"Whoever said 'don't meet your heroes' obvious didn't meet the right people."
Those were the gleeful sentiments of Angus Le Lievre after he spent Sunday in the company of some of cricket's all-time greats.
The Orange CYMS all-rounder, a physiotherapist with Cricket NSW, was offered the chance to ply his trade on the players involved in the Bushfire Bash, a 10-over game organised to raise funds for victims of this summer's disastrous blazes.
Standing in the Junction Oval changing rooms alongside Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara, Adam Gilchrist and a host of other past and present stars, Le Lievre - a lifelong cricket lover - was in something approaching personal nirvana.
And being within such close proximity of greatness afforded the Wagga Wagga product some revelations about life at the top of world cricket's tree.
"Despite the fact that it was a charity game, listening to the talk on the sidelines you could tell there was an element of intensity from the great players," Le Lievre said.
"It was obvious Ricky Ponting had no intention of getting out, and even Courtney Walsh, who's 57 years old and has taken something like 1800 first class wickets, was letting them go at about 125km/h off five steps."
Watching proceedings in the boundary-side shelter alongside retired legends like Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and Wasim Akram also afforded Le Lievre some insights with value beyond pitches and picket fences.
"In that setting it was easy to appreciate that these guys are just people," he said.
"Brian Lara was there with his wife and kids, most of the guys had their families around, and it was obvious that as big a part as cricket had played in their lives they had move on.
"The game is important but it is not everything." Fighting an understandable urge to stargaze, Le Lievre was clear about his role in the day's proceedings.
"They're professionals, and because of my role I was there to interact with them only as they needed," he said.
"Being around those types of guys is not necessarily a new thing for me, but this was a professional setting, for them and for me.
"If the players didn't need me to work on them I was more than happy to stay out of their way."
Among those requiring his pre-game services on Sunday was Orange's teen prodigy Phoebe Litchfield, selected to bat number four in Ponting's XI.
Just 12 months previous, Le Lievre had worked on the talented left-hander in a very different setting: during the Cricket Australia Under-18s Women's National Championship carnival in Ballarat and Bendigo.
One year on, Le Lievre said his "only real goal for the day was to soak up the experience".
Well, maybe there were two goals, when you factor in also securing the signatures of Ponting, Tendulkar (there in a coaching capacity) and Lara - "the three greatest batsmen of their era" - on a shirt that's certain to take pride of place among Le Lievre's memorabilia, especially after adding Adam Gilchrist's name to the back.
Incredibly, meeting the fabled trio and their contemporaries was almost an opportunity that slipped through his grasp not once but twice.
The game was originally slated to be played at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday, the same day Le Lievre had been named to play the second day of the green and gold's BOIDC fixture against Centennials Bulls at Riawena Oval.
Despite some reservations about withdrawing from that game - "I'm not someone who likes to back out of a commitment after making it" - at the urging of his brother Hugh, his skipper at CYMS, Le Lievre decided it was a chance he simply couldn't pass up.
Then when the wild weather forecast for Sydney on the weekend forced the charity game's organisers to reschedule the fixture to Sunday in the Victorian capital, Le Lievre was told he would have to pay his own way to and from Melbourne from his Sydney home to retain his appointment.
He was only too happy to do so, and on Sunday night, en route back to Sydney, reflected that one of 2020's biggest sporting stories put his once-in-a-lifetime experience in true perspective.
"Since Kobe Bryant passed away I have been reading and hearing tributes to him," Le Lievre said.
"One of the key things that struck me was that lots were from people who had no direct association with him, so for me to have the opportunity to actually meet and be around people I felt the same way about was incredible.
"I've held some of those blokes in the highest esteem, like super heroes, for 20 years, so it was surreal to spend that time with them."
And the cherry on top? Sunday was Le Lievre's 27th birthday, a coincidence that leaves his nearest and dearest in a less-than-ideal position come 12 months' time.
"Good luck beating that birthday present," he said.
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