Monthly Archives: May 2013

Ashes Diary of the 17th Man – May 30

I woke when The Prof’s Mickey Mouse alarm bounced off the bedside table.  His mother had packed it at the last minute, along with a heavily thumbed boyhood anthology of Oscar Wilde and an old photo he had shown me earlier dated 1949 of his great uncle standing next to Dudley Folland and his newly imported British racing green 166 Spyder Corsa Ferrari. Scribbled on the back were the words “Fortune favours the brave”.  Wilde sat on the table, the photo tucked into a favourite passage.

The Prof lay peacefully sunk deep in the middle of the bed – as comfortable as a roadside ditch  – dead asleep underneath a fluffy edge-worn duvee and white starched hospital sheets.  I let The Freak in at 5.00am as planned, equipped with 4 rolls of extra thick high stick green gaffer tape that we used to wrap the bed, the Prof and the fluffy duvee in a gaffer cocoon. The Freak wrapped carefully from one end, I very gently from the other, ignoring The Freaks pleas to take more care.  The Freak surveyed the completed sculpture ‘The Prof in his Tomb’ in silence.  “Better than Christo,” he whispered.  I motioned to the door “Are you ready to go?”

We walked to the harbour promenade avoiding the Cardiff rubbish collectors and the first empty bus runs of the new day.  Cardiff was still asleep as we made for the over-sized street lamp where a huddle of fisherman were unloading their catch from the night’s exertions. A single pelican circled lazily overhead watching us and the fish.  Neither the bird, the fish nor the fisherman looked pleased.

The Freak was in an engaging mood. He chatted away recalling his boyhood as the incoming tide slapped harmlessly against the grey wall of the breakwater. I listened caught in his images,  the glint of the sea off the soft dawn light, and the thump of laden crates on the quay.  He ended with a chuckle as abruptly as he began. And just as quickly the fisherman with the fish had gone leaving the quay deserted. We sauntered back to the hotel for breakfast hurried by a freshening breeze and imaginative visions of a wriggling Prof encased in gaffer tape.

The so-called cricket citizenship amendment (CitizenGate) for the part time Pakistani leggie that Victorian stalwarts and ex-players of no consequence have anointed as the next great spinning sensation dominated the chatter over breakfast.  The unnamed hero played 10 first class games before seeking asylum in Australia and 3 Sheffield Shield matches for Victoria last summer. “Plenty of test level form to worry the England top order” mused Puff.

“Maybe CA will parachute him in just before the toss escorted by a 5-man ASIS security detail like the Queen”, UnLucky added, “.. although I would first recommend playing 100 seasons in County cricket and scoring a ton against the A-team just to prove yourself”.  The Captain split a grin from the far end of the breakfast lounge, to which Plopper responded “Has he played in India?”.  When this drew no comment he added: “I mean anyone who warrants the attention of the Parliamentary draftsman must have plenty of form,” at which The Captain brightened up considerably casting a glance towards Darren (the team psychologist), who stopped take notes and began to flick through the index of his pocket DSM.

“Yes,” the Prof replied emerging from the scullery with what looked like a water pistol and advancing on The Freak and I with menacing intent. “I imagine the new Silver Bullet can take 4 wickets in 36 balls playing in the thirds faster than Lucky can score a run” he said, squirting the Freak’s sausage with long streams of cold water. The Freak feigned surprise.  “That is so unfair Prof,” he wailed, watching his beans sink into a watery plasma.  “And the Bill has bipartisan support,” the Prof smirked, squirting imaginary holes in my toast through the back of my head.  “The Western Mail says the England camp is disappointed that this was not considered last year by NZ Cricket. Surely they are more desperate to find a Captain with a winning style who can lead from the front?”.

At this, aspiring Captains who reckoned they have form or might get form on this tour, the Reject Club (everyone who knew they would not play a single Test) including everyone who did not have a Cricket Australia contract, and anyone who everyone else knew did have a contract but thought they did not deserve one, excused themselves to call their Managers. That left the Captain and Darren (even the girl from Marketing had excused herself), who were not amused, and The Freak, the Prof and I, who decided we would finish breakfast.

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© 2013 Dave Cornford & Jeremy Pooley

Ashes Diary of the 17th Man – May 27

Those of us who were “asked” to go to Headingly today to watch Day 4 of the England-NZ Test were unsure whether we had won or lost the toss.  Jet lag made it hard to get started, but when we found out that Darren (Team Psychologist) was not invited, we cheered up a little.

Talk en-route was all about how things are different on tour now. The idea that anyone would even consider breaking the long-standing drinking records for the flight over is absurd. It’s hard to tame the competitive spirit of elite cricketers, though. The truth about what really happenned to Puff’s MultiMedia Entertainment Screen may never be known, but The Prof assures me that it was punched in by a person or persons unknown after Puff lost his tenth straight game of interactive junior scrabble against a kid sitting in 65B.

As far as the cricket that was on show today, it was fairly predictable, with Cook batting well. He showed some urgency that had apparently been missing the previous afternoon; that’s what the commentators were saying, anyway.  We took some heart from single figure scores in the Top 6, but the group quietened down as the NZ wickets fell steadily through the later sessions to Swann. This is only going to end one way – a draw, given the weather forecast.

As we were getting back onto the bus, an urchin pushed through the crowd. His eyes locked on mine and he headed straight for me. I reached for my autograph pen.

“‘Ave this, then guvna,” he said, before dancing off through the crowds in the late afternoon gloom.

note1It was a note, on Yorkshire Cricket Club letter head, with the faint water mark of the bottom of a damp teacup nestling in the top right corner like a royal seal.  The message was hand-written in a black felt-tipped pen, just like the unused one sitting in my pocket.

“I know why we only scored 160 on Day One at Lords. Will be in touch.”

It was signed “D.T.”

I was about to show it to the rest of the guys, but thought the better of it. What if this really is a mole inside the English team? I may be able to make some mileage in the endless team meetings with my insightful contribution to tactical discussions.

The curfew is pretty relaxed at this stage of the tour, so I was out having a nightcap with The Prof later.  He took the whole thing very seriously, and produced a plastic document sleave from his back pocket to protect the note.  He really is always prepared.

“DT. DT.  DT,” he kept saying over and over again, rubbing the note between his thumb and forefinger with his eyes closed, as if trying to divine the author.  Suddenly he stopped and stood up sharply, sending his chair flying.

“Of course.  Not Deep Throat. It’s Deep Third.”

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© 2013 Dave Cornford & Jeremy Pooley

 

Ashes Diary of the 17th Man – May 26

I had an early breakfast with Mum and Dad at The Works, Dad’s favourite weekend cafe opposite the graphic designer and the upstairs Yoga Palace in the forecourt on Furneaux Street.  He ordered ‘The Full English’, to complement Mum’s more austere sourdough toast, condiments and a deep coffee.  I bunched my napkin in the middle to catch the shower of stray bacon Dad sent my way as he let loose his excitement about the Tour between, and during, mouthfuls.  Mum just smiled – they will both be in England for the Durham and Oval Tests with Thea.  “Remember son, even if you don’t play in the Tests.  Have fun!”

The airport was full of smooching girlfriends and weeping women dotted between the throng of tightly packed print journalists and clicking cameras.  I briefly caught sight of Thea jumping up and down behind a coven of placard-waving goths thumping the floor chanting “Save the English Willow”. I caught a final glimpse of Thea bobbing above a couple of signs that read “Free Willy, Ban the Box” and “Kennedy for President. Vote 1 for a NZ Test Ban Treaty,” before I walked through into the comparative serenity of Immigration and the rhythmic stamping of passports by Customers Officers with the best job in the world.  As The Captain said during the week: “Forget India. It’s England and the Ashes. There are no fortune-tellers, cobras and roasted wickets there. We are better, stronger, faster now and we will be lucky if we have 5 clear playing days each test so a 4 day test will not seem out of place.”

The flight was relaxed and comfortable.  Plopper’s fear of being asleep on the first A380 to spin out of control over Chandigarh was sunk in a bundle of back shows of ‘English Historic Houses’ and “Classic Gardens of the South-East’.  Puff was happy to eat Plopper’s mint chocolate chip ice-cream the first time around, while shoving the second spare one unwrapped under the sleeping leg, figuring that a slumbering Plopper was better company.

A few seats back, UnLucky and The Natural presented the Top 4 with a printed tea towel of the Kiwi’s fourth innings 22.5 over catastrophe at Lords:

|…..I|..w..1|……|..4..4|2…31|w.w..4|……|…..1|……|…w4.|…w..|..4w1.|.1..4.|..1…|3.11..|.w24.1|1…..|1….4|…w..|6..1..|1.1..3|..1..w|..(1)w  [22.5 overs],
with a NO REPEAT set of musical bars at the bottom.

This should be incentive enough for any team to get it together.  Figuring this was coming, the Top 4 provided each of the Quicks with a set of engraved carpet bowls to remind them that swinging a ball is their stock in trade.  No one expects Plopper, awake or asleep, to play a leading role on a green wicket over a 4 day test.

 

The Natural, The Captain and Wicky (vc) spent much of the flight discussing the finer details of the training, recreation and playing schedule with team management.  The past can cast no shadow in the highly orchestrated psychological re-conditioning of the last two months.  There is a feeling that nothing can stop us now.

We arrived early.  UK passport control made us take off our belts, finger amulets and chains, and empty our pockets again. The same old fluffy keep sakes re-appeared.  The  Officers and a few beefy security police twirled the team mascot Teddy’s between them over the barriers Rugby style laughing at the reddening blood shot countenances of the unfortunate few.  “A Lions team that can spin a Teddy. There may be something in that,” said the Freak as he slipped a pair of skin calipers into Trapper’s back pocket as he was motioned forward through the metal detectors.

Trapper returned in half an hour walking gingerly.  “It’s not my knees you lot.  The cavity search was done for me”, he said.  The Prof, I and other members of the team who had wrapped their keep sakes in hand towels or packed them in shoes in their luggage or kits arrived first.  The others were delayed navigated the sniffer-dogs or trying to retrieve their Teddy’s.

A group of us are travelling to Leeds tomorrow to catch what we can of the Headingley Test.  A quick glance at the score says we might see the end.

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© 2013 Dave Cornford & Jeremy Pooley

Ashes Diary of the 17th Man – May 22

The briefing for the travel arrangements early in the week was mind numbing. With some players doing Ashes only, some Champions Trophy only, some Australia A only, some Champions trophy and Ashes, and some others Australia A and Ashes, getting on the right plane at the right time will be no easy task. Who knows who’s playing in the ODI series in September. As for getting the right combination of travel strip, training strip, playing strip, caps and pads, it was certainly beyond the straightforward minds of the quicks.  Their psyshes are in a constant spin over the rotation policy as it is.

As for the “farewell function”, I’ve seen some product placements before, but Qantas getting a whole A380 into the back of a press conference today was a bit much.  There was much hilarity about us having to hang around in the rear of the plane for fifteen minutes until everyone was ready for us. The Captain didn’t even know they put seats that close together. The Freak made the mistake of saying “Bet Mantis bumps his head on the overhead lockers,” under his breath. The laughter didn’t even get going before the newly appointed Anti-Corruption Officer pulled him aside for a five minute lecture on the dangers of gambling in sport. As for Mantis, he bumped his head.

Puff was a little over excited and started to jump up and down.  “Let’s see if we can tip this puppy.” Fortunately, we were called out into the spot light before he get any momentum going. Hope I’m not on his flight.

It’s quite common for some of the guests or hangers-on to be a bit star struck when the whole team makes an appearance like this, but today it was newby Unlucky who really embarrassed himself.  He’s the only member of the squad old enough to know that the Minister for Sport used to be the lead singer in a band.  At first, we thought he was all nervous because of the big occasion – fronting the press in a drafty aircraft hanger on the first real day of winter and all. But he was carrying an ancient CD in his pocket, and somehow managed to get an autograph. Rocket Man had his substantial intellect on display, as usual.  “Who’s the bald dude?” he said as we staggered down the rear stairs of the plane to the press conference.  He only got more confused when The Prof told him that Unlucky is a huge fan of Gonski.

Pleasantries over, photos taken and interviews done (though none with me) it was back home to more packing and getting ready for the flights out on the weekend.

Bring it on!

 

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© 2013 Dave Cornford & Jeremy Pooley

Diary of the 17th Man – May 16

SpotGate

Ever since SpotGate broke yesterday, the phone has been running hot.  It’s a cruel joke that players and journalists are ringing me to ask if I know anything about spot fixing in the IPL.  For the record, I GOT PASSED IN AT THE AUCTION!  I’m not bitter, it’s just that I’m not there.  One of the journalists was trying it on in relation to the recent Test series, hoping I’d admit that there was something untoward with our performance.  I asked him if he knew what odds were on offer for a spinner bowling 100 straight balls in a row, and that shut him up.

I did take a call from The Prof late tonight from Chennai. He’s not playing in the IPL either, but is following up some other business venture we started while on Tour.  Can’t say too much about it, but I can assure you that it’s legit.  He’s on top of developments, as usual, and reckons it’s pretty ugly over there. All the matches under scrutiny, every little mistake under the microscope.

Word is that one of the betting syndicates was already testing a device to allow communication with players during the game, but that is hard to detect.  Apparently, it’s a piece of electronics embedded in a protector that is worn by bowlers as well as batsmen.  The bookies can then buzz the player with codes for when to do what, and players can pass a message back with a scratch left or right – much less obvious than some of the antics reported this week. One version with a speaker in it (so the syndicate can issue direct audio instructions) was abandoned after an unfortunate incident when the whole fielding side thought the captain had said “drop two balls short.” You won’t see that on the highlights package.

Meanwhile, when you see one of the wired batsmen get hit in the gentleman’s area, you know they are hurting in more ways than one. Apart from the raw pain, it’s going to take hours for someone to remove little bits of shattered electronics from the stubble of their man-scaped nether regions.  These syndicates are hard nosed, too – if you’re going to “play”, you have to pay upfront for the gizmo, so in the end you’ll have to pay again for damaged electronics and you’ll have to pay for the shave yourself as well.

Hopefully, this will see the end of all this disgraceful behaviour. I was down at the indoor cricket nets late this afternoon for a session with the bowling machine, and a bunch of school kids were having a game on the adjacent court. One of them was holding a spare stump like a microphone, calling the odds, a-la Little Tom.  “We’re at 3 to 1 that Jason will lose us the game again.” At the end of the game, Jason was demanding a bag of lollies from someone on the grounds that he was acting under instructions when he put the first ball of his last over into the top net. Things got a little out of hand until I interrupted by offering to sign a few autographs.  After they worked out who I was, things calmed down a bit as they formed an orderly queue.

Meanwhile, England have spent a day in the middle against NZ, forgetting that what you do when you win the toss and bat is score some runs.  Maybe we’re in with a chance come July after all.

© 2013 Dave Cornford & Jeremy Pooley

 

Diary of the 17th Man – May 15

With the English summer kicking off in earnest tomorrow with Day 1 of the First Test against NZ, it seemed like a good time to have another look at some of the applications for the Aussie Ashes Squad – these ones all from Kiwis. They must think we can go one better than their home series 0-0 triumph.  It’s just as well the Selectors didn’t invoke the “Russell Crowe” rule and claim these guys – the Kiwis would have had zero test experience on English soil.

 

“Daniel Vettori”
I will be frank. I’m planning a holiday in Victoria after the IPL and the boys said they knew of a short-term opening. I did an odd-job like this one 20 years ago picking summer boysenberries in Marlborough. At night, I slept in the fields under the Southern Cross. Spinning in your team on an English wicket will be much easier than spinning in mine. You might feel we’re not the full quid this side of the ditch. TaylorGate rolls on and on like an Irish lament or a Presbyterian Church service.  Every week or so another disaffected luminary lobs 6 column inches of bile into NZCricket to keep it bubbling along. I wasn’t going to mention it but I should. The competition for the most TaylorGate related column inches in an 8 week period closes in June. First prize is an 3 month summer holiday to England, all-expenses paid.  I’m fairly hopeful.  Just in case you are wondering, as many here are, I haven’t broken bread with Macbeth since the first Test in Sri Lanka when he asked me about ‘team selections’. But I did tape the discussion. Allegedly.
In closing, I know I can spin the ball any way you want, which is more than I can say for your top 4 finger painters. Shane is a great friend. I saw him on the slopes in Val D’Isere in 2007.  He’ll be writing to you soon.  I’ll need to bring bring my own trainer, masseur, dietician, publicist, essayist, tiki, gold chains, beer and special energy fruit if that’s ok. I’ll need another 6 seats. My family – all 15 – want to come. That’s 21 seats + me, the Spinner’s Spinner 2009.
Dan

“Ross Taylor”
I can bat in a team that sometimes wins. I was Captain for a while. The alleged Coach sacked me as Captain during the Tour of Sri Lanka. Allegedly. He called me in ‘to discuss team selections’. He needed to sack me now, he muttered, on the off chance that everyone who already knew, including my Mum, talked over the back fence to the very few wildflowers which did not.  Allegedly.  “Mum’s the word then bro’ until you hear from the paper boy. I’ll announce it then,” he said smiling. Next it was “You can front the press conference, by the way. Just say you don’t have all the facts – you never will – and can’t answer any questions.” Hysterical. I cannot recall the next 19 instructions, or Coach’s call a few weeks later saying he only meant to sack me as the pyjama Captain. Allegedly. A clutch of ex-players said they were bemused by these antics.  Thanks.  But it’s hard to hear the voices of reproach or disdain – or reply to the Coach’s public statements that he didn’t mean to do it the way he did it – when your head is dangling from your shoulders.
NZCricket has cleared my secondment for the 5 Ashes Tests in England. They said they want England to win, but need Australia to put on a decent show for the good of the game. My Mum’s hairdresser says that by then the silks will have communicated to the Board of NZCricket what ‘conflict of interest’ means, and I can initiate a class action.
RT

“NZ Coach”
He played second grade once, then began a coaching career which has gone off faster than a moon shot.  At 38, he’s the Black Caps’ Coach, preferred over 500 highly credentialled globe-trotting South Africans, 200 IPL stars, and 4 heavies from Trinidad.
His resume reads like an offensive line backer’s play book.  One lucky season ‘up the middle’ in Otago, an ‘in and out’ to the end zone coaching Kenya’s 2080 World Cup Winning X1, and a yellow hanky ref’s call ‘pure NZ’ pedigree seems enough to jag the gig of a lifetime.  It takes prescience (who is the King), persistence (landing an invite to the King’s table), performance under pressure (flattery) and a one-off experience (shiny tankard) to win the field.
Don’t play King of the Castle with him – he is a formidable, aggressive tactician.  Some argue that this showed through in a better performance in the home series against England.
Coach prefers fielding at deep third man so he can communicate with the skipper using yellow semaphore flags instead of gesticulating across the pitch, which he considers shows a disdainful disregard for the feelings of others.  He mutters a lot about miscommunication, headaches and Banquo’s ghost.  But don’t be misled. His calls from the middle for quick singles are unmistakeably clear.
If things go bad, confiscate his diary and little black book of witches prophesy.  He understands his charges well enough, is a passable raconteur at a feast, nurturer of blossoming cricket talent, and can hear a lilting mandolin from a mile off.  He is a master, a fox, a hound, a contemporary team player.  He says he needs Ross to play in his team even if they only communicate across the 38th parallel.   I doubt he will be much trouble to anyone.
Coach
pp Bazz

“Martin Crowe”
People outside NZ say I was a great Test batsman. I averaged over 50 until my knee packed up.  I live on Mount Olympus with Sir Paddles Hadlee.  When I speak, players listen. NZCricket doesn’t, but that’s no surprise. Anything rational is beyond them.
I can’t run quick singles anymore. I will need a runner for every game. A bowler will do – no spinners, only quicks, preferably Siddle or Starc. They will be padded up anyway and know how to concentrate for a few hours. Most of my runs come in easy 2’s or 4’s.
I’ll need special padding in the knee roll and 20 hours in the nets with your quicks just to get my eye in. I’ve dyed my hair and lost a few stone knowing that a second player with a world class average and wit is precisely what you are looking for.
I’ll walk when I’m out. I haven’t met a decent player yet who doesn’t know when he’s out. Forget DRS. I’m with GillChrist on this issue.
In exchange, I need 4 extra seats (for emerging NZ talent) in business class…….I will also run two 6 hour batting classes en route with the talent. MSD offered me his private jet, which has a bowling machine, but his plane needs a long runway and I prefer to travel with my squad. I will send through my accommodation selection and dining preferences on appointment.
Martin Crowe

 

Applications Cover final

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© 2013 Dave Cornford & Jeremy Pooley