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It all started at breakfast. I had just poured out my customary bowl of chocolate googlies and was about to add a dash of the semi-skimmed when I noticed that the cocoa-flavoured shapes had formed themselves into the image of Richie Benaud gazing sadly into the middle distance.
Now, students of cricket-lore will know that the breakfast-time manifestation of a former Australian cricketer is a portent of some significance. For example, if your egg yolk takes on the shape of David Boon, your health check-up is overdue; if your buttered toast looks a bit like Kim Hughes, you should keep an eye on your work colleagues, and if you see Glenn McGrath in your tea leaves, you are probably Mike Atherton.
But what, I wondered, could Richie be trying to tell me? The answer became clear at a little after 6.45 this evening. As Rory Hamilton-Brown failed utterly to defend his wooden castle, I finally understood. Besides being everyone’s favourite decommissioned Australian captain, retired wrist-swiveller and microphone jockey, Benaud is a betting shaman. He had taken on cereal form in order to warn me.
For I am afraid dear reader, I had succumbed to the gambler’s curse. I couldn’t let a tournament like this go by without a modest wager, and I had chosen to place my money on the Sharks of Sussex. My reasons were plentiful, if not particularly convincing. They are, it must be said, the best hit-and-giggle troupe in England. They wear a particularly fetching shade of sky blue. And they are called the Sharks. Powerful, swift, killing machines, always on the move. How could they lose? Easily, it transpired.
Under the Delhi floodlights, Sussex toyed with the emotions of the desperate gambler as though they didn’t even care that I had backed them at 16-1 in the upstairs back room of a discrete Soho establishment a week last Wednesday. Like a tedious relative who tells the same joke at every family gathering, Luke Wright ran through his usual repertoire of boundary-boundary-boundary-oopsy daisy, and the subsequent exhibition of recklessness by his batting chums was more reminiscent of lemmings than sharks.
But all hope was not extinguished. Piyush Chawla, my favourite promising spinner of the pre-Mendis era, spun a web of silken subtlety to tie the Eagles down. A dozen to get off the last over and a glorious penultimate yorker from Yasir Arafat – surely the game was won? Alas, no. A heartless, clubbing blow from Ryan McLaren and we were into a super-duper-sudden-death-knock-out eliminator. By the time Rory of the Hamilton-Browns failed, I was spent, a limp rag of a man lying stretched out on the chaise longue, with a bottle of gin in my hand and a wet flannel over my face.
The moral of the story should be obvious by now, dear reader. Clearly, the game was fixed. I have already written a letter to Sussex County Council asking them to instigate an immediate enquiry, and I expect to be reading of the resignation of Michael Yardy in Sunday’s Times. In the circumstances, it is the least he could do.
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Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73