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Diary of the 17th Man – Feb 17

I spoke to Anthea last night – she was at Mum and Dad’s again. She was pleased I arrived safely. “Was the bed ok?  Did you ask for an extra pillow? Have you had a beer with the Captain yet?  I know you get on with him. He’ll get you on the field.” Poor Thea. After reading his statements reported in TOI yesterday under the headline “Hardest Test Ever” it’s pretty clear what he wants.  It’s not about what you say he said, it’s about what you do.  “Perform well on the field that’s all we want”.

Dad was in the background with the dog. I think he’s still miffed that I wasn’t selected for
this game. “Three days is about your limit. At least they could have named you 12th man”.  I missed the rest.  The dog was barking and to be frank it was hard to distinguish them.

I received a package by courier from home when I returned to the Hotel. Six books about strength through adversity?  I gave the one about Pistorius to the team Manager.  I wouldn’t be caught out with it now.  He cracked a sly grin saying he would take care of it, which may well mean using it page by page if he ever gets caught short later in the tour. I’ll read the Steve Waugh book first and pick up on the 2001 India tour.

The spinners invited me to the bar after dinner. They needed something to settle their nerves. The three of them picked up 3/260 odd, figures hard to stomach if today is any harbinger of what is to come.  Plopper mumbled over and over something about patience and consistency.  I was ready to call for Darren, team psychologist (resident nutcase) when he broke a grin mouthing Elton’s ‘Rocket Man’ instead. Anything to avert mental disintegration he said.  The Captain nodded approvingly from the next table.  “It’s only the curtain raiser” he said “Forget today. Learn from it. Everything will turn.”

And it did. The first 2 hours were gobbled up by rain. The Captain called a team meeting to unpack our perceptions of yesterday’s performance. He began with two simple questions – What had we learned yesterday? What were we going to do differently to take the initiative?  The bowlers isolated the odd practical insight – bowl faster, don’t throw it up – from the witticisms and other radical suggestions this form of open consultation attracts.

Whatever they did, it was hard to see what, the spinners cleaned up the tail for about 100. Our lads set about clearing the slate wielding the bat to all parts of the field. The crack of willow on leather became so regular I put aside the Times of India to take in this rhythmic spectacle untroubled by the shimmering heat of the day. The Captain finally relaxed, removing his sprigs from the meat of my shoulder.  I didn’t mind.  The double folded handkerchief stitched to the inside of my playing shirt worked a treat.

When the first wicket fell lbw to a spinner – read into this what you choose – the mood refocused sensing the next wicket stand might rightly be one of the vital moments in the game.  Number 3 and 4 fell in quick succession again to spinners to leave us shaky at stumps at 4/131. Maybe we can hold out to avoid the follow on.  Another learning day – double ouch!

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