There are no intentional walks in cricket. So the chaps from England's national cricket team were confounded for three consecutive days as to how to get the bat out of the hands of West Indian batsman Brian Lara. When they figured it out—Lara finally edged a ball that was caught by wicket-keeper Jack Russell shortly before noon on April 18—Lara had set a single-innings world record with 375 runs. When he did, Lara broke down in tears. "It's a special moment, the best day of my life," said Lara, 24, a native of Trinidad, one of the islands that contribute players to the West Indian team.
Moments earlier he had been mobbed at the Antigua Recreation Ground after stroking a four (a ball that rolls beyond the field boundary and is worth four runs) to break the record of 365 runs set by another West Indian, Sir Garfield Sobers, 36 years earlier in a match against Pakistan. Sobers, who's from Barbados—part of the British Commonwealth—was knighted in 1975 and is widely recognized as the greatest cricketer of all time. He was on hand for Lara's feat and was one of the first on the field to" congratulate him.
In a sport in which hitting a century (100 runs) in one innings is an extraordinary achievement, Lara's 375 runs against England last week was, well, Ruthian. From April 16 to April 18 the crease belonged to Lara and Lara alone. A 5'6" lefty, Lara faced 537 balls from five English bowlers and hit 45 fours. His at bat was "chanceless," meaning that until he was put out he never allowed a ball to get anywhere near the wicket nor did he hit anything close to a catchable fly, the two most common ways to get out in cricket. Lara batted without interruption, not counting various stoppages for such necessities as lunch and tea—cricket, after all, did originate in England—for 12 hours and 46 minutes before being dismissed.
Lara, the last of Bunty and Pearl Lara's 11 progeny, has always been a hard act to follow—assuming you get the chance. While playing golf recently at the Caymanas Golf Club in Jamaica, he created a traffic jam at the first tee by losing five balls before dribbling one past the ladies' tee, which he played. "He likes to take his cuts," says Sobers, who played nine holes with Lara only hours before the historic at bat began.
Despite his small size, Lara's cricket prowess has long been apparent to Sobers and other followers of the sport. In January 1993, after Lara racked up 277 runs in one at bat during a match against Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald declared, "He might have done just as well playing with a stick of celery."
In the wake of Lara's 375-run tally, Trinidad and Tobago was—if such a thing can be said of a country comprising two neighboring islands—beside itself. Last Thursday the prime minister, Patrick Manning, was at Port-of-Spain's Piarco International Airport to laud Lara and his mates, who had won 3-1, upon their return. When it was announced that the next day would be recognized as a Day of Achievement in Lara's honor, NATUC, the country's national trade union, canceled a nationwide strike it had planned some time ago for that day. Besides receiving the Trinity Cross, Trinidad's highest honor, Lara was also given real estate.
Lara plans to fly to England this week to begin professional summer play. Before that, count on Lara, described by the local press as "a dasher, not averse to the discos," to make a pass or two under the limbo stick. After all, whenever Lara gets anywhere near a stick these days, he's feelin' Hot! Hot! Hot!