Lara, who plays for Warwickshire against Middlesex at Lord's, could become only the fourth player in cricket's long history to make six first-class centuries in succession. Of the others, C B Fry, arguably the dominant sportsman at the turn of the century, and Sir Donald Bradman are among the greats. The other, Mike Procter, would have probably ranked alongside them had South Africa's isolation not cut short his Test career in its infancy.
Procter, due shortly in England as coach of the touring South Africans, is keen to welcome Lara to this exclusive club. 'He is a fabulous player and such a nice guy, I really hope he does it,' Procter said from Durban yesterday. 'To start by making the highest Test score is really unbelievable.'
Procter's own six-pack has a less impressive pedigree, being largely made for Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the Currie Cup B competition - but nothing became his record so much as the gaining of it.
Although it had first-class status, the B competition was South Africa's domestic second division. Procter was in his first season with Rhodesia, who had signed him to lead them straight back into the A competition after being relegated.
He did the job, ending the league season with five successive hundreds. Rhodesia then played a friendly against the strong Western Province side in March 1971. 'Though a friendly, it was a properly competitive match,' Michael Owen-Smith, sports editor of the Cape Times, recalled. 'Province had Graham Chevalier, a Test player, and Peter Swart, who would have gone on to play Tests and later played for Glamorgan, in their attack.'
Procter came in at 5 for 2, a score that quickly became 5 for 3. After hitting his first ball for four, he was dropped by Andre Bryuns, now a television commentator in South Africa. 'I was dropped a few times,' Procter said. 'I had a lot of luck.'
It was an expensive miss as Procter, then 24, went on to make 254 out of a total of 383. Rhodesia subsequently won the match by seven wickets, Procter sitting out the second innings. He did, though, bowl 32 overs in the match, taking 3 for 50. Indeed, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Procter's record is that, though batting at No 4 for Rhodesia, he was regarded more as a bowler. When playing for South Africa the previous summer, for instance, he batted at No 9.
The challenge was now on to become the first man to gain seven successive centuries, but Procter had to wait a month for his next innings and, when it came, the opposition could not have been tougher, nor the occasion more distracting.
He was picked to play for the Rest of South Africa against Transvaal, the Currie Cup champions, in a trial for a forthcoming tour of Australia. This was the match in which, after Procter had bowled the opening ball to Barry Richards, who was guesting for Transvaal, both sides walked off to make an appeal for the legalisation of multi-racial cricket. The incident caused a furore politically, but failed to prevent the Australian tour being aborted.
After the protest, play resumed and Procter eventually batted. 'I felt really good and was going like a train,' he said, 'when I hit my own wicket against a spinner (Peter de Vaal) for 20-odd (22).'
Bradman's attempt at going seven-up proved even flatter. Having been watched, in threatening weather on the final day of a dead game, by a sizeable crowd when making his sixth century, nearly 18,000 turned up on a dull Adelaide morning six weeks later to see if he could reach his seventh. Bradman, who twice hit four hundreds in succession, had made only five when he turned a tame delivery from Peter Thorne to Chuck Fleetwood- Smith at short square-leg.
Fry had become the first batsman to make more than three successive hundreds at the time he scored his six. All came at the end of the 1901 season and his biographer, Clive Ellis, said: 'Given the quality of the opposition his six were probably the best. Some were made on wet wickets with two made against a Yorkshire attack including Wilfred Rhodes and George Hirst. The night before the sixth he had been up to 2am writing a newspaper article.'
Such was the breadth of Fry's talents - he played football and cricket for England, was a champion long-jumper and claimed to have been offered the crown of Albania - he was even more distracted before attempting his seventh successive hundred in the opening game of the following season.
'On 19 April he played for Southampton in the drawn FA Cup final with Sheffield United,' Ellis said. 'A week later he played in the replay, which Southampton lost, and two days after, despite suffering from flu, he played for London Counties against Surrey.'
Fry fell 18 short of a seventh hundred. A decade later, aged 39 and still playing for England, he did make seven in succession but only four were first-class.
As a talented footballer, newspaper columnist (ghosted), and obvious heir-apparent should the crown of Trinidad become available, Lara already has a fair bit in common with Fry. Lord's is the perfect stage for him to add to the similarities.
----------------------------------------------------------------- THE HUNDREDS CLUB ----------------------------------------------------------------- SIX IN A ROW C B FRY (1901) 106 for Sussex v Hants (Portsmouth) 209 Sussex v Yorkshire (Hove) 149 Sussex v Middlesex (Hove) 105 Sussex v Surrey (The Oval) 140 Sussex v Kent (Hove) 105 Rest of England v Yorkshire (Lord's) D G BRADMAN (1938-39) 118 D Bradman XI v K Riggs XI (Melbourne) 143 South Australia v NS Wales (Adelaide) 225 South Australia v Queensland (Adelaide) 107 South Australia v Victoria (Melbourne) 186 South Australia v Queensland (Brisbane) 135* South Australia v NS Wales (Sydney) M J PROCTER (1970-71) 119 Rhodesia v Natal (Bulawayo) 129 Rhodesia v Transvaal (Salisbury) 107 Rhodesia v Orange FS (Bloemfontein) 174 Rhodesia v N E Transvaal (Pretoria) 106 Rhodesia v Griqualand West (Kimberley) 254 Rhodesia v Western Province (Salisbury) FIVE AND COUNTING B C LARA (1994) 375 West Indies v England (Antigua) 147 Warwickshire v Glamorgan (Edgbaston) 106 Warwickshire v Leicestershire (Edgbaston) 120* Warwickshire v Leicestershire (Edgbaston) 136 Warwickshire v Somerset (Taunton) -----------------------------------------------------------------
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