“Reality is an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
The Captain was dreaming. The only safe place at the moment where he was not being carpeted by ghosts of the past, or the twitter playground, was next to his wife in bed in the safety of the team hotel. Why was retiring so difficult?
He was back in year 12. It was his last game in the school First XI. The Headmaster was speaking to him to congratulate him. He sat there munching on his vegemite and lettuce sandwich while the Head reminisced about previous bolters he had elevated to the Firsts. There was the spinner who proved to be brilliant on the pitch but fell off the science balcony one afternoon after Holcroft’s rotten egg experiment went awry. His shoulder was never the same after that. The Head engaged him afterwards to call the Saturday games through the school loud speaker from the Head’s office overlooking the oval down to the line of poplar trees to fine leg.
And then the big thick-lipped leftie who took to the willow with the same carefree abandon as he did the choir and scripture readings on Wednesday chapel. He was close friends with the dreadlocked genius who was caught fishing in the Shoalhaven catchment one afternoon by a school drone when he should have been attending an English lesson on Urdu name-calling in the sub-continent. The last was Punter who could wield a bat like Bradman at an early age, and spit on his hands in slips like a viper, but never mastered examinations. They were all early developers with hairy chests when they were 15.
The Head leaned back in his chair and twiddled his thumbs. The Captain remained silent. After a while, the Head continued
“There are rumours.”
“About what, Sir?”
“That you never had hair on your chest.”
“Why did they call you Pup then?”
“I don’t know. They also told me to bat at 5.”
“And about that time in the dressing-room…”
“For crying out loud. All I wanted was for them to get on and sing the school song.”
“Team first, Michael.”
“Cricket isn’t a cult. My girlfriend was waiting to go home.”
The Captain made to leave but he was stuck to the seat. The Head removed a thin piece of yellowed willow from his coat cupboard.
“Remember you refused to field at short leg?”
“How far back do you want to go, for crying out loud. My girlfriend…”
“And you threatened to hand back your cap?”
“That was when I had tints in my hair. Give me a break!”
“And that time when you missed the team bus and took a taxi to the ground instead.”
“Not my fault. My girlfriend needed…”
“And how you mocked the Sports Master’s selections in the one day cup competition?”
“The local TV station Ch9 always backed me, not George. They don’t like him.”
“Are they selectors?”
The Captain sat back and thought for a while. It was a tough call. He said nothing. Ch9 were going to give him a position next season. They were happy with his mid-season try out, after he ripped his hammy, even though it had annoyed some of the team. Who wouldn’t be annoyed?
The Head pressed on “But you know which way your bread is buttered?”
The Captain answered like a politician. “I always support the coach and the team I’m playing on.”
The Captain closed his eyes. Maybe this was a dream. He hadn’t been interrogated like this since the boy he had gently pushed aside on the ladder in pre-school complained to the playground teacher. This could get ugly.
When he opened his eyes again he saw Alastair Cook smiling at him cradling the little Urn. That looked real. He looked like his old Headmaster. The Captain closed his eyes and hid under the covers. A cloud passed overhead. When he opened them again he saw Stuart Broad leaning over him.
Mrs. Captain shook The Captain awake.
“There is no rift in the team”, he murmured.
“I know. Everyone is defending you… for what you are, not for what you are not.”
That made The Captain think.
“Don’t forget it is UnLucky’s last test at The Oval as well, not just yours.”
“I know. I’ll get Puff or Coach2.0 to talk about him. Ch9 never liked him.”
“Without him it would be really embarrassing.”
What is a natural leader? As the Prof says, the question is redundant. Leadership is everyone’s responsibility. For the record, Coach2.0 coached the team off the field as coaches do, and The Captain (28 centuries, average 49) led the team on the field as captains do.
The Prof and I were in the nets first again today. And the batting coach was peppering me with advice. He seemed fairly pleased.