His waning passion for the game clearly rekindled, Brian Lara reeled off his second Test hundred in 10 days and his 17th in all as the West Indies amassed 327 for 3 on the opening day of the third and final Test against Sri Lanka here yesterday.
Lara acknowledged at the start of the series that he was concerned about an average that had rapidly dipped to 47 and set himself the goal of bumping it back up above 50 once more. His unbeaten 178 carried him to within 30 runs of his objective, after earlier scores of 178, 40, 74 and 45.
Lara shared successive partnerships of 194 with Ramnaresh Sarwan, who was run out for 69, and 116 with his captain Carl Hooper, who was 52 not out at the end of a sweltering day that reduced even Muttiah Muralitharan to 32 wicketless overs.
The situation is almost identical to that at a similar stage of the first Test when the West Indies were 316 for 3, with Lara 117 and Hooper 34. Yet their all-round frailty led to defeat by 10 wickets and they failed by 15 minutes to hold out for a draw in the second, which Sri Lanka won by 131 runs. Those experiences mean Lara and Hooper still have a lot to do if this Test is to be won.
Along the way, Lara joined Viv Richards, Gary Sobers, Clive Lloyd, Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes as the sixth West Indian with more than 7,000 Test runs. It was a statistic of which he was aware before he set out and, as soon as he completed his 130th run that got him there, he raised his helmet and bat in acknowledgement.
However, it was not an error-free innings. On 85 he edged the occasional off-spinner Russel Arnold through the wicketkeeper's gloves. At 99, he was a whisker away from an lbw decision and, at 115, his call for a sharp single left Sarwan short of his ground on Mahela Jayawardene's swooping pick-up and direct hit of the stumps.
First day of five; West Indies won toss
WEST INDIES – First Innings
D Ganga lbw b Vaas 6
C H Gayle c Sangakkara b Vaas 0
R R Sarwan run out 69
B C Lara not out 178
*C L Hooper not out 52
Extras (b5 lb7 nb10) 22
Total (for 3, 90 overs) 327
Fall: 1-2, 2-17, 3-211.
To bat: M N Samuels, ÝR D Jacobs, M Dillon, D Ramnarine, P T Collins, M I Black.
Bowling: Vaas 22-2-92-2; Zoysa 12-1-37-0; Samaraweera 8-0-31-0; Bandaratilleke 9-2-37-0; Muralitharan 32-4-98-0; Jayasuriya 3-0-11-0; Arnold 3-0-8-0; Tillakaratne 1-0-1-0.
SRI LANKA: *S T Jayasuriya, M S Atapattu, ÝK Sangakkara, D P M D Jayawardene, R P Arnold, H P Tillakaratne, T T Samaraweera, W P U J C Vaas, M R C N Bandaratilleke, M Muralitharan, D N T Zoysa.
Umpires: E A R de Silva and R B Tiffin.