The glamorous life of a Test match bowler
Sit down and boots off. It's the first thing you do once you're back in the shed at the end of a day's play. The feeling of relief as hot, scorched, tired, sweat-soaked feet are released from the confines of bowling boots, ankle braces, socks and strapping. Fresh, cool air on naked skin. Toes smashed, heels rubbed raw, open blisters that never heal, skin puckered like you've been soaking in a hot tub for hours. Bliss, for now.
Next off are the trousers, if you can muster the energy. Grass-stained left knee and left back thigh, cherry red-stained right front groin and back right thigh. They sit on the floor, your whites, heavier than when they started, full of grass, sweat and pain. If you have the energy, you wring out the waistband and sweat pours out to the floor.
Sitting there in shirt and underpants, cooling down, rehydrating, trying to muster the energy to think about taking your shirt off. Trying to muster the energy to move, trying to process the irrational fear of the ice bath to come, to start the recovery process so you can put yourself through this again tomorrow.
You've just done a whole day in the field with little reward. You're knackered. You're gone. You're done. You've just done a "day in the dirt". A day grazing. A heavy day at the office.
There is nothing much that can prepare you for a whole day's bowling and fielding than a whole day's bowling and fielding. There really is nothing like it.
One whole day, three sessions of two hours each, 90 overs of running in, sprinting, jogging, pounding, walking, wandering, wondering around a finely manicured lawn, scratching fielding marks in the pristine outfield to remind you where you're supposed to be, diving and sliding and cutting up the lush top layer of perfect emerald-green grass, all in the effort of trying to take wickets and prevent runs. And sometimes neither is achieved with much success.
A bad night's sleep, as always, the night before, and even worse during a Test match; the first of your day's rations of painkillers and anti-inflammatories have already been taken before getting out of bed. Without them in your system early, sometimes just getting to breakfast hurts too much, and warm-ups would just be too painful to consider. A good breakfast, always with two cups of strong black coffee; grab your laundry bag with the fresh whites in and onto the bus to head to the ground.
The pills have started to kick in. Starting to feel loose, starting to feel a little less like a rusty tin-man, and bowling quick seems possible. You place your laundry bag down at your seat in the changing room - that place you try to make your own, your little sanctuary among up to 25 others. Whites out and placed within arm's reach, a quick check of the spikes and off to see the physio to get strapped up. That done, socks on, ankle brace on, warm-up gear on, boots on, sunscreen on, warm-up time.
Slowly, the body takes to its duties. Throwing, stretching, catching, and bowling. As the body becomes looser, the nerves tighten up. The special feeling of impending competition, the unknown dice-roll of luck, the me v you, the team-mates and countrymen you want to achieve success for.
Warm-up's done, and back in the shed for a while. Another coffee and a muffin as you sit back in your seat. My favourite part of the day. Me and my thoughts. Me and my coffee. Me and my scouting notes. Me and my Black Cap, the symbol of everything you've "earned and deserved" and the symbol of everything to come. Me and a couple more pills from the prescription stash.
The day - the first session - starts with high hopes, full of energy and nerves. If we get this right, we could be back in here, the changing room, all ten wickets taken, feet up by the late-afternoon/early-evening session, and the batsmen's turn to follow up on our success.
But it doesn't work out like that. Just the one wicket in the first session. Toil. Tough cricket and that little bit of luck just not going our way. Sitting at lunch, nine more wickets to take, it starts to sink in. This is going to be arduous. The pitch is flat. It's hot, humid and uncomfortable. This is going to be hell.
Halfway through the second session, at the drinks break, still only one wicket, and you start to wonder if you're ever going to take another wicket, again. If we're ever going to get off this park. If we're ever going to bat again. If at 50 you'll be able to walk without a walking frame. The body is hurting. The pain is proportional to how well the other team is doing. Today it hurts a lot. Some encouraging words from the captain. "Stick at it. They're not getting away on us. Keep fighting." You respond, internally of course: "Yeah, sure, we're only going to be out here for three days..."
Tea has come and gone, another quick dip into the pillbox to get through the rest of the day. It's still hot, it's still humid and the (f******) pitch is still (f******) flat and they're only (bloody) two (bloody) down. You've got your third shirt on, the other two are soaked. Legs are heavy, boots are heavy, full of lactic acid and sweat, respectively. And pain, of course. You've already bowled 20 (f******) overs in the (f******) day.
You've racked up the kilometres in distance travelled. You're about to overtake a half-marathon distance and probably get close to 24km for the day. The new ball's yet to come and you're going to have to bowl at least four with it. At this point you start to wonder if it's all worth it. "What am I (f******) doing here? Why am I here? I could be sitting somewhere nice, somewhere warm, drinking something lovely, looking at something magnificent, talking to someone beautiful. This is stupid. We're never going to get them out. I hate this. I (f******) hate cricket."
The hate is real. The pain is real. The delusion is real. There really isn't a place I'd have rather been. The pain tonight as the massage therapist digs into tired and knotted muscles will be worth it. The stiff hamstrings and lower back tonight and in the morning will be worth it. The cramp in the night, the sore back that wakes you, the interrupted sleep, will all be worth it.
Once this bloody Test match is over.
Former New Zealand fast bowler Iain O'Brien played 22 Tests in the second half of the 2000s