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July 29 – Midnight Manoeuvres

The Captain approved Puff’s simple plan to upset the English and read it to us:

“Objective: Infiltrate the English hotel at 12.02.

Seal Team 1 enters first on the ground floor, followed by Seal Team 2 from the roof.

Extraction: Exit through the back door by 12.20.

The Prof, Lucky and Darcy are ST1.  The Freak and you [Ed. Me] are ST2.”

Coach2.0 bound a protesting Puff with gaffer tape, dragged him to a rubber dinghy and floated him off on the outgoing tide to the sea.

“The Coast Guard will pick him up at first light if he is Lucky,” Coach2.0 said. “Puff cannot be associated with this adventure if he wants ‘in’ at Old Trafford.”

The Freak was busy consulting the tidal charts. “He might hit France or Spain first,” he said, twisting the map this way and that.

“Don’t worry. That coastline is not well populated.”

“Have you got Puff’s big Galaxy?” (the marble that had caused the scuffle at the Walkabout with the Boy Root). “This will be better than a fingerprint.  We’ll return it to Root.”

We painted our faces in green and black, synchronised watches and boarded the black baker’s van.  It was a long drive.

We coughed and gagged for 10 minutes when we arrived to clear our lungs of CO from the big hole in the floorboards near the exhaust, and tuned in to radio silence.  We entered the darkened hotel lobby at 12.02pm on schedule. It was unusually quiet.

“Surprise! Surprise!”

marilynFlashes went off from the press photographers, followed by little white flashes from iphones, ipads, everything Apple.

“Now!” someone yelled.

“Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday Mr. President.. no, no Jimmy, Jimmy. Happy Birthday to you.”

“Hooray!! The English advance guard has arrived.”

“Which ones are they.  Where are the B’s?  Where is Swanny?”

Hey! They don’t look like them!”

“Yeh. Who are they!?”

Other parts of the crowd were singing “Why was he born….” It was a real melee.

Jimmy’s supporters clapped us on the back. ignoring the questioning looks from others. They were high on cheap lemonade and slices of Jimmy’s favourite Triple Chocolate birthday cake.  We played the game, spraying lemonade into the crush of the assembled throng rushing to shake our hands.  We fought our way to the exit and the safety of the monoxide van as 100 doves were released into the night sky by a young supporter.  Sweat dribbled down my back – I hate that – as we tail wagged it down the street.  The Prof cursed Puff’s luck.

“Where is Lucky?”


“Man down,” The Prof radioed to Coach2.0 and The Captain in the back-up stretch limo.  They spent some time discussing what to do before we lost contact.

“I think it was an anti-fragging party for someone called Jimmy,” Darcy concluded when we stopped for fresh air.

“More like the Day of the Triffids,” I replied “I’ve never seen so many balloons and druid figures with hollow eyes.”

Prof wanted to visit Old Trafford.  We were more than half way there.  The driver didn’t mind.  He was earning triple time anyway, all on the CA account.

We arrived at Old Trafford in the dead of night, or it should have been like that. The lights were on and the noise of muffled machinery resounded from the empty stands.  A group of curly haired big blokes wearing King Gees and steel-capped boots were sinking bores on either side of the covered center wicket mid-way to the boundary.  The Prof flashed his fake Seal ID.

“You on manoeuvres, mate?” said the finer featured bloke with the yellow hat.

“Sort of. Came from Hove.”


“What are you up to?”

“Fracking, mate, looking for oil and gas.  We got a license from the ECB to explore all cricket ovals in England.”

They were pumping water under pressure into bore holes to fracture the underlying bedrock and thereby release the gas they say is underneath.

“It’s worth millions.”

Prof inspected the centre wicket. It already looked a spinner’s paradise.  As the drilling continued, small cracks began to appear, and the larger ones grew.

“Stop everything” The Prof announced.  He then explained the importance of the center wicket to the man in the yellow hat. “Can you reverse it, I mean does defracking work?”

“Never tried it mate. I guess so.”

“Can you sew the pitch up so tight it won’t disintegrate over 5 days?”

“Easy.  We’ll use a special heat resistant clear glue to seep into the grass.  It’s tested to 1,000 metres. No one will ever know… I’m an Aussie expat,” he said smiling.

“We will all be expats if we lose the next Test,” I added.

We left the drillers to do their work.

I understand Puff made it to Normandy, safely.  He was picked up tied to part of a Mulberry harbour waving a white flag. I still have his Galaxy.  Lucky crawled from the anti-fragging party in his underwear sometime during the morning and made it to a taxi rank.

A tough day in the nets felt like heaven given the evening’s adventures.




OUT NOWThe Ashes Files 2013. The secret applications file that Cricket Australia assembled when they threw applications open to all comers. Ebook available at amazon now.

OUT NOW: Coach2Coach – The story of Australia’s chequered preparation for the 2013 Ashes, as told byThe 17th Man. (US/UK)

© 2013 Dave Cornford, Jeremy Pooley & Jock Macneish

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