Cricket bats discovery leads to tale of Brian Lara's unpopular Dublin dismissal
In keeping with the gradual return to the new normal, an afternoon outing happened to take me past a Belfast emporium a few days ago.
Among the array of curiosities including a boa constrictor snake skin, a case of decommissioned (I hope) Soviet hand grenades, and a selection of right-handed scythes, lay a trio of old cricket bats. The most interesting of these had the date 15th July 1995 neatly written beneath the signatures of the teams involved - West Indies and Ireland
It was a one-day international played at Castle Avenue.
The capacity crowd came to pay homage to one of the gods of the game, Brian Lara.
The Trinidadian left-hander had claimed his place among cricket's elite the previous season when as a Warwickshire player he had stroked a delivery to the boundary at Edgbaston to set a world record first-class score of 501 not out.
That accolade had rested for 35 years with the great Pakistan batsman Hannif Mohammad who made 499 for Karachi against Bahawalpur. The 'Little Master' as he was known was run-out next ball.
If Lara had conjured a quintuple century against Durham, what might he do against Ireland? In spite of the threatening clouds over the skies of north Dublin, 3,200 fans flocked to the Clontarf venue to stage a party.
'Relationship with Windies always good' - Lewis
While the West Indies had stars like Ian Bishop, Courtney Walsh, Ottis Gibson, Stuart Williams, Richie Richardson, Keith Arthurton and Shivnarine Chanderpaul among their number, Lara was the main attraction.
"The relationship between Ireland and West Indies was always good," says Alan Lewis, Ireland's captain that day.
"We have similar philosophies on life.
"Obviously, we take it much more seriously now because we are a test nation. That wasn't the case back then.
"These were more like trophy games. Ireland were the show ponies. The public came to see the professional players they watched on television - and to enjoy the company."
Chanderpaul was on 65 and Williams had reached 34 when the man from Nevis fell to a catch from Stephen Smyth off the bowling of Lisburn's Neil Doak. Lara's anticipated arrival had the crowd buzzing.
'You've done your best to upset everyone!'
"Lara hit my first ball for a four. For the next one he just waited and waited before hitting it square through point to the boundary. I thought, right, this could be a long afternoon," recalls Doak.
"I tried to york him to stop him from scoring. With the next ball, Lara came down the track to try and hit me over the top. However, it was going just over my head and I was able to jump up and catch it. It was great to get his wicket."
Oh really ? Is that how everyone at Castle Avenue felt? Lara gone for nine runs?
"The crowd didn't realise who had gone," recalls Lewis. "If it had been Chanderpaul or Arthurton, they wouldn't have minded so much, but they didn't want Lara to be out.
" I told Neil, 'Doakey you've done your best to upset everyone here'. We did have a bit of a laugh."
"I remember hearing a loud 'Ah No' coming from the crowd," recalls Doak.
"While I probably spoiled the day for a few people, from a personal point of view, it was a delight to get the wicket of one of the best batsmen in the world."
And Doak was not quite finished there. He caught West Indies captain Richardson for 57 off the bowling of Ryan Eagleson as the tourists declared on 306-4.
Inevitable Irish rain leads to draw
Unfortunately the rains came in, play was restricted and Ireland's reply of 187-3 was all that could be managed before the match ended in an honourable draw.
At that stage in Doak's sporting career he was already making a name for himself in rugby as a scrum-half.
He had taken up rugby seriously at the age of 16 after a dalliance with Lisburn Youth FC from where team-mates Neil Masters and Keith Rowlands had made the leap to Wolves and West Ham.
His playing career at Ulster would straddle the amateur into professional era and then later into a coaching role with the province. Recently, Doak has returned home from a stint at Worcester Warriors in the English Premiership to start his own coaching business.
And while part of his role is to assess players, how good is he at putting a valuation on a willow cricket bat, say, circa 1995?
"Well if it's got the name of Brian Charles Lara on it, I would say it would be worth a tidy sum," he says.
And remember, too, that among the names from Saturday 15 July1995 is the signature of a certain NG Doak.