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Legends Month: The best of Brian Lara

As part of Legends Month on Cricket Network, look back on one of Brian Lara's greatest performances

Steve Waugh says it's the greatest Test he played in.

Wisden ranks the innings that won the match the second best in cricket history.

And Courtney Walsh is convinced it was all down to his batting.

Brian Lara’s 1999 Barbados epic not only capped off one of the game's most thrilling comebacks, it signalled his ascension from "spoilt child" to one of the game's icons.

Brian Lara reflects on one of the great knocks

As the great Clive Lloyd put it, "to play as he did today, nursing along players with much less ability, was the hallmark of greatness".

As a batsman, Lara had already proved his genius over the previous nine years, his 11 Test hundreds to that point including a world record 375 and a stunning 213 just a week earlier.

In Barbados, against one of the most dominant Test teams in history, he showed true leadership.

Lara hammered 19 fours at Kensington Oval // Getty
Lara hammered 19 fours at Kensington Oval // Getty

The West Indies captain's unmatched powers had been on display a week earlier in Jamaica, pasting Australia for his third Test double century to even the Frank Worrall Trophy ledger at 1-1.

If it was a foregone conclusion that the world's preeminent Test side no longer hailed from the Caribbean after decades of dominance, no one had told Lara.

After the Windies were bowled out of 51 in the series opener, many had questioned his suitability to be the side's flagbearer.

Lara was firmly in the media spotlight during the series // Getty
Lara was firmly in the media spotlight during the series // Getty

"Being captain of West Indies is a huge honour and a huge job. It needs a big man to do it, someone well-rounded as an individual," legendary former quick Michael Holding had said of Lara’s appointment.

"Brian Lara is not. He is a spoilt child."

And as his counterpart Waugh, the leader of world cricket's resurgent force, batted for eight-and-a-half-hours – with his eventual successor Ricky Ponting at the other end for more than six of them – across the third Test's first two days, Lara could easily have proven Holding right.

From The Vault: Lara's defiant ton at the SCG

Especially after he was dismissed for just eight late on day two, before watching his side lose their sixth wicket the following morning having only just reduced their deficit to fewer than 400 runs.

Australia were ascendant and the Windies were carried by a pair of veteran quicks and batsmen closer to the ends of their careers that the starts.

But they also had Lara.

Given the overwhelming victory margins of the series' first two encounters – 312 runs to Australia in Port of Spain, 10 wickets to West Indies in Kingston – only the few remaining optimistic cricket fans in the Caribbean would have tipped against Waugh's men notching a series-clinching win.

Lara took to Shane Warne to steer the Windies to a memorable win // Getty
Lara took to Shane Warne to steer the Windies to a memorable win // Getty

A plucky century from opener Sherwin Campbell kept the hosts in the hunt on that third day and when Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose took two Australian wickets before stumps, the hosts had a sniff.

Australia then squandered much of their advantage when they folded for 146 in their second innings, before Lara re-commenced on the final day with his side needing to chase the still-sizeable target of 308 on a wearing track.

What followed was pure batting genius.

Lara unfurled a series of dazzling strokes, bringing up his half-century by pulling a dishevelled Shane Warne onto the roof of the Greenidge and Haynes Stand.

Lara celebrates the best innings of his career // Getty
Lara celebrates the best innings of his career // Getty

As his sixth-wicket stand with Jimmy Adams grew into triple-digits, Lara followed up one of his knock's few missteps – turning his head and ducking into a McGrath bouncer – by deliberately shoulder-barging and taunting the towering fast bowler as he walked back to his mark.

Adams tried to calm an incensed Lara but the left-hander was riding a wave of emotion, sending the heaving Kensington Oval crowd into hysterics when he pulled McGrath for four later that over.

With trumpets blaring, Lara gave McGrath another spray when he mishit an attempted repeat of the stroke.

McGrath and Lara face-to-face in Barbados // Getty
McGrath and Lara face-to-face in Barbados // Getty

It was exhilarating Test cricket; two of the game’s best refusing to give an inch.

The tireless McGrath, who would bowl more than a third of the fourth-innings' overs, singlehandedly engineered a collapse of 3-10 when he bowled Adams with an unplayable delivery to leave Windies 60 runs adrift with only the immovable Lara and batting bunnies Ambrose and Walsh left.

In his 42nd over, McGrath would again strike Lara in the helmet but as the Windies rounded in on an incredible victory, the visitors let slip their last shot when the skipper edged off Gillespie and Ian Healy put down a diving catch.

Lara's knock sent fans in the Caribbean crazy // Getty
Lara's knock sent fans in the Caribbean crazy // Getty

With scores level and the Windies nine down, Lara finished one of the greatest games in Test history with a trademark flowing cover drive, raising his fists as teammates, and soon the Barbados crowd, mobbed their hero.

Walsh, not out on 0 at the other end, was among them.

"The only way we were going to lose that Test match was if (Lara) got out," Walsh would later joke. "Because I was not going to get out."