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Wednesday, 9th November We all tend to put off household repairs, and cricket boards are no different. In the 1990s, the TCCB had long chats about what needed to be done around the place, but invariably concluded that rising damp, woodworm and peeling wallpaper were probably cyclical and wasn’t it time for another cup of tea? In India, the BCCI have dealt with the nasty stain on their reputation that appeared last summer by covering it with that portrait of MS Dhoni lifting the World Cup that was hanging in the foyer.
But Australia have set about their renovation with gusto. Having thrown out much of the old furniture, including a rickety old Nielsen that was starting to look a little last decade, they are just waiting on delivery of a new coach. Steve Rixon is the favourite, mainly it seems because he has a strong relationship with Michael Clarke and bonding with the captain is now an essential skill for aspiring national coaches, right up there with looking good in a baseball cap and glaring menacingly at press conferences.
It seems Michael likes Steve’s sense of humour and Steve loves the way Michael says “Obviously, I’m disappointed…” and no doubt they’ll make a fine couple. But I’d give it to Justin Langer. I think he’d bring a wild unblinking, “Are you looking at me?” intensity to the role, as well as extreme martial arts (I’m picturing Mitchell Johnson head-butting planks of wood painted with Andrew Strauss’s likeness) and rose cultivation. Tending to these delicate blooms will help players to develop patience and attention to detail, whilst the thorns will fine-tune their swear reflexes.
Thursday, November 10th Now that’s proper cricket. Twenty-three dismissals, two umpires with strained forefingers and a blown fuse in the electronic scoreboard. All kinds of records were broken, or at the very least, made to wobble precariously on their stands above a marble floor as these old rivals went all 18th century on us. It was a throwback to the days when a chap with a curved bat drank an ale or two, then went out to have a swipe and was lucky if he managed double-figure nicks.
For the connoisseur of the extravagant collapse, it was a treasure trove of witless batting. South Africa’s innings was more cavalier and reckless than the pink silk hat with ermine trim and peacock feathers that Prince Rupert wore on the morning of the Battle of Naseby, whilst Australia seemed to be trying to re-enact England’s 1994 amnesia-induced Trinidad collapse in which one player after another completely forgot what it was they had gone out to the wicket for or why they were holding a bit of wood in their hands.
There was so much traipsing to the wicket and back that it began to resemble a fashion show, showcasing this summer’s must-have combination of white shirts, extensive tattoos and grumpy expressions (“Ricky is modelling the latest in thigh enhancing body wear with 9lb willow accessory and a scowl”). But it was all jolly entertaining and somehow highly appropriate. What better way to start a frivolously short two-Test series than with an extremely silly two-and-a-half day Test match.
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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