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Friday, 24th September Like the build-up to a bout of sumo wrestling, there are many rituals to be observed before the Ashes combatants can get to grips with one another. Today Tim Nielsen ticked off another tradition by declaring that he was unsurprised by the English touring squad. In truth, he would have said the same had the list of names included Admiral Nelson and Coco the Panda. His non-surprise is a given. But he went on:
"We're always well and truly keeping one step ahead of where we are at the moment.”
Wow. Never mind that business about the one hand clapping; this is the mother of all Zen riddles. Even to try to comprehend what this means makes your cranium ache. I suspect Jonathon Trott will still be wrestling with that one all the way out to the crease at the Gabba and all the way back to the pavilion. We pick Tremlett, you hit back with enigmatic lateral-thinking puzzles. Round one to Mr Nielsen, I think.
Saturday 25th September For many years I was a regular at Edgbaston for international matches. I don’t go so much these days. The prospect of sitting in a glorified beer garden for eight hours surrounded by drunks singing football songs palled after a while, as did the endless Barmy Armying (if I never hear that wretched chant one more time, it will be too soon) and the reek of lager, which took days to get out of one’s panama.
My wanderings took me past the old place today, which, as you may be aware, is currently a construction site. Fancy new buildings are all the rage in domestic cricket at the moment. Having indulged themselves for years by spending money they haven’t got on overseas players they can’t afford, the county set have a new wheeze: siphoning off enormous piles of taxpayer’s cash to fund a “Who can erect the most hideous cricket structure” competition.
Lancashire’s Big Red Hospitality Oblong is the winner at the moment, although Headingley’s homage to an East German secret police headquarters is not far behind. I shudder to think what fevered architectural imagination has in store for Edgbaston, but it won’t do them any good. Fancy architraves and elegant vomitoria are not going to tempt me back. I will not be setting foot in the place until they introduce match-day prohibition (though obviously with exemptions for certain vintages of champagne).
Sunday 26th September Really, why must Ravi Shastri shout? Does he not trust his microphone? Are Indian audio devices notoriously unreliable? He is without doubt the scariest MC ever to set foot in a sporting arena. Had he been present at the Coliseum, the lions would be cowering in their cages, with their paws over their ears. He stands, bolt upright, like a stunt double from a Terminator film and roars mightily, exhorting, nay demanding, that the crowd get ready to rock. Scared out of their wits, they obey.
Sadly the Shastri crescendo was followed by a tension-slackening shambles as once again players stood around idly whilst someone searched for a tarpaulin to cover a sightscreen that had mysteriously frozen with the sponsor’s name in place. Fortunately television seems wise to this now and the producer steadfastly refused to focus on the offending screen and its corporate decoration. Good work. Good work too by Chennai, but to be honest, the whole tournament left me feeling rather empty. For all of Ravi’s efforts, the Champions League doesn’t grab you like the IPL or the World Twenty20. It swings, certainly, but it doesn’t really rock yet.
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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