Trapper and I joined Hollywood at The Prof’s favourite coffee shop in Paddington [Ed. Sydney, for English readers] for breakfast. The Prof had a meeting with his (our) bankers in town and was flying back to Brisbane late in the day. After much teasing, Trapper recalled the sledge incidents late in the match on Day 4. He was fielding at leg slip at the time. I checked the authenticity afterwards with Coach2.0 who said he supported unreservedly whatever was allegedly said on the field.
Tatts was at the top of his mark working through his calisthenics program watched by an pulsating crowd baying for Jimmy’s blood. Jimmy was at the other end scratching around the crease like a farmyard chook, killing time, surrounded by players lined up in the slips and bat pad positions impatient for action. [Ed. Like the Dallas cowgirls on a cold day.] Jimmy understood his position. Losing his wicket was certain; losing it with dignity would be what people remembered. He would prolong the final act and have some fun.
“What does it feel like to almost win a Test?” he said quietly to Mr G at silly point.
Mr G replied in good grace. “What does it feel like to almost lose one?”
“Not so bad after 14 tests. How does it feel to finally play one?”
Mr G started to reply when Wicky cut in “Are you going to shut up and face up sometime soon?” Plenty of chuckling followed from the batsmen in slips. The others, mostly bowlers, just stood there not amused.
“I’m getting to it. The light is bad. Look at the shadows.” Jimmy moved to the edge of the pitch and studied his own yellowing shadow from different angles.
Mr G moved closer “What shadow?”
“That’s my point. It’s too dark to play.”
“Who cares. You’re not going to hit the bloody ball. Get on with it!” yelled Puff.
Root looked on from the other end nonchalantly. A comment floated free from wide gully.
“You can’t bat and your bowling’s stuffed. Face up, darling.”
“Yeh, yeh. What’s your problem anyway?”
“You’re standing between me and a fridge full of cold celebration.”
“Those beers will be stale. They’ve been in there all year.”
The Freak signalled to the dressing room. This part I remember. Sarah took the signal. “He wants a catheter, now!”, she said. The Prof focused the binoculars on the sender and smiled. “Signal ‘No’ to everything. It’s past 6pm”, and returned to studying McKinsey’s latest forecast of hotel occupancy rates on the Dalmatian Coast for Christmas. The Player Pension fund No 7 is opening a hotel there in two weeks. Sarah telegraphed the reply “No.”
The Freak whispered “The beers are being replaced, pass it on.” When The Captain heard “His fears are being faced”, he replied back up the line “Stop arsing about.” The Freak signalled again. Sarah’s lips twitched.
Jimmy scored a single, then Root scored another. Jimmy was back on strike and moved to the edge of the cut surface to pat it down. Hollywood shouted “For God’s sake, bat right-handed…so we don’t have to move again.”
The slips made an untidy line. The Captain hates that. He kept looking behind the line and squinting with his thumb as if each player had a big brown nervous splotch on his backside. The line started to disintegrate.
Jimmy looked at Mr G. “I love your curly hair. I have a curly coated retriever with hair like that.”
“You bloody Poms are all the same. Full of crap and weak as puss.”
Jimmy started to face up for the next ball then smiled “How’s your mummy, Mr G?”
Mr G wandered up to Jimmy who is a good head taller and watched his Adam’s apple pumping up and down.
“Face up. Are you afraid?”
Jimmy said nothing.
Mr G yelled out “You are afraid. Ha, ha. So funny. Jimmy is affrayyaid. Jimmy is affrayyaid. Jimmy is AFFRAYYAID.” All the slips were chanting it.
Jimmy was getting a little annoyed “Come here, take off that helmet…” A punch was mentioned.
The Umpire heard the chanting, figured it was not going to stop, and wandered down the wicket. The Captain joined them.
“Did you threaten him?”, The Captain said.
Jimmy pointed to himself.
“Who? Me?. Why? Who cares about him?” he said grinning.
The Captain was agitated and stabbed his finger at Jimmy. Jimmy just stood there bemused. “Why not get back to first slip so we CAN get on with it.”
“It’s pathetic. This is slower than one of your wicket less overs….ARE you afraid?”
“No more than you are of me…BUNNY, BUNNY, BUUUUNNNNYYY.”
“Get your box in place and face up.” The Captain turned to go back to his position. So did the Umpire.
“I meant what I said,” Jimmy whispered to Mr G.
The Umpire had had enough and turned back down the pitch. Somehow he managed to flick on the audio. The Captain wheeled around and said “I’m warning you. Be prepared to break your f…king arm!” [Ed. The Captain copped a fine. When converted to AUD$ it was worth no more than an old $5 beer] And he pointed to his arm, nodding vigorously “You better watch out. I’m warning you. He’ll break it.”
He signalled to Tatts to let it rip. As he jogged back to the slips, Hollywood said to him “What a sledge!” The Captain mistook this for “Watto sledge?” and shook his head. Jimmy stood there looking at his arm and laughed. The next ball was up into Jimmy’s face. Trapper was sure he had his eyes closed when he fended it off. Jimmy laughed no more. The second ball lifted a little higher and straighter. Jimmy cringed, spooning a dolly to Tatts mid-pitch.
That was it. VICTORY.
The Freak, still smarting from the misfired hand signals to Sarah, pulled his head from the team embrace shortly afterwards to ladle a few mouthfuls of consolation to Jimmy as he and Root walked towards the gate.
“Nothing in it” I said
“Nope,” The Prof replied.
I looked up a short definition of ‘sledge’ in Wikipedia. “Sledging is usually simply an often humorous, sometimes insulting, attempt at distraction.” Diplomatic exchanges at the end of matches hardly rates a mention.
This work of fiction is © 2013 Dave Cornford, Jeremy Pooley & Jock Macneish