Brian Lara's 501 not out: The day Warwickshire's West Indies legend rewrote cricket records

Brian Lara receives congratulations after his world record 501 not out at Edgbaston, 6 June 1994
The day after Brian Lara's world record 501 not out at Edgbaston he was turning out for the Bears at The Oval in a Benson & Hedges Cup semi-final

At a time when bat dominates ball, switch-hits and scoop-shots are commonplace and teams regularly rack up eye-watering totals, there is one 25-year-old record that has stood the test of time.

On Tuesday, 6 June 1994, Brian Lara struck the highest score ever made in first-class cricket for Warwickshire against Durham at Edgbaston.

It is a record that has remained ever since and will most likely last a lot longer, possibly forever.

But the West Indian batting legend's unforgettable summer of runs in Birmingham - and various other English cricket grounds - might so easily have never happened at all.

The summer of 1994 was an memorable one for the Bears. With Lara's assistance, Warwickshire became the first English county to win a domestic treble of trophies - County Championship, Benson & Hedges Cup and Sunday League.

They might even have won a fourth, too, only for the Bears to be beaten in the NatWest Trophy final by their old enemies Worcestershire, who they had beaten in the first Lord's final of the summer two months earlier.

But what turned out to be trophy-laden summer of Lara, lager and laughter seemed a long, long way off in mid-April.

How did the Bears sign Brian Lara?

While the Bears were on their pre-season tour of Zimbabwe, the then relatively little-known Lara was back home in the Caribbean playing for West Indies against England.

He went into that series having previously made just one Test century in 11 matches, although that was a pretty prodigious 277 against Australia at the SCG 15 months earlier.

He then hit 167 in the second Test at Georgetown as the Windies clocked up an unassailable 3-0 lead in the five-match series - and that was enough to tempt Warwickshire into offering him a deal.

"We got him for £40,000," recalls Warwickshire chief executive Dennis Amiss. "A week later, it would have cost us £100,000."

The first of Warwickshire's three trophies in 1994 was the Benson & Hedges Cup, claimed by beating Worcestershire at Lord's

And why did Lara's asking price rocket?

Because, just days after he had signed with the Bears, Lara broke the 36-year-old world Test batting record for the first time when he eclipsed fellow West Indian Garry Sobers' 365, set at Sabina Park in 1958, by making 375 against England in the fifth Test in Antigua.

"We knew we'd got a snip," said Amiss. "Our membership trebled. I remember our operating manager Keith Cook telling me it had paid for Brian Lara three times over."

The build-up to 6 June

It was 18 April 1994 when Lara completed his world Test record 375 against England in Antigua.

It was 10 days later when made his Bears debut against Glamorgan at Edgbaston. He hit 147 and they won by an innings.

He went on to make two tons in a match - 106 & 120 not out - to help Warwickshire escape with a home draw with Leicestershire.

Having sacrificed their first innings in a weather-hit game, he then compiled 136 at Taunton as the Bears chased down 332 in 54 overs to win on the final day against Somerset.

"That was when word went out on the circuit," remembers Amiss. "Don't declare against Warwickshire."

After starting with four straight centuries, Lara failed for the first time when he managed only 26 against Middlesex at Lord's in the first innings before being caught behind off Richard Johnson. But he made 140 in the second innings to leave the hosts hanging on for a draw.

And so back to Edgbaston...

Day One (2 June): After winning the toss, it was Durham's day on a flat track at Edgbaston. The visitors closed on 365-3, with former England batsman and air ace John Morris on 204 and skipper Phil Bainbridge on 50.

Day Two (3 June): Despite Morris getting out quickly on the second morning, Durham went on to reach 556-8 before declaring. Lara was the last of eight Bears bowlers who had a trundle (11-1-47-0). In reply, he did not immediately find his touch.

After the early loss of Dominic Ostler to Anderson Cummins, before he had even reached 20 Lara had been bowled by a Cummins no-ball and dropped by Durham keeper Chris Scott. "With my luck, he'll go on to get a 100," was Scott's famous line. But, aided by 51 from Roger Twose, Lara was quickly back into his stride to reach the close on 111, out of the Bears' 210-2.

Day Three (4 June): It rained all day. No play.

Day Four: (5 June): These were the days when the Sunday League was still a key part of the English cricket fixture list and it was rest day in the Championship. Warwickshire also played Durham in the 40-over format and Lara holed out for just 6, off England's future chairman of selectors David Graveney.

Brian Lara's 501 not out 20 years on

Day Five: (6 June): From then on, with a day lost, it was just a case of batting all day for the Bears. They resumed on the last day still needing another 193 to avoid the threat of a follow-on. But that was done without losing another wicket as Lara extended his stand with overnight partner Trevor Penney to 314 - of which Penney made 44.

After a brief half hour in the company of Paul Smith, in which they added a further 51, he was then joined by Keith Piper. And the pair remained unparted, in an unbroken then county record 322-run fifth-wicket stand. Piper made an impressive 116, but it was Lara who took centre stage. There was just one blip, in the day's final over, when Morris' gentle medium pace somehow extracted enough lift from the surface to hit Lara on the helmet.

A feat he still proudly proclaims on the after-dinner circuit as being "the only cricketer to ever bowl a bouncer and hit someone on the head on 497". Two balls later, Lara played the shot that went past the previous best, the 35-year-old record 499 set playing for Karachi by Pakistan great Hanif Mohammed, who was run out going for his 500th run.

The Day After (7 June): Such was the English cricket schedule 25 years ago that Warwickshire had a date down in London at The Oval the very next day, a Benson & Hedges Cup semi-final with Surrey. Exhausted by his efforts the previous day, Lara was asleep in the dressing room and did not come in until the Bears were in a bit of trouble on 120-4, chasing 268 to win. But he hit 70 to help his side to a four-wicket victory in the first ball of the final over.

So where were you the day Lara got his 501?

If you are 35 or over - and at all interested in cricket - it is hard to imagine you will not remember where you were the day Lara performed his 501 check-out.

BBC reporter Clive Eakin, who still covers the Bears for BBC Coventry & Warwickshire, was there that day, working for BBC WM...

"It was by no means certain that I would be sent to Edgbaston that day. At BBC WM at the time we reported on most but not all of Warwickshire's days of cricket and that morning I turned up to Pebble Mill not knowing how I would be deployed.

"But word had got out that Lara was going to chase a world record as, with a couple of bowlers injured, Durham had made it clear they weren't prepared to set Warwickshire any target at all.

"So I was sent to the ground and was lucky enough to see the full day's drama which was always going to be about one man.

Brian Lara drills his world record-breaking four - one of 72 boundaries he hit in that innings - to the extra cover rope

"A whole list of records were ticked off as the day went on before the final drama - Lara got hit on the helmet late on - and confusion as to whether the match would be ended after the over which Lara started on 497.

"All that, of course, made it all the more exciting when Lara hit the runs for a probably never to be repeated 501 not out... and I was lucky enough to be there describing the events live."

BBC WM's Warwickshire reporter Mike Taylor was there four days too early...

"Back in 1994, I was one of those earnest youngsters who sits at cricket matches with a scorebook. That spring, I had bought a bigger, new one, which demanded a debut at the first opportunity.

"The match started on the Thursday of Whitsun half-term week, and I was at Edgbaston in the Priory Stand. Front row, with newly-sharpened pencils.

"Had Warwickshire won the toss, I'd have had Lara B. C. in the batsman column, and this article probably wouldn't have been written, but I went home delighted that my book's first page featured a double-century from John Morris. I thought about getting his autograph. And I at least got to write down 'Lara' - as bowler number eight.

"On Friday I couldn't go. On Saturday it rained. Sunday was Sunday League day. And, on the Monday, I was back studying for A-levels. It didn't occur to me that there was any great hurry to rush home to check the Edgbaston score!

"I still have the scorebook. And I still don't have John Morris's autograph. And, somewhere, I do have a fully filled-in scorecard, but I can't quite bring myself to pass it off as the genuine article."

And BBC Sport online cricket reporter Ged Scott wasn't there at all...

"I was working then for the Shropshire Star, and was just coming to the end of a busy shift on their sports desk, 40 miles away in Telford.

"We'd just put the final edition to bed when my cricket-mad sports editor Pete Byram leaned across the desk to me, with a thoughtful look in his eye. Lara was on 300 and plenty. And he said: 'He's still batting. Do you think we should drive down to Edgbaston?'

"We ummed and ahhed a bit but, regretfully, I shook my head. I'd got the weekend local league cricket round-up to write up for the following day. And we thought they'd probably call the game off at 5 o'clock.

"Sadly, I stayed put and didn't see history made. Instead I just spent the next two hours refreshing Ceefax and watching that score go up and up..."

Brian Lara's records

  • Born 2 May 1969, Cantaro, Santa Cruz, Trinidad
  • Broke world Test batting record in April 1994 (375 v England), and the world first-class record of 501 just 50 days later.
  • Australia's Matthew Hayden took Lara's record when he made 380 for Australia against Zimbabwe in Perth on 10 October 2003. But Lara got the record back within six months, when he made 400 not out, again against England, again against Australia, on 12 April 2004.
  • All-time top West Indies Test run scorer. 11,912 in 130 matches, at an average of 53.17 - but just 45 ahead of nearest challenger Shiv Chanderpaul (164 matches). Hit 34 hundreds and 48 half-centuries.
  • All-time top West Indies ODI run scorer. 10,348 in 295 matches, at 40.90 - just 122 ahead of nearest challenger Chris Gayle (287 matches). Hit 19 hundreds and 62 half-centuries.
  • Made an overall 92 career centuries, in first-class and one-day cricket combined.
  • Scored 3,099 runs in 30 first-class matches for Warwickshire, at 63.24 and 1,308 runs in 44 List A matches.
  • Played just three games of T20 cricket for Zimabwean side Southern Rocks in 2010, at the age of 41.
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