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Feb 8 – English Fear of the Black Knight

Scene I

A bright day. The batsmen are consolidating a partnership after lunch. The bowlers have settled into a quiet rhythm. The spectators are restless. A young lad balancing trays of beers for his thirsty companions slips on a burger bun and up ends in the spreading bosom of an old woman amid desultory cheers. In the dressing room Moregain and Broads are playing blackjack. Moregain is padded up in his armour.

MOREGAIN: The cards are laying out tidily

[He flips another card optimistically]

BROADS: An ace! Well done my friend. Its the diamond. 18 all told, but not yet 20.

[Broads looks beseechingly at his Captain. Will he flip another card? The chance of a deuce, or 3 to win, is small]

MOREGAIN: The red diamond… My luck is more fickle than a chorister’s breeches. Flipping another must surely be my doom. What say you Broads?

[Broads studies his companion. The whites of his eyes so full of hope and wonderment not yet 3 and 30 days past are yellow rimmed, age worn by foul weather and pitches like baked caulk]

BROADS: Banish your devils to yonder wilderness, my Captain

[He points unconvincingly to the outer stands waving like reeds in a Mexican wave to his right, beyond the members meadows]

On this hallowed part of the cricketing Empire, take heed of divers instinct. Hit yourself.

[Moregain moves to strike himself with a willow block, but strikes his batman Buttler instead, then flips a fifth card]

MOREGAIN: It’s a trumped up Queen. I’m busted! Buggered… before I bat….

[He rests his head on the wall behind him. A coal miner on a break could do better. Buttler is bending over as if to receive the cane. The audience (of unionised seamstresses) guffaws and toss thumb rubbers onto the stage in delight]

BROADS: Alliteration knows no boundary, Moregain. Fear not. You shall fare well.

[The old dog sneeks a wink to the audience]

Think not of past friends in arms – the Cook, swanky Swann, the noble Prioress – they are long gone, scuppered by the black knight Johnson. The tattooed terror is even now parked on the boundary

[Moregain lifts his binoculars to the opposite boundary to focus on the Australian colonial Johnson]

MOREGAIN: You are full of fetid wind, Broads. This nemesis is loosening his lower back in a downward dog. Beware! Let not anxiety fumble with your kit,or faster yet shall your wicket tumble.

[Moregain adjusts his protector. A red faced Buttler stands up again. His right hamstring has a twitch. Broads is undeterred]

BROADS: Life as a batsman is short and bitter sweet. Have some grapes. There are none more red or juicier in these climes

[He squeezes a grape slowly between his fingers. Juice spills onto the table. A fruit fly dies of waterboarding]

MOREGAIN: And it is yet February. The Ides of March are but a spec on the World Cup horizon.

[An unprintable oath follows. To the side, Buttler trips over the heaped willows of the defeated batsmen in the middle of the room]

BUTTLER: (An octave higher than normal) Aaarrh, damn inconvenient and inconsiderate. No idea of propriety. Ugly weather vanes. Shall they never save us from batting?
MOREGAIN: (ignoring Buttler’s antics) Buttler, you and Jordan should pad up now. And you too Broads, my long lived friend. A batsman’s time at the crease is less certain than a rat’s life in a snake pit.

[Moregain sits on his hands talking to himself. A large shout from the middle heralds the fall of another English wicket.]

BROADS: Good luck my Lord. Bluff and bluster favour the brave heart. Fare thee well. Exeunt.

[Moregain passes his predecessor Bopara who has just been dismissed. He is holding an arm. His leg is broken]

BOPARA: It is nothing. The ball passed through my pad.
MOREGAIN: Forget it. Bad luck is no tighter than an ill-fitting box.

[Bopara wanted to stop. He was confused. The surgeon kept him walking. Blood was pooling in his shadow]

Scene II

Moregain takes guard to the black knight. Something is said in the slips. Laughter lifts on the breeze. Moregain surveys the ovaled throng. Beads of sweat gather on his forehead.

Johnson winds up on his run. His double cartwheel looks ungainly. Moregain spots the upright seam as the ball is released.

BROADS: Methinks the Captain is about to forfeit his pilot marker.

[Broads holds up Moregain’s talisman, a dirty rabbit’s foot amid cheers from the swell of dismissed batsmen]

ALI: (Dying to contribute to the levity) I deftly removed the off stump pitch pin before walking from the field. Look!

[Attention shifts to the red pinhead on the card table next to the ace of diamonds. Everyone laughs. Pub humour is never misplaced. Another round of drinks arrives]

FIELDERS: Yeeeeaaahhhh maaattttteee. You beauty. Whoooo, hoooo.
SHORT LEG: He didn’t play a shot. I’ve never done that.
WICKY: (a shortish veteran of dubious parentage) Too good. Got in his head. Too good.
BROADS: I didn’t see it. I am blind to this. Who saw it? Pray tell us your narrative.
A PLAYER: Aye, Mr Broads. I saw Moregain take strike to the black knight. I saw his eyes. They were glassy Mr Broads, uncannily bifocal, humourless, naive, carefree. THE 12TH MAN: The red orb lit the sky like a meteor. Straight down the ditch of disgust…
JORDAN: He rocked forward as if to hit it Mr Broads. I saw a puff from the pitch. Moregain watched it flash past right under his nose.
A PLAYER: (interrupts laughing) And smash into his off stump.
JORDAN: That is a little unkind? He is a man full of worry, ill at ease.
THE 12TH MAN: A beggar could have hit it, it was so straight up and down. It was as if he couldn’t move, and didn’t.
A PLAYER: Confound it! Why? That was his first ball.

[Ribald laughter. Quack, quack, quack. A golden duck]

BROADS: It is an ill wind that blows for fair England in this World Cup if the Captain outs himself on a friendly first ball.

[The Coach enters all a bustle with a train of scruffy mud-caked attendants]

COACH: There is no wind, Broads, except your own fatuous obsession with the occult. The black knight is after Moregain’s heart, mind and soul. Exeunt 

[Moregain arrives in the dressing room, disconsolate. His heart has been ripped out, an eye hangs by a thread. His frontal lobe is misshaped. He struggles into a spare seat attended by marketing girls]

BROADS: A cameo appearance?
MOREGAIN: (throws his bat on the pile and motions to the bartender lifting two fingers) A single malt will do.

[Moregain plants a dagger into an effigy of the black knight]

ALL: (Standing arm in arm) We shall overcome one day

The scene ends with a stirring rendition of God Save our Gracious Queen.

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