On this day twenty years ago in February 1998, the tragic news filtered through that Raman Lamba had been killed after being struck on the head while fielding close in during a league game in Bangladesh.
The shock was felt not just on the sub continent, but also in cricketing circles throughout Ireland. Lamba had played for 4 clubs in Northern Ireland , namely North Down, Woodvale, Cliftonville and Ardmore.
He also played for Ireland as an overseas professional four times during 1990, making a highest score of 52 against the touring New Zealand team.
He represented India in both the Test and One Day International arena, and he boasts a first class average of 53.84, which included no fewer than 31 centuries and 27 fifties. The fact that he also took 60 catches bears testimony to his magnificent agility and ability in the field.
He was a prolific run scorer in his time in Irish cricket, frequently topping the local averages. His first journey into Irish cricket came way back in 1984 when he joined the progressive thinking North Down Cricket Club.
Ian Shields was his opening partner at the time and he recalls, "Amazingly, Raman was only our fourth choice as a professional, but what an impact he made. From his first half century against neighbours Donaghadee to his final century at the Lawn, he shone at the wicket with his wonderful array of attacking shots, his quick footwork and his speed between the wickets.
"I was nearing 40 at the time and when I would be rushing to complete a single, he would be looking for two! He was vibrant and enthusiastic, and this rubbed off on the young players who took him as a role model, on his own age group with whom he became 'one of the boys', and on the veterans like myself who gained a new lease of life when playing with him."
The highlights of Raman's spell at North Down were many, but his first century against Waringstown, perhaps the most vociferous anti professional club at the time, was right up there. Michael Reith was moved to say at the time that it was the finest exhibition of batting he had ever seen.
Ian also remembers his magnificent unbeaten 166 which allowed North Down to overhaul a huge Malahide total. Ironically it was this performance which contributed to the ICU banning overseas professionals in the Irish Senior Cup. It wasn't to be the first time that Raman would court controversy.
He gave a Man of the Match performance when he helped North Down to capture the Irish Senior Cup in 1989, when he scored 34 and took 3 wickets as Donemana were defeated in a low scoring encounter. He later remarked that due to the nature of the wicket, his score was "worth a century" under normal circumstances.
His double hundred against Queens and his big hitting in the Ballymena Sixes are also well worthy of a mention. Ian however is convinced that Raman's proudest moment came when he opened the batting for India against Ireland in 1986 at Ormeau.
"When you look at the strength of the Indian batting line up, you get some semblance of the high regard in which Raman was held. The top six were Srikkanth, Lamba, Vengsakar, Azharuddin, Patil and Shastri - not bad cricketers!"
He played for India in 1986 and after their tour of England had finished, he joined Woodvale for the last part of the season, helping the Ballygomartin side to promotion. He rejoined North Down the following season until he was released by them at the end of the 1989 season. He joined Cliftonville for the 1990 season where he continued his run spree but narrowly failed to lead the club to promotion.
His total dominance of Section Two led to the NCU clubs banning overseas professionals for the 1991 season. This resulted in Cliftonville taking the NCU to the High Court in a very public action, which ultimately ended in failure for Lamba and the Belfast club. This however proved to be a piece of fortune for Ardmore.
The Ardmore Club had somehow already registered Raman Lamba and it came to pass that the Indian was on his way to the North West and to "The Bleachgreen." Ardmore Chairman Dermot Ward takes up the story.
"Bobby Brolly, our Secretary, had received a tip off that Raman might be available and took a chance by registering him at the NW meeting. I can still see the shocked faces when Harry Henderson read out his name! Indeed, he had also registered him the previous year, but that fell through.
"When it emerged that he wouldn't be able to play for Cliftonville, we arranged to meet him at Bobby Rao's house in Strabane, where a deal was clinched. He travelled up and down from Belfast for each game, and stayed over at Tom Brolly's house in Bridgend if we had a double header."
Dessie Brolly opened with Raman as Ardmore had their most successful year ever in terms of league position. The perennial strugglers finished second to the mighty Donemana. Dessie recalled what it was like to have Raman around.
"He was without doubt the best cricketer I have ever seen. He was certainly special. He gave a sense of confidence to everybody around him and his infectious enthusiasm rubbed off on his team mates. He renewed the cricketing interest in the Ardmore area, and the crowds flocked to see him.
"I remember a Cup game against Brigade where the cars were parked as far away as Drumahoe. They were standing three deep around the boundary. I have never before or since seen such a huge attendance at the Green."
That year provided some much needed impetus for Ardmore and shortly after they had secured not only a new pavillion but thanks to Sanjeev Sharma, they had finally broken the "Gypsies Curse", to land their "Holy Grail", the NW Senior Cup, after eight losing finals. Ardmore had Raman to thank indirectly for that, because of the fact that it was he who was Sharma's agent, and who had personally recommended him to the club.
Sanjeev says of Raman, "I personally felt my life stood still when Raman was declared dead. it was the saddest day of my life. He was my idol, my true friend and a great motivation to me. He was full of advice when he got me the professional's job at Ardmore. He gave me great confidence in my ability and that helped me settle in quickly and helped Ardmore to win trophies.
"Although he was 38, he was fitter than anyone I've ever known, and I'm sure he could have continued on. He used to train with the Delhi State long distance running champion, and even he struggled to keep up with Raman, such was his stamina and determination. This determination was never more evident than when he was at the crease.
"I remember when we were chasing 478 runs in the Duleep Trophy against West Zone. Raman scored 345 but still wasn't happy when he was dismissed as he had been aiming to break the Indian First Class record. It was a great loss to India , Ireland , and cricket lovers throughout the world when he passed away.
"I still miss him and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about him, his wife Kim and their children Jasmine and Cameron."
Raman went back to North Down in 1994 and played for 3 seasons topping the NCU averages and helping North Down to 2nd place in the league, their highest league position since 1936. He didn't feature in Irish cricket in 1997 but many expected him to return to the province for the 1998 season, but tragedy of course struck.
Ian Callender said of Raman at the time of his death, "Raman Lamba was more than just a very good cricketer, he was a personality. Love him or loathe him, and there were very few of the latter, he was a great ambassador for cricket in Northern Ireland.
"Whether it was his weight of runs, his long running fights with authority to be accepted as a qualified Irish player, or his financial demands, which led him to four different clubs, Raman demanded attention."
It's ironic to think at his battles now to become Irish qualified, when one looks at the cosmopolitan nature of the current Irish team.
As Ian Shields put it - "Raman was 15 years ahead of his time."
The final word in this tribute goes to Raman himself when he described his thoughts of Ireland while writing in the Ulster Cricketer, "I have found Ireland to be a fantastic place with plenty of entertainment. I have probably more friends in Ireland than I do in India , because here you get so involved in the community. I love your country and your people. Everybody is so friendly and hospitable."