August 8, 2013

Villainy the need of the hour

How good are Cooky and the boys at looking evil and stroking cats while laughing sinisterly? Not very, is the sad truth

I've always said I'd die for my country as long as the money's right. That simple mission statement also happened to be the title of my 2008 autobiography (my fourth), and it's being put to the test again because once more Dave Podmore is part of the England back-up team, very much so.

Yes, the Ashes are safe but, as the radio and TV boys spent the whole of Monday afternoon pointing out, there are one or two areas where it's not quite happening for us and that's a worry. I've been brought in to sort out one vulnerability in particular: the worrying pantomime villain weakness. Let's face it, David Warner bossed it at Old Trafford. Humorous hate-figure-wise, we've got a mountain to climb. So before the celebratory shandy froth on Rooty's upper lip had dried out, the lads had to jump in the Jags and head up the A1(M) to try and turn things round in just three days.

Now that I'm on the ECB payroll I thought I'd treat myself and break the journey northwards at Wetherby services. It can work out a little bit more expensive than a hotel (£80 after two hours plus a £250 declamping charge if you oversleep) but the upside is you're in your own 4x4 with all your creature comforts around you, and you're no more than a pitch length from a Krispy Kreme donut outlet. Plus I needed to consider what improvements could be made before the umpires walk out at 11 o'clock on Friday - then two minutes later activate Hot Spot's cruise-missile technology and, most likely, award a penalty try to Bangladesh.

Panto villainy is something I began thinking about long before Davy Warner set the benchmark. Last season I held a training camp for the Derbyshire academy, where I took the boys through some basic drills, such as appearing through a trapdoor in a puff of smoke; then we covered film and TV skills, like bowling in long leather coats, stroking white cats etc. I have to say, I was very impressed with what I saw. The squad was all local-born, as per the county's policy, but you'd never have thought it from some of their German accents. One little lad turned up for fielding practice with a glass of champagne saying, "I give you a toast, gentlemen. To the success of our enterprise", followed by a lovely little eye-twitch. Scary? I tell you, it was like having a net with Donald Pleasance. So no way is our cupboard bare at youth level but it's the current problems we need to address. And there's not much time.

I've asked The Oval to put green bulbs in the floodlights for the final Test as, obviously, that's going to make Belly look a bit more villainous, and I'm pushing for Monty's recall now he's hitting some headline-grabbing areas. As regards the short-term achievables, I'm trying to get the players to embrace their inner badasses, and this afternoon I'm sending them into depressed rural parts of Durham to see if they can evict some tenant farmers and make the place a fracking site. Fun stuff like that is really important for team morale. Look, we're not going to turn into 11 Abanazars overnight but remember Ian Botham had some very mixed reviews indeed for his "Baron Beefy" at Bradford in 1990, yet he finished with a record 383 panto appearances, and nobody can take that away from him. The point is we're in a better place now than Manchester, where we were lucky to get away with it.

I was certainly lucky to get away from Old Trafford's so-called state-of-the-art media centre. It looks more like the kitchen cabinet at my nan's house in the 1960s. Come to think of it, that was made of red formica with sliding glass doors, too. I used to hide my rolled up Penthouse inside the blue spaghetti packet at the back (Nan never went there after the advent of hoops in tomato sauce).

Adolescent memories came rushing back to me in that Manchester press box and it felt so weird that I had to consult the England team psychologist, Mark Bawden. He said the feelings I experienced while covertly reading Derek Pringle's copy of Loot were quite normal and I should stop worrying about trying to control the uncontrollables.

So that's exactly what we're doing. And as I strolled across the Moto car park at Wetherby services planning this next exciting stage of England's journey I couldn't help saying to myself, "Pod, you've arrived" - although of course it was another 71 miles to Junction 63. As I stood redeeming my meal voucher at Costa Express, I could see the very litter bin where I collected my first inducement to bowl a no-ball in the Sunday League and next to it the disabled parking space that ended my third marriage after I was spotted by the Echo with Miss Scrumpy Jack 1997. The future of England's loveable roguishness is in safe hands.

Dave Podmore, holder of more giant cheques than any other cricketer, is the creation of Christopher Douglas, Nick Newman and Andrew Nickolds