<
>

Dear Trev

The Ashes winners adorn the pages in Australian newspapers AFP

Dear Trev (you do know your prospects of being called Trevor in these parts are nearly on a par with Sepp Blatter's prospects of being King of Switzerland, right?),

Just mis-Googled you and discovered that your near-namesake (Trevor Baylis) was so concerned that millions of impoverished Africans were ignorant of AIDS, he invented the wind-up radio. No pressing need to live up to that, naturally, but it gave us an idea. It's a little naughty, but how about winding up your countrymen with that wicked sense of humour we've heard so much about? You could always start by persuading your old New South Wales pal Steve to fill the rumoured new role of motivational coach.

Having read so many glowing testimonies, we can't say we're not impressed. "Laid-back", "man of few words", "not complicated", "keeps it very simple", "incredibly competitive but not in an abrasive way", "very good at detaching himself emotionally", and best of all, "never seen a fearful side to him, never seen him take a step back". Are you sure you wouldn't rather manage the Greek economy? Come you-know-what time, we wish you the best of British luck with our wickedly funny tabloids.

However shaky you feel after last week's happenings in Leeds and Dominica, count yourself lucky. Some shocks are so unexpected, so outrageous, even the wisest Poms, you'll discover, can mislay their perspective, bearings and marbles (as the first eminent Orstralian coach since Rod Marsh to commit the last word in treason, it's vital you know this stuff).

As he anticipated another you-know-what at a very different time, such was the case with Norman Preston, then editor of Wisden and hence the game's most powerful typewriter-abuser. At the time, in the annals of jovial rabbitry, he was less Bugs Bunny than that floppier-eared specimen Glenn Close boiled in Fatal Attraction.

"Never in the ninety-eight years of Test cricket have batsmen been so grievously bruised and battered by ferocious, hostile, short-pitched balls." So fulminated Stormin' Norman in one of six harrumphing items on the topic in the 1975 edition of the yellow brick, composed in the seething aftermath of your mob regaining the you-know-what, thanks almost exclusively to a defiantly non-drag double act called Lillian Thomson.

"Mitch, Mitch and Josh sound like the sort of folk group who used to top the bill at New York's Gaslight club when a young strummer named Bob Dylan was working for beer. They're a great deal closer in spirit to Led Zeppelin"

Seeking a word to describe the demonic duo's delight in making batsmen squeal, Norman settled on "nauseating". Unfortunately, so thickly did the red mist descend, he not only overlooked a little imbroglio called Bodyline but the summer's other attraction: the inaugural World Cup. A less generous interpretation would be that he deemed the latter an irrelevance, setting the contemptuous tone that lingers here to this very day - but that's another minor issue we're reasonably confident you have in hand.

You were barely a teenager at the time, but you must remember Lillian Thomson. In the brief and confusing heyday of David Bowie, Marc Bolan and all those other glam rockers, the collective name for your mob's most intimidating new-ball duet always was exquisitely ironic. How much more butch could you get than Dennis' Dick Dastardly 'tache or Thommo's chin-melting pace? Forty summers on and, as you might be aware, we Poms are anticipating (somewhat sadomasochistically) another Orstralian pace squadron with a disarmingly charming company name.

Mitch, Mitch and Josh sound like the sort of folk group who used to top the bill at New York's Gaslight club when an ambitious young strummer named Bob Dylan was working for beer. Watching them tune up in Roseau confirmed that they're a great deal closer in spirit to Led Zeppelin. Heavy metal fans will doubtless insist on bringing up Black Sabbath, but as you know, Messrs Johnson, Starc and Hazelwood are far too inventive and versatile to be bracketed with Ozzy's noizy boyz.

Throw in a Rhino and… But as we say, no pressure.

****

So what on earth can be done to avert what even the planet's most inefficient soothsayer (i.e. whoever is currently trading as Claire Voyant on Brighton Pier) will assure you is destined to be the most one-sided you-know-what ever witnessed in Blighty? If nothing else, please draw comfort from this: it would mean out-plumbing the depths of 2001. It can't possibly get any worse, surely, than losing a five-match series without once obliging the opposition to take tea on day four. Orstralia also won the first three games in 2006-07, but all those went to a fifth day; even two winters ago, England not only reached tea on day four in Brisbane, in Adelaide and Perth they were still swinging punches come round five (albeit not, we grant you, terribly menacing ones).

Plan A, as you know, is a bit dicey. If you were picking a composite XI, Cookie, Rooty, Stokesy and Buttlery would be the only Poms. Regrettably, that once-trusty Plan B - send in Dad's Army - is a non-starter. It's not as if there are any gnarled old stagers in Lewes or Worksop willing to sacrifice their future health for the nation and wear white trousers in public, let alone an Adam "Middlesex Forever" Voges. Certainly no 45-year-old Brian Close to call on - as in 1976 - for rope-a-dope duties. Sadly, unlike George Foreman, Mikey, Andy, Wayne and Vanburn didn't punch themselves out.

Nor, unlike 1974-75, is there a 42-year-old Colin Cowdrey, chuffed to bits to be summoned to Perth from his home in Limpsfield (you couldn't make it up). Withstanding a pounding on a vicious WACA strip, he gritted it out for 22 and 41, then declared through the stiffest of upper lips: "I did enjoy it so."

Nor, for that matter, is there a 41-year-old Cyril Washbrook, hoisted from his selector's chair to face down Keith Miller at Headingley in 1956, collecting 98 and teeing up Jim Laker for the ultimate cricketing freak show.

Hell, there's not even a David Steele, 33 but greyer than the average 21st-century septuagenarian and looking for all the world - as Clive Taylor put it so memorably in the Sun 40 summers ago - like "the bank clerk who went to war". Now there's a story you need to know.

In July 1975, Steele was tossed into the second episode of the you-know-what, replacing Mike Denness, whose luck had finally run out as soon as he called correctly on a filthy morning at Edgbaston; Lillee and Thomson did much as they pleased thereafter, not obviously hampered by a wet pitch. Denness resigned. So far, so shock-free.

Cue Lord's, enter Man of Steele. It didn't start well. The Staffordshire lad famously took a trip to the gents en route to the middle - not, mind, because of the human body's customary reaction to intense fear of excruciating physical pain, but because the butterflies were fluttering so hard: despite having played there numerous times for Northamptonshire, he got lost between dressing room and pavilion steps. He settled down to make 50, rebuilding the innings from 49 for 4, then added 45 second time round to help set up an uncharacteristically conservative declaration by the new captain, a Mr AW Greig.

Not a single one of the last three Tests was lost: how the nation cheered. Come summer's end, the urn was still in enemy hands, but so extreme had been the winter's agonies, a hero had been born. Having promised him a reward for every run, Steele's butcher handed over 365 legs of lamb.

BBC viewers went even further, anointing him their Sports Personality of the Year. True, these predominantly English voters had recently endured almost ceaseless humiliation - Wimbledon, Formula One, Ryder Cup, Rugby League World Cup, European Cup, European Championship qualifiers; even a ruddy Welshman won the world snooker title - so the competition was less than stern. But still.

"David Steele famously took a trip to the gents en route to the middle - the butterflies were fluttering so hard that, despite having played at Lord's numerous times, he got lost between dressing room and pavilion steps"

In fact, Steele's rivals actually included a couple of… what do you call them? Ah, that's it, winners. John H Stracey, a scrapper from the east end of London, had won the world welterweight title that year; Liverpool's John Conteh had twice regained his version of the light-heavyweight belt, boosting the self-esteem of the nation's growing black and multi-ethnic population. That Steele still got the nod confirmed every cliché about this nation's notions of sporting heroism. Rarely, even amid the shameless excesses ritually committed in the name of a statuette called Oscar, has such an unquantifiable attempt to measure achievement been quite so unapologetically romantic.

Within a year, despite 106 against West Indies, he was gone. He may have averaged 42 against arguably the two most malevolent attacks ever seen on a field of play, but dash it all, India were next and, well, the inside dope was that he couldn't play spin. Back he went to Northampton, then Derby, reinventing himself as a canny left-arm spinner, step full of spring, a smile forever hovering.

Now he's an after-dinner speaker, offering his services every month in the Cricketer's classified section. A storyteller with a stage: what more could he possibly ask for?

So basically, Trev, the best option remains that ever-trusty Plan C: doctor the pitches (see, with varying degrees of success, 1953, 1956, 1961, 1972, 2009 and 2013). Take heart from that shift in the national mood: world-beating cads are now almost officially preferable to good losers. Our reigning Sports Personality of the Year is, after all, Lewis Hamilton.

Yours unexpectantly,

The Great British Public