The year was 1988.
Trinidad and Tobago were playing Barbados in the Red Stripe Cup. The Barbados bowling lineup at that time included Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall. For Trinidad and Tobago, with their score reading 14 for 2, a certain Brian Charles Lara walked out to bat.
It was the first time Lara was up against quicks of that quality, but the left-hander did not budge. He went on to score his maiden first-class half-century before he was eventually dismissed for 92.
“It was like a David and Goliath contest and he took everything they had.”
About that innings, former West Indian cricketer Tony Gray wrote in Brian Lara’s biography by James Fuller:
“Garner and Marshall, two of the great West Indian bowlers, tried their hearts out, it was like a David and Goliath contest and he took everything they had.”
In my view, these were signs of things to follow, not just from Lara’s bat, but also the position of his team when he walked out to bat.
Over the next two decades, it would be a routine affair for Lara to take his team out from precarious situations almost single-handedly. And in the process, he entertained the crowds world over. Numbers like 501*, 400*, 375, 277, 213 and 153 can be called Lara's own, just like scientists have numbers after their names.
Ever wondered about Lara, the person?
It was a glimpse of Brian Lara, the cricketer. No amount of writing can bring out the charisma of his back-lift or his classy cover drives, imperious pulls and what not. But how would Lara be as a person?
I don’t have any first-hand account about the legend, but I recently came across a heart-warming story about his interaction with a fan.
The fan in question is Delhi’s Amar Jeet Singh, an autograph collector. Over the last few years, Singh has collected more than 5000 autographs of different celebrities. In the world of autographs, these numbers are no less than Brian Lara’s staggering cricketing statistics.
The story of Amar Jeet Singh’s tete-a-tete with Brian Lara goes back to 2019 when the great man was in Mumbai for a media assignment. Being a big Lara fan, Singh was following the cricketer’s movement on social media and harboured a desire to meet him.
So, he wrote a letter for the star, and through one of his friends, managed to make it reach its destination. Along with the letter, he had also sent some of Brian Lara’s photos, with the hope of getting them autographed by the legend.
What happened next was straight out of fantasy for a fan.
“You are Amar, right? This is Brian Lara.”
After about five days, Amar got a message on WhatsApp:
“Hey, have you got the pics?”
It had come from an international number that had a profile picture of a child. A confused Amar replied, “May I know in which context?”
The response moved the ground beneath Amar’s feet:
“You are Amar, right? This is Brian Lara. You have sent me a letter and pics for autograph.”
Still unable to believe his luck, Singh wrote back: “Are you sure I am talking to Mr Brian Lara, the legendary cricket player?”
When Lara responded in the affirmative, Amar Jeet Singh was thrilled, to say the least. At this point, I am reminded of Lara's first meeting with Sir Garfield Sobers, when the young man had said:
"You Sir Sobers, you Sir Sobers?"
Over the next few days, Brian Lara and Amar Jeet Singh regularly exchanged messages on cricket and other topics. While all this was happening, there was another wish that Amar Jeet Singh had. It was to be clicked in one frame with Brian Lara.
Suddenly, late one night, on Instagram, Amar Jeet Singh saw that Lara was in Jaipur, which is around 280 km from Delhi. Singh didn’t want this opportunity to go away. He messaged Brian Lara to confirm if the former West Indies captain was still in Jaipur and would have some time to meet his fan. Lara told him that he would be in Jaipur till 1 PM on the next day.
It was already 2 AM. After giving it some thought, Amar Jeet Singh decided to take the 4-5 hour journey to Jaipur to meet the legend. He packed the dress in which he wanted to get clicked and a gift (a Calvin Klein belt and wallet) that he had bought earlier for Brian Lara.
“Brian Lara recognised me!”
Amar Jeet Singh took one of his friends with him to Jaipur. After they reached Lara's hotel at around 11 AM, the plan was to quickly change from shorts to the dress that he was carrying. It was at this point that a man mobbed by fans came to the lobby and waved at Amar Jeet Singh.
It was Brian Lara! Amar Jeet Singh was like:
“Brian Lara recognised me!”
As Lara approached him, Amar Jeet Singh knew that he didn’t have the time to change into nicer clothes that he had carried for the occasion. But he didn’t mind.
Brian Lara then told the officials around him about Singh. The fan and the cricketer shook hands and sat down: The West Indian legend inquired:
“How are you doing? How was the journey?”
Amar replied that the journey was worth it for meeting a star.
Brian Lara obliged Amar Singh with autographs. One of the objects where Lara was requested to give an autograph on was a bat that Amar Singh also had plans to get a signature from Sachin Tendulkar.
As the two chatted, Brain Lara invited Amar Jeet Singh to explore the beauty of the Caribbean beaches someday. Post this, Lara asked his official:
“Hey, can you please take a picture of me with Amar?”
Amar Jeet Singh requested Brian Lara for a hug, to which the great man willingly agreed. Before parting, Lara said:
“Thanks for coming, nice meeting you. Have a happy journey”.
Now whether Amar Jeet Singh makes a trip to the Caribbean Islands or not, it was a meeting he would remember forever. I am sure he would tell his grandchildren stories about that short but memorable meeting with Brian Lara. As it is said:
“The best thing about memories is making them.”
Amar Jeet Singh's meeting with Brian Lara also tells us a lot about Lara, the human being. On his 51st birthday, I wish the Prince a happy, healthy and long life.