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Tuesday, 21st September Another 24 hours have passed and still the journalists camped outside Butt Towers maintain their vigil. His morning doughnut delivery arrives on time. A curtain twitches. But nothing happens. Down at Lahore Central Post Office, a team of postal clerks are on standby, ready to leap into action at the first sign of a robustly built silver-haired gent carrying a package for Dubai. The clock ticks on. The head of the ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit stares intently at his inbox, waiting for an email from Butty@PCB.nogov.pk. Somewhere a cricket chirps. The tension is unbearable.
Wednesday, 22nd September It is an unpleasant truth, but the fact remains that sporting events become more compelling when there is an element of antagonism between the competitors. Commentators even have a special cliché for use on such occasions: “a bit of spice”. They don’t specify which spice, though they probably have in mind turmeric or something similar, rather than, say, nutmeg. I can’t imagine David Lloyd declaring, “There’s a bit of cinnamon out there today.”
Spicy or not, there was a feverish, faintly ridiculous feeling in the air that after a truly horrible three weeks, today’s match would somehow settle everything, that through the simple method of one team or another winning a game of cricket, all manner of legal squabbles, unfounded accusations and unresolved punch ups would finally be resolved. It’s certainly cheaper than an ICC investigation or a libel case, but not, perhaps, as accurate in its conclusions.
Largely to blame for this, PCB chairmen aside, are certain tabloid newspapers. Having supped heartily from the broth of controversy, the Sun was today trying to dip its bread in the reheated dregs. The “newspaper” reported a “string of incredible bust-ups” which turned out to be a single not-very-incredible bust-up between Trott and Wahab, under the headline “Strauss: Pakistan must not win series”. You will not be surprised to learn that Strauss said no such thing.
Thursday, 23rd September The announcement of an Ashes touring squad is always eagerly awaited, although if previous English tours have taught us anything it is that this list of names is a mere down payment, an opening gambit. By the time injury, late nights, defeat, verbal abuse and personal indiscretions have taken their toll; the bedraggled bunch that turn up in Sydney will bear little resemblance to today’s select band of travellers.
Conventional wisdom tells us that this is England’s best chance in a long time of leaving Australia with the Ashes. Mind you, conventional wisdom said that four years ago and four years before that. Back in 2006, conventional wisdom told us that Freddie Flintoff would be an excellent captain and a Churchillian leader of men. Conventional wisdom is, in my experience, a deceitful blighter.
Sadly, the chosen XVI was not listed name by name in alphabetical order by a senior MCC man with a plummy voice via a crackly radio. Instead, in keeping with the general mood of make-belief and wishful thinking that characterises this point in England’s Ashes cycle, we were treated to a video montage with each player given a five-second clip, as though we were watching a trailer for a particularly feeble action movie.
Adil Rashid didn’t feature in any of the clips, or indeed in the list of reserves who will be coincidentally holidaying in Australia on a sight-seeing tour of some of the nation’s renowned gymnasia. Short of donning a Graeme Swann mask or kidnapping the Nottinghamshire man’s kitten, it is hard to know what Rashid has to do to get into the England team. Personally, I think it’s a conspiracy. I’ll get back to you with the details.
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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