The decommissioning of old warships starts with the pomp and ceremony the ship’s company attaches to its final berth in home waters. The crew lines the sides of the ship, the highest ranking Naval Officer and The Captain give tidy speeches about the glory days of those who have sailed with her and the whistler cuts a tune in the air to respectful silence. The company files onto the dock for the last time to be digested into the belly of familiar on-lookers. When the specialists eventually strip bare all the artefacts of seaworthiness, the metal skeleton is scrapped, or scuppered as an artificial reef for the fishes. [Ed. Some are bought by the Players Pension Fund, refitting and sold to third parties]
The cycle of renewing a cricket team is somewhat faster. As the new leadership team, Trapper and Puff shifted into gear quickly this morning. It was standing room only at the team meeting, literally – there were no chairs.
Trapper and Puff stood at the front on the steps of a raised platform (it could have been parts from an Olympic dias) to announce that we would bowl against Northampton. Batting first on a green top. Who does that these days?
“No one. Thank heavens”, the Prof whispered in my ear. He said he was playing this game – a late inclusion – somewhere in the collapsible middle order. What luck! I congratulated him as much as I dared, then made a mental note to turn over the strike quickly if he and I were batting. At least that way I could send him back if he called for a sharp run, or just send him back.
Trapper ended his first team meeting as The Captain by saying that he expected more from the middle order, perhaps not in this game (he looked at the Prof and me) but certainly in Test matches. No one said anything. This was something new.
Trapper said he might bat at 3 or 4, but not 5. This raised a few eyebrows and the usual questions about filling the void at no3 and to a lesser extent at no5 & 6. The pundits raced to scour the back scorecards from the Sheffield Shield searching for players with averages above 40 [Ed. 40 being the new 50]. There aren’t many, even fewer with time on their side or solid County experience. The cupboard is not well stocked.
There wasn’t much else that surprised. Trapper issued his new commemorative 50 cent coin and first day cover to each of the squad in a thin velvet covered display case. He released his new T monogram for bath towels and robes that he will use during official games. And The Prof received a template request to vacate the hotel Presidential suites on tour in future. I am told The Prof sent a curt but polite reply. “New captains eventually retire, at which unhappy junction the Chairman of the Players Pension Fund will attend to make everything right.” Hail, Caesar.
When play began, I was banished immediately to deep mid-wicket from where I spent most of the day skirting the boundary to save a third run or flinging the ball back to the middle when it went jumped the rope, which was quite often. The Prof was off the field soon after lunch – there is always something better to do when we are fielding.
Northampton, especially a young bloke from Australia (142no off 96), took us to pieces from the first over proving that it will take more than a changing of the guard to restore our bowling attack to its former glory, or to save our batting card from regular collapse.
At stumps Northampton 369 all out and Australia in reply 1/13. Puff’s appointment as VC has done nothing for his form today.
A new ship is commissioned in dry dock by swinging a cheap champagne across its slender bow. The idea is that the bubbly cracks the first time and the ship floats when it hits the water. In cricket terms this is as simple as a win.
We shall see what tomorrow brings.