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June 4, 2004
The taxi's pager was working up a right head of steam. "Desperate for cars in city centre," bleeped the message across the driver's video screen. "Everyone's gone cricket-mad!!" By way of confirmation, Bugs Bunny and Scooby Doo scampered across the road in front of the car, as the traffic slowed to a crawl.
Not everyone in Leeds needed fancy dress to help them lose their dignity, however. Outside the Hotel Metropol, a queue of wannabes were stood forlornly on the pavement, shuffling towards a distant doorway several blocks around the corner. "Them? Oh, they're all auditioning for the next Pop Idol," said the taxi driver. "Pop Idol X, I think it's called," he added, moments before his embarrassment caught up with him. "At least, that's what my daughter tells me."
But he needn't have been ashamed of his knowledge. The cult of celebrity was all the rage on the second day at Headingley, where Phil "King of the Jungle" Tufnell was making a lunchtime appearance at the end of the latest leg of his npower500 charity walk, in aid of the MacMillan Cancer Relief fund. With 193 miles on the clock so far, Tuffers was already waddling like Daddles the Duck as he entered the ground, although he still had enough energy to withstand the back-slapping and handshaking, as he struggled his way through the melee to the sanctuary of the npower enclave.
Tuffers has been attracting quite an eclectic entourage on his four-week hike, which began in Hove on May 16, and will take in 20 cricket clubs and six Test grounds, before winding up at Trent Bridge for the third Test later this month. Zara Phillips was on the bandwagon last week, as was the "They Think It's All Over" host, Nick Hancock, who probably spent the day reminding Tuffers that, in fact, he'd barely even begun.
Today's guest star was the England rugby player, Neil Back, for whom it was, quite literally, a walk in the park after the beasting he received ahead of last winter's World Cup. "That all seems a million miles away," he said, as he tagged along at the back, in the same inconspicuous manner with which he used to pop out of a maul and float over the try-line. But he was pleased to be able to do his bit for the cause, which hopes to have raised £250,000 by the end of the journey.
Tuffers meanwhile was in his element, being escorted from pillar to post to satellite link-up and back again, all the while pursued by a scrum of autograph hunters, obtaining his scrawl on any available debris. "Oops, you'd be no good in the slips, young man," he said, as a freshly-signed napkin blew off into Kirkstall Lane. The young man, it turned out, was actually a stoutly-built middle-aged steward, but by this stage of his slog, it was all becoming a bit of a blur.
England's bowlers would sympathise, as New Zealand invoked the spirit of Mark Richardson to grind their way through the first two sessions. Eventually it all got too much for the restless hordes in the Western Terrace, who decided it was up to them to break the batsmen's concentration. And so, at the crest of yet another Mexican Wave, the shreds of a thousand free copies of the Daily Telegraph came billowing across the ground.
In any ordinary circumstances, the Headingley powers-that-be might have issued a warning over the PA system, but given that their brand-spanking-new scoreboard had decided to pack up on them, it's quite possible that it had taken down the rest of the ground's electrics as well. Headingley may have been given a facelift, but the cracks are still there if you scratch beneath the surface.
Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.
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