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Diary of the 17th Man – Mar 19

Losing a third test match (or falling just short, again) by six wickets at the end of the 4th day of play, when you score 400 by midday on the 2nd day, is hard to fathom.  I expected harsh words from home this morning and was not disappointed.  Dad accused me of swinging the bat like a fairy’s wand spraying curry dust everywhere to no effect, an opening salvo in what became a Shakespearean soliloquy that contained all the spice but none of its linguistic tenderness.

“You are in the Australian side, son. It’s a badge of honour YOU need to take seriously…”

Thea was friendly, but cool.  Even non-cricket lovers expected better.

The Freak said this is rock bottom. “The GFC we had to have”.  His Dad has refused to speak to him despite his 5 fer.

Gipper reckons you can’t understand it unless you are playing.  His Dad sold up yesterday and moved interstate.  He lost it when a load of old cricket balls was dumped on the front lawn overnight.  The pyjama wearing crowd that congregated at daybreak looked like the second day of a marathon petanque festival.  Mum fronted the journo’s who turned up later to say her son was a great boy, really.  That was the last straw.

Everything considered, the mood in the camp is very up-beat.  As The Captain reported, there are many, many positives.  We can take a swag of wickets (9/200) when the pressure is off.  We just need to bust the 250 run partnerships early on.   The Condemned have been freed.  Lucky is back scoring well through slips.  And it’s the year of the Snake.

Coach offered his analysis of the match at the team meeting, to which we listened attentively because we love him.  He kept it brief recognising that the bell for recess was about to go. “Bowlers scoring more runs than the top 4, again.  Top 4 wanting to bowl, again.  Spinners taking no wickets, again. Only a few oil patches amongst a sea of positivist plenty”, he said.  “Oodles to work on before Delhi.”   Coach released the marked homework.  No surprises here.  The Captain failed and had to write 100 lines about gold and ducks, which he delegated to Hollywood – after all, that’s what the Captain’s aide is for – as he raised his hands like Caesar for quiet.  He had received a note from MSD requesting us to join the Indian team for afternoon drinks.  Knowing this might be a sensitive point, he wanted our views.  Were we up to it?  No unease at all – all proper smiles and breaths of wind.

Drinks was an elaborate affair.  The India top six had showered and were in engaging spirits titillated no doubt by the prospect of slipping in a few kind words amid the diplomatic chatter.  Dharwan talked us all through his 3 or 4 balls of nervousness before he got into his natural game.  “I was in no hurry” he smiled, swinging a hand around Puff’s waist “no strategy…I was just middling it.”  Puff smiled back, a hand around a shoulder “I’m in no hurry either.  How is your hand? Can I show you how to dive properly?”  Across the room, The Captain and MSD were deep in conversation, MSD very animated as he explained his approach to homework.  “I drop the work bit,” he said.  “It’s still about respecting your home, your honour, your sponsorships, respecting your boss and his boss’s boss… When we lost 4-0 in Australia, the homework was only to find a faster way home. We also placed calls to the pitch curators. The BCCI did the rest organising as many tests here as they could to let our averages recover. Cricket is a big industry.  It’s a 20 year career here.  TLM is still a brilliant Harvard case study. I see you spinners and ours are talking”, pointing to a gathering of 6 on the patio.  “There are no secrets in our camp.  Spinners learn to spin on hockey pitches; bats learn to bat with a ball and stump” he said winking.

The Prof and I occupied our time moving in and out of these conversations, Prof taking bets mainly from the Indian spinners on behalf of MSD and the top 6 (TLM apart) on the prospect of a 4-0 sweep, prompting another security-escorted trip to a local bank.  As the hazy sun began to dance above the Chandigarh skyline – to be frank we were all at that stage – The Freak and I nipped away to put our finishing touches to the Indian bus with spray paint, animal glue, and a bunch of tacks from the hotel boy.  Nothing like revenge.

© 2013 Dave Cornford & Jeremy Pooley

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