January 12, 2014

The 2017 Ashes boot camp

When National Service is reintroduced, central contracts are discarded, and Bob "Oberführer" Willis rules with an iron fist

"You make me want to throw up (more than I usually want to)" © Getty Images

Like cricket? Follow England? Okay, then you may well have heard that they were on the wrong end of an unadulterated, pants-down-and-bare-buttocks-spanked-raw thrashing in the Ashes recently.

It's the End of an Era - "Hugh Morris left, Hugh Milliation arrived," said one neutral (from Plaid Cymru's paramilitary wing) - and just as Flower Power gave way to tough stuff like punk and Vietnam, so this England team needs to have a long, hard look in the right areas of the mirror and purge the touchy-feely, wishy-washy, happy-clappy shilly-shallying that has become its unwanted trademark.

To a man, what they will find there - in the mirror - will be a parade of talentless, spineless, passionless, pride-deficient weaklings who have allowed themselves to be pushed around by some bloke who eventually, aged 32, worked out that all he needed to do to spook the Pommie batting was grow a camp moustache. (He loves to sling at the W-A-C-A, that Mitch.)

There can only be one upshot of the cash-torchingly costly Review that'll surely be commissioned by some Blazer promising "robust" this and "root-and-branch" that. Here's the abridged version: never again will such a namby-pamby, mollycoddled side leave these shores. NEVER!

Anyway, with a spot of crystal ball-tampering we are able to gaze into a post-Flower universe and see how Team England will prepare for the next Ashes tour.

Winston Churchill topped the initial shortlist for the Team Director's job, until it was pointed out he'd expired some 50 years ago. So they settled instead on the Blitz Spirit incarnate, Robert George Dylan Willis.

Willis, from a generation of cricketers who never put a foot wrong on the field despite each night consuming a vat of Inhibition Reducer, informed the slightly affrighted media scrum at the presser following his unveiling that his official title was to be Mannschaft Oberführer, before telling them all to "**** off".

Flower-era niceties dispensed with, the Sun ran with: "England March to Goose Step."

Preparations for The Only Cricket Matches That Actually Matter begin immediately upon completion of the disastrous 2013-14 tour, with Willis and the squad transferred to a military submarine in Gibraltar, where the embarrassing layabouts are shown what pressure resulting from rapidly descending leagues really is. The Mail: "Das Boot Camp."

Then the useless runts will be smuggled into England for the county season. When not required to bat, field or repair wicket ends, they'll be placed in stocks near the pavilion for members of the public to throw fruit at, this doubling as part of the selection process.

That winter, National Service is reintroduced. England lose a couple of frontline spinners in Helmand but the central message gets through. And to gild the lily-livered, ECB flunkies are able to scout a couple of half-decent leggies.

Off these soldiers troop to Loughborough, now mustard-keen to flush out everything that's wrong with their decadent society. This they do by kneecapping Chris Tall, a promising young quick bowler cloned in a Petri dish by ECB boffins, before then going on a boozy, facilities-obliterating rampage across campus. The Guardian: "Chris Tall Knack'd."

After this, it's R&R. A Caribbean jolly. In Guantánamo Bay. Not so much wakeboarding as waterboarding; cattle prod rather than iPod. Zero Dark Thirty? A punishment based on batting failure: a duck means 30 balls in the nets in pitch black, so that you learn to play by sound alone. The Telegraph: "Carrot and Stick."

There they undergo psychometric testing, since one of the key "metrics" - a word Willis despises more than life itself - is exactly how psycho they are. Rabbits are killed. Not symbolically, either.

Central contracts are discarded. Players will henceforth be on a fiver a run, 20 quid a wicket, and made to feel as though the next loss could mean repossession of their house, while an innings defeat and their WAGs would have their fur-coat budget slashed in half.

A joie de vivre-dampening Willis app is launched, featuring incessantly dreary, worst-case-scenario whining that fluctuates along with England's fortunes. There are two settings: Utterly Miserable (when England lose), Slightly Less Miserable (when England smash the opposition).

September 2017: the boat leaves Southampton - planes are for wimps - before which all players are forcibly tattooed dockside. Two options: PRIDE and/or PASSION.

On board, all players must read Jardine's biography, repeatedly. (In the first Test, they will bowl every single delivery underarm until they cause the game to be abandoned.) A mid-journey team-building exercise is arranged with Somali pirates.

Once in Australia, the players, when not playing, will work double shifts in soup kitchens. Otherwise they will attend nets. Lots of them. Naughty boy nets and nice boy nets. The bowlers will get miles in their legs and the batters will acquire application by toiling endlessly under the Queensland sun against local clubbies. That'll learn 'em.

All modern kit is discarded. Under-Armour? Try hair-shirts.

No relaxation will be allowed. X-Box? This now means facing a 20-minute session on state-of-the-art bowling machine Mitch the Bitch™ sans "protector".

There will be no alcohol, other than in yard-of-ale format or otherwise drunk, literally, ad nauseam. Screw you, David Boon.

Finally, by the time the series starts, England will be feral and twitching, whereupon Willis will scream, "RELAX! KILL!"

And English cricket will finally be over its victory-inflected identity crisis.

Scott Oliver tweets here