There are a number of Hotels near the MCG and Southbank. We were in one of them overlooking the dirty Yarra river snake its way to Port Phillip Bay. We were all on the roof top bar watching the dawn clear the darkness from the lips of the MCG. The Prof and I flipped through the blog posts of hopeful English fans.
“Same stuff as usual,” I began, closing my ipad. “Why do they do it to themselves?”
“Its genetic. All the King’s men, you know Marlborough, Nelson, Wellington, Napoleon, Churchill and so on. They all saved England from defeat.”
“And barely a sorry paragraph or footnote for many others who did not.”
“Fair point. History is written by the victors.”
We recorded the actions of each member of this team in a moment of heightened consciousness when you see things for what they are. It was 6.33am. Snap.
Puff cradled his daughter in his arms. Her face was obscured by a big pink dummy. He was balancing a pencil on his nose. The tons he scores will compensate for match fees forfeited to his favourite charity when the real sledging begins.
The Captain (there is always one near at hand) swears his hamstring is fine. He walks on it gingerly all the same. The first running pick up may find him out when he crosses the rope. He isn’t drinking anything except soda water. I guess being half a captain can unhinge you.
The Finch hitter has his hands behind his head. He is dozing on a banana lounge shrouded by his hat. The nervous twitch from the night before has gone.
Hollywood sits on a stool cleaning his bat with more care than Paul Keating cleans his gauche French clocks. He has a lean look even if his girth smothers the stool and creaks with each rhythmic sweep like a Singapore harbour lighter at full steam.
Trapper walks with the halo of a Saint. His eye has grown to grotesque proportions. In the coolness of this hour, he cleans its whites lovingly with a felt cloth as an armourer would sharpen a steel.
The eldest Marsh [Ed. He stalks us all] trips lightly between the players peddling preferment for his two sons. Mostly he is greeted with pleasant indifference. One of his boys is lifting a barbell grunting with exertion. A masseur stands nearby with a towel. All-rounders are needy.
Against one wall, Wicky is shaving with an old razor his Father picked up in a country market in 1955. Apparently it was owned by a Tobruk veteran. A transistor radio pumps out an easy tune pop tune from a ledge. Wicky is an old stager. This WC is no different from any other competition. If the top 5 fail, he will pick up the tab.
Tatts is in the shade oiling his left arm as a knight would shine his breast plate. A page boy packs his coat of arms in a velvet case. His packed travelling trunk is hauled to the side. A crane’s hook awaits to lower it onto the removalist’s truck in the alleyway below. The black knight is ready. Already the sun is creeping into the bowels of the MCG.
Gipper ‘X’ Doherty is chatting to Warnie. The old boy has had his third nip and tuck. He looks no better than he ever did. X flicks his wrist casually. He cannot spin a ball, but there is no harm trying. He would be better starring in The Great Escape.
Mr Darcy is a tall strapping lad. He is sharpening his hamstrings like a barber uses a strap, sharing an aside with another paceman that attracts laughter from the children gathered about. The paceman is cloaked, with his back turned to me. It must be Hazelwood. He is showing an attentive youngster, perhaps one of the bat maker’s apprentices, how to rip a slower ball in the death overs. A younger boy clinging to a chair leans over to grab his friend’s hand. The boy is shaking. Talk of death unnerves him.
The fourth quick in the pace artillery is at table penning a letter to his mother. He is an enigma as any university student would be in a people’s army paid for the quality of their hand and eye rather than their knowledge of British colonialism or trade cycles.
A glint of white whisks past. He has teeth whiter than the driven snow. An assortment of daggers and close combat weapons hangs from his belt like a carpenter’s tools. A hunting knife with the jagged edge, an elaborate ribbed dagger, a dirk, a short scimitar (for the subcontinent), a shillelagh (should one meet an Irishman holding a bat), are on one side. A cavalry sword is on the other. An IED is stuffed in a pocket, just in case. Whilst injured, this boy has made his death bowling intentions known. Know one wants to get within ten paces.
The Big Show is standing on his head in his shorts next to a covered barbecue. He smiles upside down, which is never a gainful sight. He is reading his single line match plan. “Do not go big before you have your big eye in.”
The Captain who is not the Captain, according to the real Captain, sits nonchalantly by spreading a steady karma over the group. Gentle George has bookmarked a middle page in Sartre’s work ‘Being and Nothingness’. He is the one.
The injured Captain looks on from the half shadows that remain. He is resting against a wall. He carries a whiff of anxious jealousy like a lady returning home from the night’s exertions. He wishes all well.
Let the battle be joined.