“Graeme Swann retired, with immediate effect? Are you serious? Is this just another English prank?”
The Captain had been rinsing his tattooed sleeve with coconut oil to bring out the greens.
“It’s confirmed. The press conference just finished,” The Prof reported.
“Half-way through a tour?”
“The Urn is gone. It’s a dead rubber.”
“But HALF-WAY through a tour? These last tests are slower wickets that offer some redemption.”
“It’s his body, his mind, the team, losing, the press, the heat, Trott, who knows.”
“Were they going to drop him?” The Captain asked to the mirror in a moment of clinical candour.
The Captain was not impressed. “Lose 3 and the whole edifice crumbles like a ladies tea cake. Are they still a team?”
“Swann simply did a Mr Cricket.”
“I suppose so.”
Coach2.0 could barely suppress his delight. His eyes sparkled. Tiny twitches in the creased corners of his mouth worked faster than the teleprinter on November 22nd spreading word of Kennedy’s death. Words of praise dropped from his lips like thin winter snow. “He had a great career. We respected him.” His eyes now laced with scorn said more. Can an old team like ours, that has hit rare form playing a team on the slide really take such credit? He dismissed these doubting thoughts as those of encroaching age. His philosophy is simplicity itself: see ball, hit ball. Without Swann, there would be more balls to hit.
Tatts was in Melbourne with The Prof and Coach2.0. I couldn’t tell how he felt. He just kept massaging his bowling arm watching a closed loop video of himself lifting Swann over deep long on 20 rows back for six. “Maybe the Extra* under the camels foot.” he muttered. [Ed. The straw that broke the camel’s back, surely? Ed2: Sod off. ME: Both of you sod off and leave the diary alone]
The Freak was more thoughtful. “He decided half-way through the last Test to retire? When exactly?”. A good point. Mid-spell, before a spell, after Chef asked him to bowl his 35th over, as he walked out to face us, me, in the after match debrief?
The Freak continued. “How did that affect his performance? Does he eat bananas? He looked pasty. Is he sick?” He shook his head. “I play each Test as if it is my last”, he said. “Each innings,” I corrected. The Freak chomped into his 7th banana and looked me in the eye. “He lost the edge. That’s it.”
Deep Third left a bubble wrapper package at the Hotel. [Ed. It was on the 18thC French side table next to the 15thC Ming dynasty chamber pot the hotel used as a fruit bowl in the Presidential suite] I met The Prof in the lobby where a young pianist was playing ‘Marble Halls’ and ‘Shepherd’s Moon’ in an Enya tribute on the baby grand. I showed him a sympathetic almost intellectual black and white portrait of Sir Graeme Swann OBE KCMG MC (with bar). A black ribbon graced the top left corner. It was signed to “The 17th Man” in a crisp elegant hand and dated December 22, 2013. A yellow note was tucked into the gumming on the back from Deep Third:
“Swanny was in the pipe. The Christmas menu accelerated the timeline. He hates quinoa fruit cake”
Lower down other hands had written
“He tried his best. It was always good enough. Jimmy”, and
“Humour never lost. SB”
The flags were half-mast at the English hotel and at the MCG. The passersby looked askance at us incredulous that 3 tests could end in ashes with Melbourne and Sydney still to come. A pavement artist was drawing King Swann surrounded by horn-blowing cherubs ascending to heaven in the central commentary position with other cricketing time lords [Ed. All Doddering ex-English Captain’s. Not a lamb between them].
Members of the BarmyArmy congregated outside St Paul’s Cathedral in Flinders Street in silent vigil well into the afternoon. The Bishop unfurled a large banner “Come to me all who are [Ed. “are” was crossed out in lambs blood] Labour and I shall give you rest” It attracted a few well-wishes but was taken down when Julian Burnside QC, a heart-on-your sleeve man of left-leaning conscience, wrote a 1,000 word missive to Anglican HQ objecting to the party political broadcast. He is still fighting the last election just as much as England only half recall their 3-0 victory in the winter of our discontent.
What victory? Who? Where? Phil Hughes still denies ever having toured in an Australian Test side in 2013. And Tony Abbott denies voting for the Cricket Citizenship Act in June.
The Premier of Victoria was about to issue a press release announcing Lord Graeme’s retirement for fear that the Barmies may quit the tour on the basis that a side without Swann lacks wit. Fortunately his Press Secretary pulled the piece telling him Jimmy had not retired. Many of the Barmies I interviewed in the street later simply shrugged their shoulders saying “I’m on holiday mate. Is there a Test on? Really? Very surprising. It’s so bleeding hot” as they tried to scalp their tickets for half price. One enterprising lad piped up “Are they for the Big Bash in the evening?”
The Cathedral bells tolled well past 6pm, 30 seconds for General Swann and 5 minutes for Sunday evensong.
I went for a walk in the City with Thea in the early evening. We stopped at a Christmas Choir and listened to “O Come All ye Faithful”. It has been a long day.
RIP G. Swann, England spinner and sprinkler head.
*EXTRA, ‘The great taste that really lasts’ [Ed. From the 1992 advertisement with will-o’-the-wisp lisping Liz Smiley, one-time Aussie women’s tennis player champ. Ed2: You have to be kidding!]