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December 27, 2006
"Bowl dot balls, because that gets to Matthew Hayden's ego." It's a nice plan in theory, but on the second day at the MCG, it didn't quite work. England did manage 184 of the blighters, but unfortunately they also served up 46 singles, 17 twos, three threes, 11 fours and two sixes, as Hayden rattled along to a thumping great innings of 153.
Not only that, but England's cunning plan was imparted to all of Australia's listeners on ABC Radio, after a copy of their laminated, colour-co-ordinated bowling chart was lifted from the dressing-room and leaked to the Australian media. Other nuggets included the revelation that Andrew Symonds doesn't move his feet much early in an innings and is susceptible to the bouncer, and that Ricky Ponting has a tendency to pull in the air in front of square. One out of three ain't bad, I suppose.
In official parlance, the episode was a severe embarrassment to both the England team, who have lavished vast sums of money on security for this tour, as well as Cricket Australia, the MCG management and the ICC. But at the end of a long, hard day in the field, Matthew Hoggard quite rightly repainted the whole episode as one big joke.
"We're continuing our investigations, and when we find who did it we are stringing them up by his ding-dang-doos and we're chopping them off," announced Hoggard in the middle of his end-of-day press conference, as he dispensed with the usual platitudes and put-the-ball-in-the-right-areaisms that are usually England's stock utterances on days as bad as this.
"It's very disappointing when you've got a document that's personal and private. You'd think that the security in international cricket was tighter than that," Hoggard continued, in a short-lived attempt to keep a straight face. But with England's lugubrious press officer, Andrew Walpole, sitting to one side of the table and inaudible to the assembled microphones, it was over to Hoggard to display (or otherwise) the indignation of Team England.
"We've got our best people on the case," he continued. "Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Morse, Miss Marple ..." And another was added soon afterwards when the Independent's irascible correspondent, Stephen Brenkley, got stuck into the conspiracy theory, demanding to know just what use England's three full-time security guards are anyway.
"Shall we add him to the investigation team?" asked an impressed Hoggard. "He'd go well with Miss Marple." Eventually, though, Walpole got enough words in edgeways to deliver the official England line. "We don't know whether the document was taken from the England dressing-room or another part of the ground," he declared, "so we are talking to the ICC security manager, and to Cricket Australia, who are very disappointed, as we are."
But Hoggard who, incidentally, bowled Michael Hussey ("Vulnerable to swinging ball") through the gate with a swinging ball, scotched any lingering notion of seriousness by admitting: "I just close my eyes and whang it down anyway, so there's not much planning there." As for the suggestion of whether England should sneak into the Australian dressing-room and nick their plans for the England batsmen, he retorted: "It wouldn't help us!"
The levity in the England press conference was not shared by Symonds, who blanked an enquiry about his bouncer problem, nor Hayden, who snorted at the suggestion he's an egomaniac, before announcing, very deadpan: "It's not rocket-science, gentlemen. You have to bowl the ball at the top of off stump." But for all of Hoggard's good humour in adversity, it was the Aussie pair who were enjoying the last laugh this evening. England, quite literally, had lost the plot.
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