The Prof and I breakfasted early. The Freak joined us shortly afterwards and slammed The Telegraph on the table with as much mock annoyance as he could muster. “Even Warnie says piddling on the pitch crosses the line,” he said.
“Stupid is how I would characterise it,” The Prof remarked. “Something exile in South Africa might fix. A tiny chin knock compared to indecent exposure in a public place….” I made the DRS review sign washing away the thought of pitch tampering with a slug of black coffee.
The Captain joined us briefly full of smiles. The antics of the English don’t bother him. He sets a visibly highly standard. “The rooms here… at this hotel.. are excellent”, he began “I hear the lower floors have excellent rooftop views?”
“Well… yes. I expect they have,” I replied, giving The Prof a swift tap on the shin to remind him to think, not gloat.
The Captain continued “What floor are you on? I couldn’t find either of you in the reception directory.”
The Prof returned The Captain’s gaze with that dead bat confused-hamster look batsmen have when they are dismissed, knowing that occupants of the Presidential suite on the top floor are not listed on the public register. “Yes”, he said.
“And the limo’s?”
The Captain interrupted “Prof, you are the Banker for the team. The very best Banker Australian cricket has ever had.” He paused to let that sink in. “Just look after the players. They deserve it. This tour has been tough”, he said. “Enjoy the suite.” He looked at me puzzled as if he wanted to say something, but thought better of and made to leave. “Oh, Coach2.0 expects to win the prank war in the summer, and either turn Deep Third in the tradition of 007 or uncover his, or her, identity.”
The Freak, who had been listening intently, suggested we spend the day in Kent with our partners before the traditional end of Tour Awards evening. He wanted to visit Winston Churchill’s home at Chartwell. We spent a peaceful afternoon there wandering through the House and Churchill’s painting studio. The wall he built in the 1930’s when he was out of office is specatcular. Each of us borrowed liberally from this deep well of inspiration.
The mood of the squad as the dust settles on this Ashes series is very positive. There is a hint of forged steel in each of us that was absent after India. It might now be said that we fear no team, no Umpire, no doctored pitch. In the misery of two losing series we have laid the foundations of success, a simple exorcism of belief.
Big Merv was the surprise MC. He never had a weight problem he said, until he played cricket. Hard pitches he said through a cheesy grin cracked under his ‘hatred’ of batsmen and hard edged sledging, the first of many tantalising messages and unlikely tales he pumped out between drinks and the awards ceremony.
I recorded the awards in the back of Thea’s little black book.
The Bowlers’ Batsman Award: The Kid, for “the highest almost ton (98) by a 19 year no.11 left handed batsman and orthodox spinner on debut at Lord’s in the first innings of a Ashes Test Series in England” [Ed. The Awards Committee could not qualify this award more tightly]
The Colgate Batsman’s Award: The Captain, for “the highest Test batting average, and the least impact on an Ashes Test series in England”
The Umpires Award: Hollywood, for “the highest number of unsuccessful DRS challenges in any Test series, ever”
The Broken Hill Barber All-rounder Award: Trapper, for “most litres of peroxide used by a batsman on tour [Ed. Batsmen defined as a Test centurion]
Most Injured: RocketMan [Ed. By weak link video], “I hate English batsmen. I’ll be back”
Most Wickets: The Natural, “I hate English batsmen. Now at my best.” Loud cheers, a big bow, a hug from Sarah, a quiet word from Coach2.0 [Ed. Something prissy like “You saved us from oblivion”], preceded the presentation of a tailor made 2m diameter 50 pound Duke. “Biggest Duke I ever saw” Trapper remarked. “Bigger than Broad’s balls I imagine” replied Mr X. The Duke was hard to manage and rolled off the stage cracking one of the Team Management tables in the front row to the delight of the audience. The Natural gave a short speech “I’m overwhelmed. It was a team effort. I would like the batsmen to join us in November.” This drew a huge cheer.
The King Gee ‘Tough as Nails’ Award: The Freak, for being The Freak. Party streamers fluttered from the rafters and mist obscured the stage as Rocky Balboa rang out across the room. The Freak raised his hands for quiet “I hate English batsmen” he yelled. Soon we were all chanting it. Then he changed tack chanting “I want a frigging green top”. We laid this on for a while stamping our feet, until he left the stage cheeering, his hand raised in a clenched fist.
Most Deceptive Arm Ball: Plopper, “These wickets only take spin”
Bowlers’ Award to Batsmen: “We spend more time in the field than you do in the middle. Why?” [Ed. Accepted by Darren on behalf of The Director, High Performance]
The Golden Glove Award: Wicky, “That would have been 30. Why don’t you walk, you [Ed. Expletive deleted] cheat!”
The Candid Camera Award: Puff, “South Africa is a long way away”
The Loreal Soft Hands Award: The Kid, “It came straight to me really quickly. I never saw it, truly”
The Players’ Player Award: Mr Bean (wild cheering and kisses), the only player to be dropped after one Test “I never had a chance” [Ed. Except in India]
The Single Innings Award: Lucky (cat calls from the Marketing Department), total Test runs 83, highest Test score 81not out “I was unlucky to miss out”
The India Paper boy’s Entrepreneurs Award: Prof, for the best DRS app since the DRS
The English Hoteliers Award: Sarah, most Weetbix swallowed in 5 minutes at an official breakfast function (25)
The Oxford Chirping Award: Puff’s wicketkeeper stand-off in South Africa “We were comparing personal hygiene and family ancestry. It was a warm day”
The Chirper’s chirping Award: The Captain “KP’s backside is really very big. We needed to do something to dismiss him and we did”
The Probus Award for Public Service: UnLucky, the best mentor a team could ever have “I value my wicket every time I bat” He finished to a standing ovation that lasted fifteen minutes. Even the Prof and The Captain (the team hard hats) glistened up
Most Annoying Roomie Award: The key jangler at the Marriott hotel, Durham at 2am
The Ninja Prank Award (joint): The Prof, for “the double redundant disabling of the English team bus on the M5”, and The Prof and the oil and gas men for pitch “de-fracking”
The Coach’s Award: Darren, for his monograph [Ed. Mammogram] ‘Managing Transitions: My time with Coach 1.0 and Kevin Rudd’,2013 [Ed. The untold story, in good bookstores now!]
“You clown. You stole my work. Plagiarist! Plagiarist! Call security! Don’t just sit there”, Sarah said turning a withering look to Mr X and The Freak expecting them to step to her aid. “Hurry up! I want that psychobabbler arrested for breach of copyright” pointing an accusing finger at Darren who was struggling to comprehend this verbal assault. “That is my book. It’s my story, not his,” she yelled.
The Prof whispered to me “Sarah’s book “Finding Form: My Time with Coach2.0 and Anthony Robbins’ is due out in October.”
“I’m surprised they didn’t write something together,” I replied. “Quite extraordinary.”
The award ceremony was suspended for 15 minutes while security removed Sarah’s fingernails from Darren’s eye sockets and escorted them both out of the room. Big Merv reappeared to play a compendium of the best press photography of the Ashes Series Jimmy Maxwell’s team had compiled overnight. We all got a copy signed by the Ashes commentary ‘personalities’, a double pass to Euro Disney and a tester for Warnie’s new hygiene kit for men, including something called ‘soggy dog’ he swears will be a crowd pleaser.
This and another bottle each of 1937 French Champagne helped to raise our mood again to fever pitchfor the final most prestigious Tour award.
The Telegraph Award: Coach2.0, for the best after action reportable sledge of an opposition player in an Ashes Series in England, ever [Ed. It was only Broad. He knows he deserved it]The Broad incident was replayed in slow motion just to remind us how it feels to be robbed blind by a baby faced bowler and a couple of creaky Umpires. After that we all croaked our way through ‘Under the Southern Cross’ with the help of a local choir. Nice.
Towards the end of the evening, The Freak dragged me away from a glass of Cognac someone had shoved in my hand towards the unisex bathroom. “You two play properly,” winked Coach2.0.
We found Sarah and Darren tied up in the hallway side by side. Their hands and feet were loosely bound with players’ jock straps. They were both chewing on coloured bandanas tied around their necks and both looked very disaffected. A few lines were scrawled above them on the wall in an autograph pen. The hand looked familiar, but it could have been anyone.
The Natural joined them helping to free the ‘prisoners’. “I guess there are more authors than batsmen,” he mused “I know Mr Bean had been busy.”
“Mum’s the word,” I said raising a finger to my lips “until we unravel this gag”. How many diarists could there be? The Prof took a black and white photograph of all us back on the dance floor in front of The Natural’s Duke.
“Our book,” The Prof said, with an arm round my shoulder, “will still be the first book out to chronicle the Ashes. The Banker’s job covers many functions”
As the Bard said ‘All’s well that ends well’.
COMING SOON – The 17th Man: The Ashes Diary – Part 1 – England 2013
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