The nameless man had been in New Zealand for just over 24 hours and he was due to fly out again later that afternoon. He had hoped New Zealand Cricket's administrators would be the ones to pass on the bad news to the players, but they were having none of it. It had been a board decision and so a board representative should present this to those affected, they said. It was fair enough, in a way, although he didn't feel he really had anything to do with what was happening, and resented being put in the firing line.
The players massed in the nondescript conference room. It seemed a low-key location for the destruction of so many dreams, but maybe that was apt. The worst nightmares always take place in the most mundane of settings.
When everyone had settled down, the nameless man launched into his speech without even bothering to introduce himself. "Most of you will be wondering why I've flown all the way from Dubai to speak to you. Well, quite obviously, this is something serious." A couple of the players looked at each other in puzzlement, but no one seemed unduly concerned.
"I don't use that word lightly, I'm afraid. You may think that this is a joke, but it is not. It is deadly, deadly serious."
Brows furrowed but the nameless man's audience remained calm and attentive.
"We in Dubai have a responsibility to the game of cricket. We are its guardians and we seek to preserve it, however we can. As you know, a couple of years ago, we took the decision to optimise the sport by cutting away the fat that was Test cricket. What you may not know is that this was merely the first step in a much longer optimisation process."
There was some uncomfortable fidgeting among the players. The nameless man decided to get this over with as quickly as possible. This wasn't going to be pleasant, so why prolong the agony?
"Sadly, this optimisation process has now had a direct impact on yourselves. As of today, the country of New Zealand will no longer play international cricket fixtures."
The silence broke.
There was nothing the nameless man could do while the hubbub persisted, so he simply waited. After a few moments, the players realised nothing productive was happening and fell silent so as to allow their captain to speak on their behalf.
"This is insane," he said. "Why on earth are we being removed from international cricket? What the hell is that going to achieve?"
The nameless man felt uncomfortable having to defend this decision, being as it was one he didn't buy into. How did he end up with this job?
"This is nothing personal," he said. "It is purely a business decision. The game is being restructured so that it can be as strong as possible in the coming years."
"Explain how that works," demanded the New Zealand captain.
"We have long known that there is too much cricket," said the nameless man. "Sadly, some matches had to go. We looked at the sport objectively and matches featuring Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Zimbabwe were the ones that were least appealing to our audience."
"Your audience?" said the captain with incredulity.
The nameless man shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know what it is. Maybe it's the way you play. Maybe it's your personalities. Maybe it's your faces. You just aren't getting good viewing figures."
"It's our population," exclaimed one of the batsmen. "We're a small country. More people live in Mumbai than in the whole of New Zealand."
"Well, there you go," said the nameless man, and his own lack of compassion surprised him.
There was silence. The sheer scale of the players' outrage and disbelief had rendered them speechless. "But we're a good team," mumbled someone.
The nameless man looked around and felt he should say something more. When he spoke again, he heard words that somehow he hadn't actually thought. It was as if his voice had been hijacked while his ears remained his own.
"Cricket is not a meritocracy; it's a business," he heard himself say.