“Is he paranoid?” The Freak replied in mock concern.
“Undoubtedly. He thought he saw a flight of drones [Ed. The FAA is yet to release the collective noun for drones] with pink flashing lights land inside the Oval,” I replied recalling UnLucky’s shaky summary of Hollywood’s nightmare. “Hollywood said Trapper saw it too.”
“I checked with him”, The Natural added. “He denied everything.”
“Puff said he slept through it” Tatts said slowly “and smiling Mr G said he saw two drones not a gaggle of them.”
The bowlers fell silent trying to work out what a sleepless night for the Top 6 (The Captain aside) would do to their workload. Coach2.0 passed by. He was in an upbeat mood.
“Did you see the herd of drones last night?”
The bowlers applied more deep heat to their shoulders and drifted off in pairs towards the Oval for morning practice engulfed in earnest conversation.
The Prof and I walked towards the English hotel. We ran into Dennis – actually he ran into us, lathered in sweat and red as a harbour light. He dragged us into an open space and whispered “What is a drop bear?”
The Prof replied, in Wikipedia like fashion, that it was a large marsupial carnivorous mammal [Ed. Thylarctos plummetus] native to Adelaide, as tall as a man and weighing up to 120 kilograms. Related to the koala, it lives in trees and flops on passers-by as a form of sport. It has thick orange fur with dark mottling, powerful forearms and bites using prehensile molars.
Apparently Chef, KP and Bell were confronted by a troupe of drop bears on a stroll up the river yesterday evening. One was shivering because he missed the drop zone and parachuted into the river; another dropped on the path and had a bleeding nose. They escaped when KP abandoned the Queen’s English “Look here my good man!” for “Gooday, mate!” and mentioned that The Captain should bat at 3 not 5. This confused the bear with golden hair who jumped back into the river. The one with blue eyes who looked like he had turned his ankle shook with fear. Someone called George sat him down in the long grass saying the mission was aborted “We’ll pass the ankle off as a training accident.” Chef gave them each a two-headed gold coin he uses for the toss in compensation and whispered to The Captain that batting at 5 is much like batting at 3.
Dennis, who had stopped shaking, sucked on a sponsor’s amber restorative. He said he felt better. I gave him a few sure fire ideas to avoid drop bear attacks before sending him on his way.
We turned up later at the nets and took turns sledging Puff and Hollywood to imitate match conditions as they swayed left and right to avoid the fiery chin balls from the other end. The Natural was in his element pumping hard. There was even a hint of swing, so Hollywood said, to explain a few balls he had ‘guided’ into the back net. He looked in marvellous touch middling every second ball and raising his bat, sometimes on tiptoes like Nureyev, to everything else.
At midday Coach2.0 called time. Hollywood and I wandered out to examine the drop-in pitch. It looked formidable. At the Southern end, a sewn rectangular label over-stamped with a flamingo was visible behind three rubber edged stump holes. It read:
“Hand made in The Punjab from natural ingredients and animal products.
BCCI certified Grade 5 weave.
Even bounce. Takes spin from day 4.
Long spike tolerant. Water resistant.
Ranji&Sons, Jaipur, Dublin, Reykjavik”.
“They produce good pitches these days,” Hollywood said as I lifted a curled edge of the label to read what appeared to be more writing underneath:
“Reusable pitch. Last use: Hyderabad Feb 2013.”
Hollywood cut a stern figure as he rubbed his chin deep in thought. I placed a call to The Prof, who was lounging poolside at the Hotel before Coach2.0 called us back to the nets.
“That’s it. Short fielding practice back here mid-afternoon.”
“We’ll walk back to warm down”, announced Massai [Ed. Team masseur]. “And watch out for drop bears. They are feral in early summer.”
We met the English team arriving for practice and exchanged a few pleasantries as we crossed paths. Some had forks in their hair. Others had toothpaste spread behind their ears and under their armpits. A few just smelt. I smiled knowing that Dennis had passed on my suggestions for avoiding drop bear attacks with a few of his own flourishes.
“What’s with the forks and the white stuff?”
“Keep the drop bears away, my good man. Preschool play lunch over is it?”
“You’re at half-mast mate.”
“Can you smell FEAR.” (Tatts contribution)
“Only on your backside.”
“What’s that smell…?”
The English passed soon enough. I turned to watch the parting hand signals only to read “Drop bears are for WAGs” scrawled in lipstick on the back of Chef’s t-shirt.
It had been a long morning. I wasn’t sure who had pranked who in the end. The collective noun for drones still escaped me. Overhead a farrago of fluffy pink flamingos flapped past. It might have been a wing of witless pigs. I lost sight of both of them in the sun. [Ed. I can confirm I didn’t see either squadron]
Two days to the second test. Match day cannot come soon enough.