“They called him little ‘Puff’ Warner at primary school.” Christmas said. She is the team’s psychologist. “The big kids always stood in the front at Monday morning assemblies.”
“Poor bugger. Imagine being at the bottom of the English class and at the back of assembly. I guess he never saw the Headmaster read out the weekend cricket results. I didn’t realise…”
“Yes, one of the worst cases I’ve seen”, she replied sadly.
“What’s the prognosis?” I asked, squinting at Puff’s brain scan. The damage to the parts of the super temporal gyrus that interprets speech and Brachia’s area which deals with the understanding of grammar was heavily circled. Both looked like shrivelled dates a cat had ingested by mistake.
“Degenerative, typified by random misreading of events and witless sledging.”
“Can it be treated?”
“He can learn Hindi, but languages aren’t his thing… except French, perhaps.”
When I responded, it was with a heavy sigh “Yes, I guess Chaucer was not his thing.”
She flicked through his school reports to find his Chaucer essay.
“Here it is… He wrote ‘Theoretically this should have been written in English. If Chaucer wanted to [expletive deleted] the Wife of Bath he should have done it.’ His English teacher gave him a D+. Apparently he had a point, but she wanted more.” Christmas lit up at the thought, and winked again.
I held my peace. For what it’s worth I would have marked his paper A.
The insurance assessor was happy. He ticked off the form, stamped it ‘FUTURE CLAIM NEVER TO BE PAID’ in big red letters and closed the file. “No claim. Nothing I could find caused by playing professional cricket” , he said. He was off to see Mr. Benaud who had filed a back claim with Cricket Australia for the cost to repair his Sunbeam Alpine which he drove into a brick wall as a direct result of the mental anguish he suffered in 1952-3 when he was sledged during the second test against the West Indies in 1952-53.
Christmas explained. She had traced Puff’s behavioural slips all the way back to feelings of neglect in the back row. Apparently Puff had never forgotten the Monday morning assembly at school. The Headmaster was a useless git who thought cricket was an unwarranted distraction from Latin verbs. He never read out the scores from the weekend games in which Puff was an occasional highlight. Puff spent his time in the back row holding his breath to avoid retching on the stale air of the older boys in front. It was not unusual for one or two boys in his row to crumple in a heap during assembly from lack of oxygen. Puff never fainted; he just went red, like a toddler sometimes. Holding his breath had caused all the damage.
It wasn’t until later that I learned what Rohit Sharma had said to Puff during the game at the MCG.
Rohit: “Yahām̐ vasā gappī ātā hai”
(Here comes the fat peddler)
His partner said: “Yā usē pushbike para snāna kī patnī”
(or the Wife of Bath on her pushbike)
Puff: “Theoretically, I can’t speak Hindi. Speak English (please)?”
Rohit: “Bakavāsa banda”
Rohit: “Get lost. Chaucer lover. You are so English, just like Trotty.”
The Umpires stepped in. This exchange was holding up the game. George Bailey was already behind the over rate. In their report to the match referee, the Umpires made it clear that Rohit was holding a private conversation in his native tongue. Puff was fined 36% of his match fee for unnecessary thuggery, 10% for misinterpreting Hindi, and another 4% for abuse of Chaucer.
This work of fiction © Dave Cornford and Jeremy Pooley