Coach2.0’s iphone sounded the air raid warning when the wickets began to fall. Everyone padded up, even the coaching staff. Sarah marked a blue arrow to the dressing room door in chalk and a yellow snaky line for returning batsmen direct to a makeshift consulting room Darren, the team psychologist, had screened off with a shower screen in the corner opposite a row of benches. He laid his watch on the wooden masseurs table in front of him, removed any sharp implements from view, sat down and waited. The benches were soon overflowing with the shell- shocked and wounded. The dressing-room door slammed shut more often than a dunny door in a crowded aircraft terminal. Wickets fell so quickly, someone jammed a signature bat underneath it to keep it open and let in a stiffening easterly breeze.
No one said much. There was nothing worth saying. Even Coach2.0’s automatic admonition to “Just block it out. 5 overs to go” seemed inappropriate. He spoke with so little conviction it was as if he was trying to unsay every word as he said it. It was a mistake to say anything. He knew it; those of us who heard it knew it. But we were stuck in a mind numbing vortex of self-destruction, rudderless, powerless, grappling with a psychotic neurosis that eats you, wicket by wicket, from the inside. There is no band aid or cure for this curse. No word of comfort or commiseration makes any difference. You are inculpated and directly committed in a way conscience cannot excuse. You saw it start, you knew it was happening as you walked to the middle, as you took guard. Yet it crushed you like those before you and those who came after you. You could do nothing to delay it or stop it. It sucked up your pride and spat it out on the pitch. At some stage the crowd stood up in a crazy blood lust, the band belched out a celebratory tune of wayward notes, someone behind the stumps offered encouragement, and the bowler pointed to the vacant gap where middle stump should have been. All of these things wrapped together in an insane throbbing nightmare. Everything was confused. Was there a kangaroo cull on the fence line? What happened? The walk back seemed to take an age. A batsman’s private green mile.
“How do you feel now?” Darren asked Junior who was guzzling warm milk and honey from a baby’s bottle.
“Much better. I am alive. Gutted, insane, pulverised. It’s like someone hoisted me onto a meat hook. My legs are kicking, but I cannot feel anything”
“The legs are an involuntary response. You are dead” Darren replied softly.
“Is there life outside cricket?”
“If you call Shield Cricket life, maybe.”
“I was thinking of BBL, IPL.”
“Is money the only thing you care about?”
“You are cured. Get out!”
Darren handed out boxes of smarties to those who wanted them. He said they were placebo’s. He told Coach2.0 the only thing hurting was pride. Coach2.0 looked at him, then repeated slowly “The only thing hurt is pride.” Sarah hid a smile underneath her apron. She was sitting on a list of tweets that summed up the twitter mood from the stands around the world. She sat between Coach2.0 and The Captain and read them aloud: “Even England does not collapse as neatly”, “Genuine collapses only happen overnight”, “Dale Steyn looks like a bloke who owns numerous firearms. He’s not quite right.” This seemed to make them more alert. She found Cricket Australia’s Independent Digital Marketing Team’s digest of the batting collapse in her twitter timeline and played it with the volume up. Coach2.0 said nothing. The Captain held his head in his hands. Darren had it playing on every player’s iphone within 30 minutes.
Darren decided no one had PTSD except Coach2.0 and The Captain. He rechecked his diagnosis – avoiding reminders of the actual event, no interest in Biff’s after-party even if the drinks are free, no feeling in the index finger, no positive emotions, overtly alert, disassociation from reality. He ticked them all. He reset Coach2.0’s video button to replay the first test. That seemed to help. The Captain was a different matter. He scored bugger all, again. He was wide-eyed, shattered beyond belief. His best bowling attack in the world lay shredded on the cutting room floor in Port Elizabeth in the back of beyond in a stadium where the brass band hugged the limelight more than the colour of a capacity crowd. His new batting line-up failed. He blamed himself for not batting at No 3 or 4. He blamed Trapper and Wicky for not mounting a rescue mission when defeat was inevitable.
The Captain looked up at The Prof and I searching for a rational explanation [Ed. He doesn’t trust Darren]. The Prof obliged in his usual way. “All we had to do was bat out the day. Tomorrow this oval will be under a metre of water.”
The ground was empty. “We lost”
“Yes”, I said. “Rather comprehensively.”
The Saffer’s put on an excellent victory party. The Prof was in his element talking about great batting collapses he has witnessed like plane-spotters talk about air crash disasters they never saw. He convinced Biff that today’s collapse whilst dramatic, was of a middling kind because of UnLucky’s brilliant CENTURY and Puff’s rapid fire 66. Biff nodded quietly, and called the party to order. He praised The Captain for graciously wrapping up the test quickly today before rain could interrupt it and Hashim Amla ffor a brilliant brilliant 127 not out He invited us to stay as long as we wanted but understood if we wanted to nurse our pride at the hotel.
We grabbed a few cases of Castle and headed for the beach.
Coach2.0 received a hand-written message after dinner from Orlando Bloom signed by PD. It read:
“World cure for Johnsonitis: a slow pitch and Morne-Steyn, still the best in the business. That collapse was brilliant. Waiting for you at the Cape (ps. please select Hollywood. Batting collapses are less enjoyable without him.”
SA 423 & 5/270 dec., def. Australia 246 & 216 (231 runs adrift)