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All Out Cricket: Swanny's Diary
Trinidad. The day before a Test is always my favourite on tour. Practice is short to conserve energy, and then you get the rest of the day to relax and focus on tomorrow’s play. To help achieve the level of Zen-like peace and tranquillity required, individuals have their own methods, be it reading, sleeping or yoga. Mine is to play Call of Duty 4 on Timmy Ambrose’s Playstation, running round like a headless chicken trying to avoid being blown up in my bid to save the world from evil. I’m not very good, and so don’t manage to do much saving at all, but enjoy trying to shoot down helicopters with sniper rifles all the same. Back in my room and I’m overjoyed to hear via email that one of my kittens has escaped from the house and is currently attacking leaves in windswept back gardens like any good trainee killer moggy. I am a little concerned, as I know she is scared of the washing line, but am sure this will pass with time…
Another wonderful first morning as Captain Strauss once again calls correctly at the toss of the coin and opts to bat first. I believe this may be a first in my career when a skipper has actually achieved this feat and I make it my mission to thank him profusely for the opportunity to watch the boys from the balcony and finish off my book on the Mafia. By tea time I am overjoyed to report that England are 200-1, and equally importantly I now know how to dispose of the bodies of anyone who doesn’t cough up their protection money in time. It turns out that sulphuric acid is required, not Diet Coke as my chemistry teacher used to tell me.
Yet again I miss out on the chance of a maiden Test century when Strauss pulls the plug on our innings with the score on 540-6. My pleas to the skipper fall upon unsympathetic ears, indeed I believe the words, “just concentrate on your bowling, you clown”, were muttered in my direction at one point. Still, the disappointment of being robbed when in full flow is coursing through my veins as we retake the field, and it takes a good few overs before the reality sinks in that I’ve been hung out to dry a tantalising ninety short of a maiden ton.
Thirty-five overs for me today, and by the end of them my arm feels like it’s ready to drop off. I am convinced now that the decision to miss the one-day series and get my elbow operated on is the best option, but that still seems a long way off, especially at the lunch break when the doctor had to insert a rather large needle into my left arse cheek. I’m not sure why the needle needed to be quite so enormous, but judging by the manic look in his eyes and the evil laugh he bellowed out as I limped back to the changing room, asking didn’t seem a very sensible option.
The more I play Test cricket the more I appreciate county cricket. When a team is four wickets down on day three in the County Championship, the next man in is usually an 18-year-old riddled with acne and as much chance of batting all day as Ali Cook wearing some decent clothes. You know that it is only a matter of time before the innings is over.
However, in Test matches there are definitely times when you look at the scoreboard and start wondering whether there will ever be light at the end of the tunnel. Such was the order of the first two sessions when Shiv Chanderpaul and Brendan Nash just refused to get out, sending the crowd to sleep and making this game look more and more likely to be a draw.
Thankfully after tea things start going our way and we wrap up the Windies tail fairly quickly thanks to a reverse-swinging ball and 11 sets of crossed fingers. Knowing that only a victory will salvage the series we attack the last 20 overs hard, and happily end the day with KP still in; hopefully to wreak havoc in the morning.
The last day of the Test series sees us go agonisingly close to bowling out the Windies in just 66 overs. The pitch was still in good shape, but the amazing strength of pressure and nerves nearly played right into our hands. In the end however ten wickets is just a bridge too far, and so we have to accept that one shocking session in Jamaica has cost us the series.
Personally I am pretty happy with my series. Nineteen wickets on batsmen-friendly pitches have whetted my appetite for Test cricket, but even more importantly I have got through it all with my arm still intact; a scenario that seemed improbable a week ago. Tomorrow I fly off to America to get a top surgeon to clear out the floating bone fragments and other debris restricting my movement, so that hopefully I can be 100 per cent once the start of the English season is upon us in a few weeks. Tonight however it is decided we should let our hair down a little…
A four o’clock leave from the hotel is not exactly my idea of heaven, but thankfully I had the foresight to pack my suitcases before we went out last night, and then sleep in reception once I got back to the hotel. This foolproof way of avoiding sleeping in pays off as a relieved Phil Neale puts me into my taxi and sends me off into the distance, with only a small crusty bit of snooze dribble left on my chin. My day of travel involves three flights, and about ten hours of airport time which promises to be about as much fun as double French on a Tuesday morning. Still, I console myself with the thought of my excellent ipod and high quality reading material, that is until I open my hand luggage to discover that Broady has wiped the memory of my ipod and replaced it with “Westlife; the very best of” (an ironic title, surely). And as for my Tom Clancy thriller, that has been replaced with two copies of Penthouse and a pamphlet on taking fruit into New Zealand. Nice work Jimmy…
I arrive in freezing Rochester, Minnesota in good time and check into my hotel before scrubbing up and making my way out for my initial consultation with the surgeon. My appointment with Dr O’Driscoll is an upbeat and almost surreal affair. After assuring me of his success rate and listing the possible risks only as a trifling technicality, he then asks me to demonstrate exactly how a ‘cricket pitcher’ works. I reluctantly perform my bowling action to his amazement, so much so that he calls in everyone in the vicinity down to his office. “Hey guys, come see the England cricket pitcher do his bowl off…!!!” Seemingly, hundreds appear from nowhere. The consulting room suddenly seems so full that my dynamic doc decides we should relocate to the waiting area, which is the size of a tennis court and full to the brim with bemused patients. So there I am, one day into my American experience, performing the intricacies of my injury-plagued bowling action to wild whoops and hollers from a scarily ecstatic crowd. All the while wetting myself with laughter at just how crazy life is at the minute. It is a moment of sheer bliss.