The English arrived in Melbourne this morning as fresh as a blood-stained poultice applied to a mortal wound. The open-wound stretcher cases came first, then the hobbling wounded and those with dirty ill-fitting field bandages, then the bruised and battered, the shell-shocked and neurotic and the sick at heart. These fallen heroes who have flayed all who they met since 2009 with the steadiness of a line of Grenadier Guards passed between the waiting crowd in silence, heads held high breaking a crusty care worn smile to those who noticed but with unfeeling eyes. Those lucky few, those callow and cheery-minded few for whom a critic’s word is no more than a blunt sharpie [Ed. A few? How many and who, the Centurion aside?], came at the end in Santa hats and sunnies.
A chorus of Silent Night accompanied by a few party jeers rumbled forward over the placard holders and die hard flag wavers. One placard said “Love crosses all boundaries”; another offered 10 sessions at a Southbank batting clinic. Two others juxtaposed for effect said “We are here until we go. Holden,” and “We are here until you go. Mitsubishi”. The crowd melted away when a vintage fleet of horse-drawn cabs and a pair of Maori removalist’s from Two Men and a Truck’ finally swallowed the players and their kit for a journey into town.
Chef had a wry smile “This reception reminds me of what it means to reciprocate.”
“The view of the speeding traffic is unsurpassed,” Jimmy agreed.
“And the highway has that hint of littered disinterest, mostly from MacDonalds,” Swanny remarked as they passed another bloated Big Mac on the roadside. “That’s fifteen in the last hour.”
Chef took a call from The Captain. “Are you there yet?”
“Not yet. Another two hours or so.”
“I thought you could do with more heat and isolation.”
“The red bricked suburban countryside is indeed splendid.”
“Excellent. You have first use of a cricket ground tomorrow”
“But not the MCG?”
“Not exactly, but comparable.”
In the afternoon, both teams visited the MCG followed by a welcoming cocktail party. The English had a guided tour through the Museum. Jimmy, Broad and Stokes passed a talking hologram of Warnie explaining the wily arts of spin-bowling. They hung around for a while before rejoining the group towards the end of the tour. They left Warnie to explain the benefits of dual citizenship to aspiring cricketers. “Liz says I’m onto a good thing….”, he said as they replaced the wall-sized ball of the Century with a fold out spread of Jimmy, Broad and Swann from back editions of Inside Cricket and Wisden’s cricketers of the year awards.
The Captain pulled Chef aside at the cocktail party “Glad to see you.”
“We restored the Warne Room, you know. A lame prank really.”
“Unplanned. Totally opportunistic.”
“I wanted to chat to you. We need to push the Boxing Day test into the last session of Day 5. The crowds are falling, thinking the contest is over. Are you still up for it?”
Chef ever the gracious visitor replied “Naturally. Have you scheduled rain for your innings?”
“No. I thought you might do that”
“How is your team?” Chef draw his arm across the room.
“On an even keel with an strong tailwind”, The Captain replied thanking Chef for his interest. He whispered 3-0 several times until Chef had clearly had enough. Then he said “How is your team? Are the press calling for your head?”
“No more than they did yours 5 months ago. The game is fickle.”
“Agreed. But how is the team?”
In truth no one really knows except Andy and Chef. Neither is saying anything. It hardly matters.
What matters is that our team is in form. In the evening, Puff hammered the Sydney Sixers for a rapid 50 in the local Big Bash Darby along with a test discard from the summer in England who is showcasing the depth of talent knocking again on the door. Coach2.0’s edict to treat every test as if it is your last is a salutary lesson to take nothing for granted.
Luke Wright looks in form if England needs someone to score 50 really fast in the middle order? Just trying to help!