahmood’s 136 out of Pakistan’s score of 329 which were both placed in the top 10.
Therefore, I am left to conclude that Wisden is rather contradictory based on its own rules, by placing the 375 against England ahead of the 213 verses the Australians.