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Diary of the 17th Man – Mar 21

Test eve – Delhi

“Said I one night to a pristine seer
(Who knew the secrets of whirling time)
“Sir, you well perceive
That goodness and faith,
Fidelity and love
Have all departed from this sorry land
Father and son are at each other’s throat;
Brother fights brother, Unity and federation are undermined
Despite all these ominous signs,
Why has not Doomsday come?
Who holds the reins of the Final Catastrophe?” Mirzah Ghalib (Urdu Poet 1797-1869)

The fortune-teller uttered not a word more, lapsing into some sort of transcendental union. “An Urdu poet…what the hell does that mean?” whispered Rocket man.  The Prof. pushed his cap back across his curly mane “4-0 for sure”, thinking harder about the overnight message from his banker than unraveling hidden forebodings from a long retired mystic.  “I’m more comfortable with the steady meter of Shakespearean sonnets” Puff incanted as they left.  The cool night air stilled further banter, wrapping each of us in our own thoughts.

The team meeting late in the afternoon focused on the three C’s: Commitment, Capability and Composition.  Commitment to winning 15 sessions.  Capability to carry net form to the middle (of the bat). Composition to “swim between the flags” – don’t do anything stupid before you get to 10 or at any other time.  The Captain then gave an update on his back.  He could balance on his midriff like a rearing cobra – at this point Coach’s temple started throbbing as if in nuclear alert – but he was not sure if he could bowl.  We oozed sympathy for Hollywood, given the obvious bulge in The Captain’s back and obfuscating press references from team management about his form and leadership capacity.

The unnatural parallels to Australian events add spice to the pre-Test tension.  Four Condemned have been relegated to the back benched awaiting reinstatement, the incapacitated Leader is protesting good health although she has more knives in her back than a fifth day pitch has cracks, and The Future (an accidental tourist?) is leaning against the pillars of September to catch up to the past.  Is this a vision or a waking dream?

Hollywood wrapped up the session leading us in solemn prayer.  As befits this city, which has been ransacked and rebuilt so many times over the last 2,500 years, he paid homage to every form of religious devotion.  It was evensong by the time we finished rubbing our eyes and reinstating our pulses, as Coach cleaned up the Oija board – it had a thick join where The Captain had broken it early in the Tour.  We joined shoulders moving in and out in a square dance, knocking hips, elbows and the occasional head to the martial cadences of the team song.

The Prof walked out with Gipper, arm in arm.  Gipper clearly had been holding something back.  “This reminds me of King Lear Act III, Scene II.” “Huh,…yes. Indeed!” Prof replied recalling the scene “King Lear, with the Fool, in a storm.”  The bowlers behind guffawed adding a slight tailwind to Gipper’s spirited recitation:

“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s moulds, an germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!”

The Captain, Hollywood, and Puff, a media scrum in tow, went to the Ferozeshah Kotla to inspect the wicket declaring it to be a typical weary end-of-season dust bowl with more under-surface fissures than a hot springs – “a fine batting wicket for three days” Puff was reported to say.  “Do you support Hollywood” a precocious reporter fired “Unreservedly.  On my honour” spoke The Captain.

One thought occupies every waking minute: Can we win at the Kotla?  I imagine the Leader is praying for rain in September as much as Coach is praying The Captain is fit to play tomorrow.  Frankly, I put more store in the pocket-sized anthology of Ghalib’s poems I picked up at the bazaar.


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