The unprecedented events of 2020 has most of us wishing we could rewind the last few months and start the decade again. However before the threat of Covid 19 was a reality, Australia had already experienced one of the worst possible starts to the year with some devastating bushfires tearing through the country. It was then that the Aussie spirit kicked into overdrive. As only Aussies can, fundraisers were organised, anything and everything. Nothing was too big or too small and donations poured in locally and from around the world.
One such event was the Bushfire Bash, a thoroughly entertaining 10 over per side cricket match for the retired greats of the game with names such as Aussies Langer, Hayden and Symonds as well as former West Indian paceman Courtney Walsh in attendance. The ladies got involved too with some current and future Aussie stars playing, and there was a handful of household names from other sports participating as well. The teams were captained by Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist.
But the name I was most excited to see was none other than B C Lara, Brian to his friends, or the Prince to the rest of us mere mortals. It was an unfamiliar sight seeing this dashing cricketer dressed in yellow, but it was for a very worthy cause. And if anyone is wondering if he can still play the answer is a resounding yes. Lara lit up the Junction Oval with a swashbuckling 30 off just 11 balls with 3 fours and 2 sixes before retiring and running from the field to wild applause.
I've been fortunate enough to meet Brian on a couple of occasions and I'd like to share a story from my last encounter....
In 2016 I attended a sportsman's dinner where Brian Lara was the guest speaker. None of my immediate family are remotely interested in cricket so I chose to go solo. The venue was a few minutes out of town and I was planning on having a couple of drinks so I took the courtesy bus that had been organised. I met a group of charismatic lads on the bus who were pumped for a fairly big night out. They seemed intrigued by the fact I was interested in the event - not an unusual reaction when I tell people I've been a Brian Lara fan for over 20 years.
We arrived at the venue and I was ushered to my seat which was at a different table from the boys on the bus. The room was made up of predominately male fans. No surprises there. (The term "sausage fest" was used by Brian himself later during the night). I began making conversation over dinner and drinks with my new group of like minded people. It was a fun and relaxing atmosphere.
When the guest of honour was introduced, he went around to every table and shook hands with everyone in the venue. I thought this was a lovely touch and it set the tone for how approachable he actually is. He also posed for photos and answered impromptu questions as people came up to him.
The night was going well. He spoke fondly of his family and his childhood growing up in Trinidad. He was candid about his ideas for keeping test cricket relevant in today's fast paced society but also reassured us there is a place for all forms of the game that we love.
Towards the end of the night there was an auction of a large framed print that Brian had signed. It was a fantastic collector's item that, for memory, fetched around $350. As it turned out the winning bid came from one of the lads I had met on the bus earlier in the night. The evening ended with an audience Q & A session that lasted about half an hour. It had been fun. After a few more drinks and a lot of laughs it was time to head home.
I waited outside for the courtesy bus and once again caught up with the lads. Their demeanor shall I say was now somewhat heightened. They'd had a big night. And there it was, the prized framed print in all its splendor and its proud owner wondering how on Earth he was going to get it home on the bus.
As we stepped on and found a seat, he fussed over the print like a mother hen. He sat down with the print standing next to him in the aisle. He had his underarm holding it in the form of a protective wing. However not everyone on the bus was sitting down. One of his mates who by this stage was decidedly more seedy than happy was standing holding onto a rail for balance. While this appeared to be helping his upper body, his feet were shuffling like a duck on roller skates.
And then it happened....chink! He staggered backwards and stepped on his mate's print.
I wanted to laugh but thought better of it. For one, I knew how much it cost, but mostly because I valued my life. A lot more than the perpetrator it seemed. The owner's face turned red with rage. It was on. If not for a hand on the shoulder and a few calming words of wisdom from another mate, there most certainly would have been bloodshed on the bus. I can't say I blame him. I would have been furious too but I was extremely relieved when the bus pulled up at my stop. I got off very quickly as the tension was still on a knife's edge.
The owner was trying to assess the damage on the dimly lit bus pointing and shouting at his clumsy mate "You're paying to get this fixed". It was a mixture of anger and despair as he looked down, desperately hoping the broken glass hadn't caused a permanent scratch. His mate was too far gone to show any empathy which didn't help the situation.
The bus pulled away. I've never seen the lads again but I quite often think of that night and wonder what happened after I got off. Was the actual picture damaged? Did his mate pay to get it reglazed? The irony being the repairs would have cost almost as much as the original purchase. I imagine it's hanging proudly on a wall somewhere now, but my biggest question is did the friendship survive? I guess I'll never know.