The Prof left early from Heathrow on a special assignment Coach2.0 sanctioned as a small reward for his part so he said “using a magician’s legerdemain to pluck our reputation from a bottomless pit.” Reports that The Oval pitch would be a green top proved to be nothing but an elaborate hoax when we arrived at the ground to hear the steady hum of the four stroke mower cutting short The Oval wicket replacing green with a fine-grained tan at every pass. You could have heard a pin drop. Puff rubbed the sweat on his hands on Tatt’s buttocks to announce with a barely suppressed delight “Perhaps we should bat first.” If he had tried it on Sarah, who was a half-step ahead of Tatts, the response might have been different. As it was, Tatts turned on him with the wit of Stephen Fry “Steady on old boy. Your fingernails need cutting.”
Coach2.0 said something in German. I thought it was untermenschen, but it could have been ‘now the stitch up’. He might have been the victim of a careless psychological English prank. At this stage of the Tour, he didn’t know or care. It didn’t really matter. Redemption seemed more likely, as much as the manicured wicket sported all the familiarity of an Adelaide belter. Perhaps this test will peter into a fifth day after all.
As the team warmed up, I drifted over to the curating shed.
“Disaster averted?”, the curator asked.
“In a manner of speaking. How?”
“Well, to cut it short my brother’s great great uncle was with Thorneycroft’s mounted infantry at Spion Kop in 1900 and there was some dust-up during a charge with a bloke called Strauss. Anyway, when I was told not to bugger the pitch, nudge, nudge I sat down and thought of Thorneycroft. To hell with it I said. They can all sod off. No one tells me what to do.”
“Quite so, splendid”, I replied.
“So I turned off the bloody sprinklers. A bloke I know erected 10 industrial heat lamps over the pitch. Bob’s your uncle.”
The curator was beginning to sound suspiciously like an Aussie – he walked with bowed legs and had big flapping feet, not a bar on your typical English corduroyed eccentric who takes pride in anonymity.
“Are you pleased with it, the pitch I mean?” He could see I was looking at a painting that resembled Monet’s Haystacks rather well .
“That’s a rather handsome likeness.”
“Yes… was there anything else.”
“I have fixed it so we lose the toss. I assume batting is fair weather, no need for Mary Poppins?”
None of this made a pound of sense. So I wandered along Kennington Oval with Junior Marsh, who had nothing else to do, until I saw what I was looking for. A gleaming tan coloured roller was parked on the curb in Clayton Street. All that Spion Kop baloney. My hand was on the bonnet ready to give its suspension a right rollicking, when a callow youth approached me.
“ ’old on, ‘old on. Wat you doin’?”
“Repossession. Tha’t wat.”
I would have pressed forward with Junior’s support to test out the roller’s alarm system but 6 others appeared from various entrance stoops.
“So where is the curator.”
“On bleedin’ ‘oliday in Spain.”
“And the bow-legged runner in the sheds?”
“A security guard from The Gasworks to protect the paintin’”
It turns out the guard was left to tell the ground staff what to do. The guard lives in a unit and has no lawn [Ed. Apart from the stuff on his balcony], but he has a friend who house hops in Chelsea who told him to cut the pitch low this morning, then flatten it with the metal cylinder thing. On our way back we crossed paths outside The Oval gates with Jarrod Kimber and his internet rent-a-crowd from the set of Death of a Gentlemen. They were all standing to attention in a lonely 3 minute vigil to protest the monopolising stranglehold the ECB, BCCI and CA now have over the funding of international cricket. A local MP with nothing better to do, used a loud hailer to promise a Lords enquiry or some Select Committee. I heard a short bald guy reply “The Lords. They just want an afternoon of heightened erotica with an apple and a plastic bag. You want a real inquiry like the one they had in India.”
Luck has a way of turning in a circle if you wait long enough on one corner. The Captain lost the toss [Ed. Junior said he saw another rolls parked outside a nearby churchyard] and Cooky decided to bowl. UnLucky and Puff nicked their way safely out of the first hour and then to 116 (their ninth century opening stand) after lunch. Coach2.0 began to relax and enjoy the sunshine. At one stage he even closed his eyes a little to listen to the regular sound of bat on ball. He still doesn’t trust the middle order. UnLucky (43), Puff (85) lost their wickets as Puff said “in the chase for quick runs.”
When the Captain finally got his chance to bat, the English provided an honour guard on his way to the wicket. They were all very civil and kind, pinching him on his backside and arms on the way through. Shakespeare is still taught in English schools. Cooky and his charges know that this test is Act V in a classic Shakespearean drama. The Captain sensed that there is not much a fallen hero can do in Act V, except win this game. He feather edged a ball to slip and reviewed it. Shakespeare would have applauded. Hollywood did all the way from the dressing-room. He loves reviews. And we all watched as the big screen showed OUT and the Umpire raised his finger.
When bad light stopped play, Trapper (78no) and Adam (& Eve) (47no) seemed to be in charge, not in but in charge.
Australia 3/278 (doing it like it should have been done)