“To expect the unexpected is to show a thoroughly modern attitude to the game,” said Andy Flower, aesthetically, on the last day of the 1st Test. “We’ll bat on. Belly, you shall have those three figures.”
“But Boss it’s pissing down. At most we’ll get half a day’s play and that’s only if that mad mate of yours with the big helicoptery thing parked at the back of the in-door is right about the weather and, as you’ve being saying for three days now, only one team can win this.”
“Put your pads on.”
““E.J.G., that was unselfish batting last night. It won’t be forgotten. Today, no risks, just get Belly those two runs.”
Third Man’s son woke late and bleated something about playing in a Six Aside Tournament in Walshaw and oversleeping and not needing breakfast and dashing out of the cottage, down the garden and through the curtain of mist and rain into the malestrom.
An exasperated Third Man cranked up the Type III and was soon at stationary orbit. A spiralling whirl of dense precipitation covered the country and was at its thickest over Cardiff, but it was moving steadily in a North Easterly sweep. He noted that it was bright and clear over the Irish Sea. Beyond that, over the country of Oscar Wilde, rather appropriately there were random showers.
To his son he texted, “No chance”, to Messers Flower and Law he mused before keying in something he had heard that same and rather ostentatious Mr Wilde tell the Squire in the Red Lion after turning out for the Squire’s side some years back; “Expect the Unexpected.”
Now where did he leave those co-ordinates for Cardiff?
The decision to bat on for a couple of overs to give Ian Bell his thirteenth century encouraged much now forgotten criticism, but there is a series to think about and that series is not necessarily this one. The Big One is heading down the track. It is India and there is much building and preparation to be done.
Over in the Lankan dressing room Stuart Law gazed at the message illuminated on his i-pad. It triggered his worst nightmare. Expressionless, to shield his team from his thoughts, he carefully calculated: a couple of overs, ten minutes turn round … 50 overs, May, sunshine cooking a damp and worn and already eccentric track, a long and inexperienced tail, three of the world’s top batsmen, a couple more with runs behind them. It shouldn’t happen, but ‘Expect the Unexpected’. That was good advice. The effort and control exerted in their first innings, that deliberate accumulation of runs and consumption of time could so easily have been in vain.
It is called a collapse. One wicket leads to another. Time accelerates until it is not possible for thought to keep pace. Experience is stripped away leaving red-raw emotion bare to the touch. Batsman follows batsman to the wicket. Equipment is hurdled into corners in a chaos of kit. Gear is lost and frantic searches made. Cursing, self-loathing and fear fill the air.
Each player tunnels into mental isolation and finds themselves oppressed by creeping panic and slipping time. Until, surrendering to the inevitable, each like a drowning man grasps relief in capitulation to the foaming surf. But letting go brings but temporary relief and the memory of it sweeps in giant waves over the bulwarks of the mind, day after day to come.
As Third Man recalls, Wilde, who turned out only the once for the Squire, also famously opined in the saloon bar of the Red Lion, “I regard cricket as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with others the sense of what it is to be a human being.”
The Squire always regarded him as a better talker than a cricketer. However, he tells TM that he sees much in E.J.G. Morgan’s audacity that reminds him of that player’s fellow countryman.
Sri Lanka 400 and 82, England 496/5 dec. (Bell 103*) England win by an innings and 14 runs.