The Prof called the Inaugural Meeting of the Australian Chapter of the International Federation of Test Cricket Reject Clubs to order. The first rays of a Worcestershire sun climbed above the smoky peaks of red brick terraces to the strains of Edward Elgar, a favourite companion for the kitchen staff busily sizzling the first fatty fry-ups of the day. The Prof ticked off the names of the old hands of The Reject Club (notably myself and Mr X) and extended a warm welcome to the new members including The Natural and Trapper, the likely 12th Man, neither of whom displayed any of the handcuffed politeness and standoffishness we used to expect from new recruits. Citizen Kane was acknowledged in absentia, while Mantis had slept in.
The Prof’s 2012 idea to smooth the transition of new recruits into the rhythm of the Reject Club by issuing formal invitations co-signed by the Coach and Captain has done much to remove the association between player frustration and the Club brand. On his appointment, Coach2.0 also agreed to complete Club membership applications for each Reject to reduce the administrative burden on team marketing, and to top up the Club sinking fund. Realising the C’s analysis of player potential, form and social skills might upset some players – this section of the application requires 1,000 words – Prof thoughtfully added a section on Club benefits, a 1800 number for emergency psychological help, and a calculation of the compounding effect of member financial benefits to close out the invitation on an optimistic note.
Prof read out a note from the Coach reminding the Rejects that nets are available before 9 and after 5 on non-playing days, at any time during games, or at any other time by invitation from one of the Eleven. Rejects are to lift the bat to bad balls and carelessly block the good balls when facing Test bowlers, and must try to avoid swinging or seaming the ball to frontline batsmen. Rank long hops are preferred. We are all One Team. The Test XI operate on a knife edge. Nothing is to upset their delicate temperaments.
The Prof trundled through the Agenda with all the fealty and poise of a corporate facilitator, inviting us to interact if he thought we were at all introspective, probing for muscle lesions like a bare-knuckled masseur. He was tickled pink by Mr X and The Natural with their witty offhand remarks about those apparently in the XI. He said he thought their schedule of Shakespearean-inspired pranks and outings during boring parts of the Tests in July, cut in between net sessions, looks particularly educational. Prof and I distributed share certificates in Prof’s new venture, ‘Reconditioned Dukes’, to each of the Rejects. The Prof said he feels so badly for the Rejects this Tour that he has closed down the No. 2 fund, leaving it with enough residual liabilities to balance out the dwindling profits from India after deducting a significant management fee and a special dividend (tip: 5 figures) for each of the Ashes Tour Rejects. We were so overjoyed we immediately re-invested the proceeds in Prof’s ‘by invitation only’ No. 3 fund, as he intended.
The meeting adjourned as the daily papers and plates of streaky bacon, browned snags, and pools of Worcester Sauce arrived to distract the collective hunger.
We spent the day banging away in the nets – bowling as instructed to warm up the bats for another County game, taking balls on the body from the named bowling line-up and calling encouragement up the line: “Nice ball. It moved a fraction,” or “Nuts ball. My fault. I tripped over my shoelace,” or Mr X’s favourite, “Excellent pace. Was that your slower one?”. The Natural has a soft spot for the line “Sorry Captain. A face ball.”
I have only time to note the Essex flop. England 9/413 declared. Bresnan (105 no) and the spinner Swann (94) grabbed the glory, the latter at the cost of a Nasty Bruise (c) . In reply Essex 9/231, the boy Root jagging 4 by himself in a local rout.
“Let me process that. Bowlers who bat and opening bats who bowl. Rejects with better form than the Test XI?”
“Hardly” replied a presidential Prof. “Nothing compares to the scenes in Glastonbury,” he said reading the Mirror headline “Glastonbury 2013 crowd-surfing baby sparks Twitter outrage“. Apparently the lad made his way over the crowd in his pushchair to see his Dad perform Elvis’ Suspicious Minds with the Vodka Jellies Karaoke Band. The other headline was equally puzzling: something about Laura Robson’s Wimbledon defeat being blamed on a memo from David Cameron. Nothing is stranger than it seems.
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© 2013 Dave Cornford & Jeremy Pooley