They say people worship sport stars. Except I haven’t had time for that since Robbie Fowler went out of form at Liverpool and I started studying for GCSEs. I reckon they are much more like casual acquaintances or old friends you bump into, figuratively, every now and again. For instance, when I heard that Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was the new QPR manager, my first thought was ‘Jimmy Floyd, where the heck have you been? Last I remember of you was eons ago in Amsterdam when the waitress at the bar cheered when you scored for Chelsea, saying you used to be her neighbour.”
Brian Lara is a master in his own right. I used to be very fond of cricket but it’s so low down my list of priorities I’ve barely watched it since my student days. Lara therefore goes right into the ‘old friends’ category. I have twice had chance meetings with him, which is rather strange as I don’t have too many celebrity encounters to boast of.
1995 or 1996 – School library
One of those long rainy lunchbreaks. I reach for the Times, the only newspaper our school library stocks. Its sports section is big and jazzy now, but back then, before the internet, when you really needed it, it was crap – hardly any football at all.
“Jesus, have you seen Brian Lara’s scored another triple century?” I ask Chris, a friend.
“Yeah he’s a bit good isn’t he,” he says.
August 2000 – West End
I’ve just seen Buddy with my parents and we walk to the tube station. The pavement is packed. I twist through the crowd and end up brushing into a short guy with beefy shoulders. I look up to see whether he is going to apologise or I should. It’s Brian Lara, who is outside the team hotel with a few of his West Indies’ team-mates.
I didn’t get all starstruck but I told a few of my schoolmates about it. It was nice at the age of 16 to feel that the world of celebrities isn’t in some distant galaxy. The following week I choose which subjects to take for A-Level and opted for German instead of Economics as my last of four choices – a decision which would end up to shape much of my time in university and my 20s.
April 2004 – Linda and Chris’s House
I’m dog and house sitting for my mum’s friend during the Easter holidays. They have Sky Sports and while two golden retrievers rest on the living room floor, I watch Brian Lara eke his way to 400 not out – the greatest ever test match innings.
May 2012 – The Thar Desert, India
We sit around a fire and Baba, our extrovert guide, tells my wife [then girlfriend] how he can’t find a decent woman to wed from his own caste. Eventually the topic changes to cricket.
“Who is the best batsman of them all?” he asks me. We discuss the merits of Tendulkar and Ponting, but agree Lara is the greatest.
November 2012 – Excel Centre
I’ve recently left the country, moved in with my girlfriend, quit my job and begun to freelance. I’ve gone to a travel conference in London looking for inspiration. It’s huge – all the countries in the world are represented – glamorous women in national dress handing out samples of local spirits, that kind of thing.
Trinidad & Tobago have Brian Lara and Dwight Yorke sitting at a table for visitors to chat to. I don’t really know what to say the latter, as I can’t quite remember when exactly he played for Man Utd. I also remember some horrible headlines about his love child.
Let’s forget him and focus on Lara.
“How on earth did you manage to score so many runs?” I ask him.
He chuckles and gives one of the best answers I’ve ever heard to any question. “I just loved batting.”
He signs a miniature bat for me.
December 2014 – The old flat, before moving
“You really want to take that little bat?” asks my wife, while sealing her seventh box of toiletries.
“Of course. Brian Lara signed it. Really? You don’t know him?”
I’m looking for the bat to take a photo to add. Nowhere to be seen. It must be in the house somewhere. I’ve no time to search for it as we’re taking our two kids on holiday in a couple of days. I’ll see it around some time, and it’s sure to make me smile.