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I was returning from my annual pre-Christmas expedition to Harrods yesterday when I happened upon a throng of theatregoers in Shaftesbury Avenue. Nothing unusual there, you might think, but this particular mob of citizens was arrayed in a circle, roaring with laughter at some unseen source of titillation.
My curiosity piqued, I plunged into the fray to establish what all the commotion was about. As I did so I was assaulted aurally by what on first hearing appeared to be a cockerel with a sore throat imitating Gilbert and Sullivan. Imagine my surprise upon reaching the front row to find the ICL’s own Jason Gillespie the centre of attention.
“I feel pretty!” he was roaring, “Oh so pretty and witty and gay. I’m so pretty. That I hardly can believe it’s me…”
Mercifully, he didn’t attempt the la-la-las. I had no idea what had reduced the great Dizzy to making such a prize spectacle of himself but I was not going to allow this exhibition to continue. With the help of my shooting stick and a member of the metropolitan constabulary, I dispersed the unsavoury mob, whereupon Dizzy bent down to retrieve his cap and emptied from it a handful of loose change.
“I say, Dizzy, old chap,” I began. “What on earth has reduced you to this? I haven’t seen you look such a ninny in public since the summer of 2005.”
“It’s the bloody ICL, mate,” he replied, “I can’t get any work.”
He then outlined to me a tale of woe that would make a statue weep. Of cheques that bounced and a back bedroom piled high with commemorative ICL baseball caps. Of small children throwing rocks at him in the street and old ladies setting their dogs on his ankles. Of 24-hour surveillance by the undercover branch of Cricket Australia. Of the clouds of acrid smoke that rose from the nightly burning of his biography Dizzy: Man and Mullet on the beaches of South Australia.
And all because he had dabbled in the ICL. But he wasn’t the only one. I am afraid, dear reader, that I must unburden myself. The time has come to confess. Although I knew full well that the ICL was taboo, forbidden and utterly naughty in every respect, I did on occasions succumb to temptation and sneak a peek at it. I am not proud of what I did. It was a furtive, shady and slightly grubby affair and I had to do it with the lights down low and the curtains drawn, lest any passerby catch me in the act. And afterwards I always had to take a shower, sometimes two.
The ICL was not, to be frank, the most fashionable of cricketing endeavours. The garish uniforms looked like they belonged in an early Beastie Boys video. Some of the players were of a similar vintage. It was Twenty20 without the bling; it was IPL unplugged. But the Gillespies, Kasprowiczs and Halls were multi-coloured polyester trailblazers, rolling bravely into unknown territory, with only a fleeting prospect, a distant dream of being paid. They were pioneers.
So I did what any decent chap would do. I gave the great Dizzy a job. As I speak, he is retrieving golf balls from the guttering of the east wing; without, I might add, the aid of ladders. Later on, he will be positioned in the foyer, turning his Spofforthian glare on any purveyor of window-glazing or offshoots of Christianity who attempt to violate the sanctity of the Hughes afternoon nap.
Naturally, there have been consequences. I have already received a threatening-looking letter from the BCCI but have refused to open it (I find this works just as well with telephone bills). I have also had to face the disapproval of a significant person in my life - indeed in all our lives. Last night, as I retired, I was confronted by the framed photograph of Lalit Modi that I keep by my bedside. I could take his accusatory glare for only so long before I snapped.
“It’s no use looking at me like that, Lalit; you brought it on yourself. You couldn’t play nicely.”
Lalit continued to stare with mournful eyes, and in the end I was compelled to turn his photograph around. But my conscience is clear. I couldn’t let the hero of Chittagong humiliate himself singing show tunes on the streets of London for a second longer. I hope, dear reader, that you can understand.
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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. Providing his ransom demands continue to be met, he has promised never to write a whimsical book about village cricket. @hughandrews73