The left-handed captain's brilliantly composed, unbeaten 153, his 12th Test hundred, led his team to an imposing winning target of 308 with the last man Courtney Walsh as his partner, sparking wild celebrations around Kensington Oval, packed beyond capacity with a passionate crowd of 14,000.
It was one of the most remarkable turnarounds in Test cricket. Australia appeared invincible after their first innings of 490 and the West Indies hopeless when they were 98 for 6 in reply on the third morning.
Two weeks ago, Lara, then under a two-match probation from the West Indies' Board following a disastrous tour of South Africa, scored a dazzling 213 in the second Test that inspired a series-levelling win.
Now he fashioned an innings every bit as commanding and significant to give the West Indies a 2-1 lead. The decisive final Test starts in Antigua on Saturday.
He batted through from first ball at 10 past 10 to the last at 4.26 when he stroked the winning boundary, his 19th, through the covers. He repeatedly denied the yeoman efforts of the fast bowlers Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie to convert Australia's advantageous position into the result that always seemed in their grasp.
To the noisy backdrop of flag-waving, whistle-blowing supporters, hundreds of them Australian, and the constant calypso and reggae beat from the huge speakers under the Greenidge and Haynes Stand, Lara and his fellow left-hander Jimmy Adams checked an early Australian breakthrough with a sixth-wicket partnership of 133 that carried the West Indies to within 60 of the imposing target.
Lara battled through a compelling opening hour from McGrath and Gillespie in which Gillespie accounted for the opener Adrian Griffith, lbw without adding to his overnight 35, and Carl Hooper, caught behind for six. He spent 47 balls over his first 10 runs but, once the two fast bowlers were rested, his approach changed and he launched a withering attack on the two leg-spinners, Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill.
Lara pulled Warne on to the roof of the stand at midwicket and forced Steve Waugh to recall McGrath for more work than was good for him in the hot sunshine. A back strain that kept Gillespie in the pavilion 30 minutes before lunch was another constraining factor for the Australians.
The aggressive McGrath hit him on the helmet as he ducked a bouncer, an infliction that prompted a verbal joust between the two that brought Adams up from his end to intervene as a peacemaker.
McGrath came back later to change the course of the game in his fourth spell in which he bowled Adams for 28 and claimed Ridley Jacobs and Nehemiah Perry with successive balls in the space of 10 runs.
Lara was left with the two veteran fast bowlers, Curtly Ambrose and Walsh, to gather the 60 runs still required as best he could.
As Steve Waugh desperately switched his bowlers, Ambrose remained with Lara for 80 minutes while the score moved to within six runs of the goal.
Gillespie, the most threatening Australian bowler, was limited by his back injury but, when he returned, he immediately had Lara dropped by Ian Healy, wide to his left. It was a decisive error by Test cricket's most successful wicketkeeper, who has had a poor series.
Even though Gillespie removed Ambrose to a third-slip catch at the same score, Lara remained to carry through his mission.
Walsh, whose 32 ducks are a comfortable Test record, held out for five balls as the nervy Australians conceded two runs with a no ball from Gillespie and a wide from the tiring McGrath.
Lara tied the scores with a hooked single off McGrath and fittingly completed the match at the opposite end with a trademark cover-driven boundary off Gillespie, triggering a stampede across the ground by the delirious West Indian support.
Final day; Australia won toss
AUSTRALIA - First Innings 490 (S R Waugh 199, R T Ponting 104).
WEST INDIES - First Innings 329 (S L Campbell 105, R D Jacobs 68; G D McGrath 4-124).
AUSTRALIA - Second Innings 146 (C A Walsh 5-39).
WEST INDIES - Second Innings
(Overnight: 85 for 3)
A F G Griffith lbw b Gillespie 35
*B C Lara not out 153
C L Hooper c Healy b Gillespie 6
J C Adams b McGrath 38
R D Jacobs lbw b McGrath 5
N O Perry lbw b McGrath 0
C E L Ambrose c Elliott b Gillespie 12
C A Walsh not out 0
Extras (b8 lb13 w2 nb 5) 28
Total (for 9, 120.1 overs) 311
Fall (cont): 4-91 5-105 6-238 7-248 8-248 9-302.
Bowling: McGrath 44-13-92-5 (w1); Gillespie 26.1-8-62-3 (nb4); Warne 24-4-69-0 (nb1); MacGill 21-6-48-1; S R Waugh 5-0-19-0 (w1).
Umpires: E A Nicholls (WI) and D L Orchard (SA).Reuse content