West Indies was down and out. England won the series in 2004, quite comfortably 3-0, with a Test in hand. In a series dominated by the English pacemen, the home batsmen did not have any answers. Michael Vaughan, the English skipper was beaming with the success of his pace battery consisting Andrew Flintoff, Stephen Harmison, Simon Jones and Matthew Hoggard. It was their first series win against the West Indies in the Caribbean since 1968.
His counterpart, the Windies captain, Brian Lara, was having a rugged time at the crease as well as outside of it. His captaincy as well as his batsmanship was well under scrutiny. In the 3-0 drubbing, Lara managed to accumulate only 100 runs with a highest score of 33. In the build-up of the last Test, Lara admitted another loss would cost him the captaincy
Then came the Antigua Test, the 4th and final time the two teams were set to lock horn in the series. Lara won the toss as Windies captain and decided to bat on a flat deck.
Lara came to the crease at number three; the Windies were at 33/1. After an initial period of struggle, the southpaw was set for the grandest innings of his life.
Ten years earlier at the same Venue, Lara, who was not alien to mammoth innings, broke the then world record set by Sir Garfield Sobers of 365 and took it to 375. But in 1994 Lara was 24, the second time around he was 10 years older and with a lot on his shoulder.
The 'Prince' as he is called so affectionately by his fans, started building his innings calmly. Lara did not show any signs of jubilation he reached his 50. His face said it all. Lara was a man with a mission, who was not going to be satisfied with any small feat. A rainy first day meant that play would be curtailed and Lara would be not out on 80 at the end of the days play.
He reached his 25th Test hundred in the first session of day 2. Yet, there was no smile on his face. Lara wanted something big, really big. "You just feel that it is unfinished business. There is a lot more to come", rightly noted by former England Test player and Head Coach David Lloyd, who was commentating for a global TV audience at that moment.
Lara reached his double pretty quickly, in 260 balls. A jump and a punch in the air to acknowledge his seventh double-ton, but the smile did not return. He wanted even more. The smile came back big time after the tea break when Lara reached his second Test triple hundred. He pushed the England spinner David Batty to the cover-point for one and completed his triple-hundred. A portion of the jubilant crowd started chanting "No whitewash in Antigua, no whitewash!"
As the captain of the team, Lara took the onus on himself to avoid the ignominy of a series whitewash against England and he delivered. At the end of the second day, Lara was not out on 313 and the hosts were 595/5. Even then he did not declare.
Everyone knew what was on Lara's mind. Back in October 2003, Matthew Hayden had scored 380 against Zimbabwe to break Lara's previous world record of 375, set in 1994. On April 12, 2004, just after six months of losing the record, Lara was going to take it back.
After his batting exhibition of the first two days, all the eyes of the world were on Brian Lara. He started day 3 on 313*. Just before the lunch, Lara batting on 374 hit Batty for a six to equal Hayden's record. The next ball he swept batty for four and the record was his again after it had been only 185 days in Australia. He jumped in the air and knelt to kiss the pitch.
Lara became the 11th batsmen to hold the world record for the highest score in Test cricket and is the only person ever in Test cricket to regain the world record. Lara extended the record and was the first batsman in the history of Test matches to register a score of 400*.
His 400 consisted of 582 balls and is the fifth-longest innings in Test cricket lasting 778 minutes (12 hours 58 minutes). He hit 43 fours and 4 sixes. The man who was about to lose his captaincy due to bad form, and started facing questions about his legacy, was once again on the top of the world.
Praises rained down on the mercurial left-hander after the innings. Most of the experts admired Lara's mental strength. Some of them also noticed the fact that Lara at that time was 34 years old.
Windies great Sir Vivian Richards knew what Lara was going through during the series.
"I just felt that, for all the problems that he (Lara) had, and the way he came back in Antigua, I think it was more mental strength than anything. It just goes to show you how strong he is mentally", Sir Viv said in a TV interview after the match.
Legendary English all-rounder Sir Ian Botham agreed with Sir Viv and credited Lara for his mental toughness.
"Considering all the circumstances, the pressure Brian Lara was under, the pressure the West Indian cricket was under, you put that all into a melting pot. And then he came out with a hell of an innings", he said.
However, not all were rooting for the Caribbean master batsman. Ricky Ponting, the then Australian captain was a harsh critic of the innings and thought Lara put individual gains before his team's chances.
"Their whole first innings might have been geared around one individual performance and they could have let a Test match slip because of it. They ran out of time in the game." Ponting told an Australian media outlet reacting to Lara's record.
But, Brian Lara's innings received more praises than negativity. Former English opener Sir Geoffrey Boycott thinks that in any perspective, Lara's innings was awesome.
"People may say that it is a modest England side on a very flat pitch on a sunny day. But, we all had good pitches to bat on and we all had nice sunny days and we have not done what he has done. So I do not think you can belittle it, or in any context, you can say that it was not awesome", he added.
Despite all the criticisms, that innings put Lara amongst the world's greatest cricketers. He played for three more seasons. Lara held the world record for the highest amount of Test runs at the time of his retirement. That record has been surpassed many times. But the record he set on April 12, 2004, in Antigua still stands and is often considered as one of the toughest records to break in sports.