The following contains a transcript of a conversation between The Captain and the Selectors that was recorded on an unidentfied iPone on Friday 15 November.
The Freak and The Natural, two spearheads of the Ashes summer in England, got hold of it and passed it on to The Prof and I last Thursday. They were surprised at our nonchalant reactions as much we were in their attire – grey coats, homburgs and dark glasses was a little over the top in the open necked informality of an afterwork Brisbane pub, but this was perhaps no more incongruous than the reported actions of Lee Harvey Oswald in the Texas School Book Depository on that Friday in November.
The Prof smiled. “That and merciless publicising of your daily itinerary.”
We watched The Freak and The Natural autograph coasters, handkerchiefs and pieces of white tablecloth ‘borrowed’ from the adjoining seafood restaurant. The bar hands wore an irrepressible smile of good fortune as they pulled repeat orders for Queensland’s premium XXXX well past happy hour.
“Can we borrow your sharpies? Ours seem to have run dry,” asked The Natural, winking at The Freak and hiding a friendly grin as he flicked his embossed silver beauty, with its gold middle band, along his fingers to the applause of the impressionable onlookers.
“Of course,” The Prof replied, with a natural charm that in any other circumstance might have sunk a battleship.
When the commotion subsided, we cleared a corner table to watch and listen as The Prof pressed play on The Captain’s conversation, interpolating context where necessary.
The Captain grimaced as he listened to the Chairman of Selectors. His back was tender after a long session with the bowling machine that morning, followed by a long team meeting in the afternoon with the named Test twelve. The Chairman was explaining test selection protocols. “Do you understand? This is highly unusual. We have to manage sponsors, media, contracts, logistics, everything you never see, and win a few test matches!”
“I think winning test matches is my responsibility,” The Captain interrupted gently.
“It can’t be done!”
“The Captain continued in a soft unemotional tone. “They both ended up with excellent Tour averages in England…”
“Playing second string County outfits. I expected nothing less. But they were not selected for any of the Tests, even the one’s we should have won.”
The transcript broke off at this point, the transcriber recording some commotion, breaking glass, and shuffling of furniture. No one knew what to make of it. The recording then resumed.
“…and in support of The Prof, every team has had a ‘scrounger’ mostly as a part-timer. Since Packer the team has always appointed an unofficial banker. India showed the need for specialisation. The England Tour managed player pension interests on a professional basis for the first time.” Apparently, Coach 2.0 had made a timely comment.
A surly voice interrupted. “What else?”
“Winning test matches is essential. But we must win the prank war as well. The Prof was the mastermind of the M1 traffic snarl, pitch fracking at Manchester and the DRS app, among other widely reported off field activity. He is indispensable.”
“The best reserve Captain we have.”
Another silence followed until someone said that the enormity of the psychological impact of the off-field parallel universe could not be understated.
“Any other comments?” asked the Chairman of Selectors. Silence. In truth, no one was in a position to withhold any talisman – animate or inanimate – The Captain deemed essential to win the Ashes at home. “Very well. The Prof is in. What story have you got for the 17th? It had better be entertaining!”
The Captain was in his element – a placid pitch on a hot afternoon – and capitalised on this opening with relish. “Now that you mention it, the 17th is the team chronicler, our Samuel Pepys, our John Adams to The Prof’s Thomas Jefferson”, he intoned with a flourish.
“What?” said Coach 2.0.
“Cricket’s Joseph Heller.” The Captain realised he was in his own Catch-22 where nothing made sense to anyone and adroitly changed tack. “Our equivalent of Matthew Reilly and John Birmingham… in one”, he said.
“That’s a big claim!”
“So?” , a voice mocked. “Cricket Australia support The Captain’s Diaries for just this purpose.”
“That book is based on events on the pitch and avoids much of the off field controversy. The 17th is the bridge between what we see in the middle and events off the field. A sane mind when things go awry, joker, observer, whatever. Excellent at the breakfast table and team meetings.”
“Bizarre. Baffling,” the same voiced mocked again. “Is there anything else?”
“He is excellent at pranks?” At this point, Coach2.0 said something inaudible which ended in a coughing fit. A chair fell over and a dog barked.
The Chairman had heard enough.
“Comments?” Silence and some heavy breathing followed.
“Ok. 17th is in. Is that it?”, he asked. “I assume the team is right behind these two?”
“Yes. Totally,” The Captain replied. “The Bowlers and Puff in particular.” This drew another prolonged silence.
“That’s it then. Do we need to tell them formally?”
“I’ve let them know already,” Coach2.0 replied hastily, “but a formal conversation and press release would be appropriate.”
The following day a short paragraph appeared in Column 8 of the Sydney Morning Herald announcing the ‘after selection’ of The Prof and me as shadow players to join the squad. No one took it seriously. The journalists ignored it, signed as it was by J. Anderson and G. Swann, Chef’s erudite pranksters. Puff called me later to say that scoring a few hundreds can overcome even the most public ridicule.
Of course, Dad reserved a few choice words for the Selectors who he said need look no further than the dinosaur bones in the Museum of New South Wales to get a dose of hard edged reality.
The Prof said he always expected to be included in the team. Wink, wink. He is about to place a cash offer on a waterfront property on the harbour foreshore. He has advised me to purchase the adjoining property and to find a decent publicist for the Ashes Diaries.