Hollywood strode in from the pounding surf like a Greek Colossus silhouetted against the morning sun, head tilted slightly to one side as if in thought. He came up the sand through a small adoring crowd, confident in his reincarnation as ‘talented all-rounder’, now that he is not shackled by injury. He is a man finally at ease with his dispensation at no6 rather than at no3. Coach2.0 said so. He is back.
The Captain led the congratulatory roar at the team meeting when Coach2.0 eventually confirmed to a waiting world that Hollywood’s temperamental calf had survived a ‘rigorous’ bowling session in the nets, that his pace was 135, and his bat was as sure as the Rock of Gibraltar.
The press yawned in the face of it all. ‘Hollywood Returns’ is a headline best suited to Sartre’s smoke-filled Parisian cafés of The Third Republic than the post-modern monosyllabic prose of today’s cricket commentary. In those days rumour mongering travelled up the left bank faster than a bunch of bike riders. They were as weary of this refrain as they were of the one-sided Ashes summer, once it was all over. Hollywood has had more comebacks than Bill Clinton, and more repurposing than an average Hollywood actress. Is this it?
Yet we rose to applaud Hollywood’s return and admonish our inner critic when Coach2.0 went further and announced that Hollywood would play at Newlands. Even Junior, who was informed before the meeting and was understandably disappointed at his omission, began to unfurl his mainsail again when the papers told him that he had been hard done by, or as he put it “stiffed”. He felt even better when he read that Coach2.0 thought he had been hard done by or, as he salaciously put it, “screwed by the Selectors”. This salving sentence appeared in the same column inch Coach2.0 used to reiterate for the 5th time that Hollywood was the real deal, the right man to assume the Olympian mantle of all-rounder in a talented team. [Ed. More talented apparently than the irrepressible ‘Big Show’ or Jacka?] I can deal with rejection Junior said with a pained grin, as long as people know I have been, as he put it yet another way, “sacrificed in a back alley after dark like an orphaned waif”, or as the Prof put it more prosaically “discarded as just another number on a test shirt not worthy of a minor footnote in the cricketer’s almanac”.
The regimen Coach2.0 has introduced is indeed cruel as it is clear and uncompromising. Wearing the baggy green is a privilege deserved only by those at the very peak of their powers. The test team carries no one a match (or maybe three) longer than it needs to.
Junior just needed some love and a few pints of Castle to feel good about himself. It wasn’t his fault. His performance at PE was not his fault. What can one do when felled by two jaffa’s in two innings. Few really did much better? After all we lost PE comprehensively. Junior was unlucky. The team just needed more balance.
We had a light net session in the afternoon as we began final preparations to refocus for Newlands. The Captain swears he will win the toss. He has been practising in all conditions, gauging everything from wind speed to height and number of flips. The Newlands ground staff say its a shirtfront that will be as dead on day 5 as it is on day 1 especially if the wind is dry. Winning the toss may be vital.
I caught up with The Freak on the beach in the late afternoon. He is nursing a few niggles from PE where he bowled himself ragged. He looked more tired than I expected. He said he was fine but his eyes seemed less full of his trademark joie de vivre. He said it was nothing. He knew his rhythm was a little off. The Natural had the same complaint. The Prof says they both need a short ‘rest’. Coach2.0 wants this team to have the 140+kph destructive venom of the West Indian quicks in the days of Marshall, Holding, Garner and Croft. The days of stock bowling at 130-135kph are gone. The Freak asked me about his balance in the Player’s Pension Fund. I must get back to him. It’s all very healthy of course.
Coach2.0 is at his unwavering consistent best. High standards, simple KPI’s, fairness and an eyeball connection over a beer or two in the evening
“Nice work today. Are you good?”
A nod here, a clap on the shoulder there, to everyone, no favourites.
The Captain is sweating on a big score to end his run of lean form. The sooner the better. Then we can all relax.