Paul Smith: “You could see that, as far as Brian was concerned, it was game on”

25 years ago today Edgbaston hosted one of the most momentous days in cricket history when Brian Lara scored a world record 501 on the last day of Warwickshire's championship game against Durham. All-rounder Paul Smith had the privilege of a close-up view of the immense achievement, from the dressing-room and the middle. Brian Halford reports.

And so Warwickshire’s county championship match with Durham, a stalemate which did not even reach the third innings, petered out into a tame draw.

That, in essence, was what happened at Edgbaston 25 years ago today. But there was a little bit more to it than that…
The game entered its final day, Monday, doomed to a draw, Sunday’s play having been washed out. In reply to the visitors’ 556 for eight, Warwickshire were 210 for two (Brian Lara on 111, Trevor Penney 17) and Durham, their bowling attack affected by injury, had declined to set up a run-chase.

"Brian always had supreme confidence in his own ability. In 2004 when Matthew Hayden scored 380 to break Brian’s world record, he just said to me: ‘I’ll get it back’ – and a few months later he did."

Paul Smith

“Teams were wary of setting us anything after what happened at Taunton a couple of weeks earlier,” recalls all-rounder Paul Smith. “At Taunton we were chasing on the last day but it rained in the afternoon. We were off for a long time, so long that I listened to two whole CDs in my car, but the rain stopped in time for us to go back out after tea. Ninety-nine times out of 100, teams would have shut up shop but Brian went back out scored a magical 136, I smashed 40-odd and we won.

“That made teams reluctant to set us anything and Durham, who had a couple of injured bowlers, certainly didn’t want to set up a chase.”

That decision opened the door to history.

When Lara and Penney walked out to resume on the last morning, Smith was padded up, ready to go in next. He was still padded up at lunchtime, by which time Lara was on 285. The West Indian had scored 174 runs in the morning session. While Penney added 27, Lara struck 25 fours and seven sixes.

Thoughts began to turn seriously towards a tilt at Hanif Mohammad world record’s individual score of 499.

“During lunch, Brian asked what the world record was and I told him it was Hanif’s 499,” said Smith. “You could see that, as far as Brian was concerned, it was ‘game on’.

“Brian always had supreme confidence in his own ability. In 2004 when Matthew Hayden scored 380 to break Brian’s world record, he just said to me: ‘I’ll get it back’ – and a few months later he did. That arrogance meant that he was not always popular, but it was totally backed up by his record and it was great to have in your team. It just made you think that anything was achievable.”

Smith’s input to that legendary day 25 years ago was actually unique. He was the only batsman that day not to take part in a triple-century partnership!

After Lara and Penney’s alliance was eventually broken at 314, Smith finally got in and helped add 51 before falling lbw, someone dubiously it appears (“it wouldn’t have hit another set…”) to Anderson Cummings. Lara and Keith Piper then put on 322.

“When you were due to go in after Brian you were used to waiting quite a long time, but that was great because you could sit there and enjoy the entertainment,” said Smith. “By the time I got in that day he had the record well and truly in his heights. In our stand I did a lot of running – and even in that he showed his quality. He played the ball into the gaps and immediately called how many you were going to run – two, three – and was almost always right. His batting skill was phenomenal.

“We were all willing him on and it was brilliant that he got to 500 off the last ball. Keith went down the pitch to tell him it was the last over and Brian smashed the next ball through the covers. It was great that he finished it off. I remember after Martin Crowe got out for 299 in a Test he said it felt like he had pulled a hamstring just short of the summit of Everest. It would have been shame if Brian had ended 497 not out!

“Then the next day he played a match-winning innings in our semi-final at The Oval. He was exhausted and unwell and hadn’t been able to field, so our physio Stuart Nottingham wrapped him in clingfilm and towelling in the dressing-room – and Brian went in down the order against a very good Surrey side and scored a match-winning 70.

“That showed his mental strength as well as his skills. It was genius at work and just a privilege to share a dressing-room with him.”