Is it so tough at the top?

One of Third Man’s abiding cricketing memories is of David Shepherd, not standing on one leg in umpire’s panama and coat, but with both legs rather unsteadily searching for balance on a five star hotel’s plush carpets, his face as red as the Devonian soil from which he grew, holding a champagne bottle in each oversized hand, pronouncing to anyone one who was willing (and to the many more who were unwilling) to listen that, “It’s tough at the top”.

‘Shep’ at that moment had been ‘at the top’ for precisely four hours.  The scene was Gloucester’s Nat West Final celebrations in 1973, a few hundred yards from the scene of their triumph on a flat Lord’s deck that had drawn the sting from the Sussex attack. 

Cinderella had indeed gone to the ball.  On a nearby sofa sat three cricketing legends.  Between Garfield, St Aubren, Sobers and Frederick, Seewards, Trueman slouched the twenty year old James Clive Foat .  The three were swapping stories from their extraordinary cricketing careers, as mates do at such moments.

TM was recently twice reminded of this vision of impermanence: first, when visiting Old Trafford. The Squire had been invited to inspect the latest phase of the redevelopment scheme that to His satisfaction is placing giant children’s coloured building blocks around the boundary edge. “Quite visible from outer space, Cumbes assures me.”

Inside the Lancashire CCC Indoor School young Peter Moores has stuck up various mission statements and motivational homilies from the likes of General Patton and other celebrated management gurus. (No wonder Kevin, Power-from-within, Pietersen and Moores did not quite see eye to eye.) 

“What is that all about TM? In our days only amateurs bothered to read and there are no amateurs today,” volunteered the Squire.

One vinyl-coated missive read: “Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it.  The victorious performance itself is merely the demonstration of their championship character.”

So once wrote T. Alan Armstrong,

“Well he got that one ar*e about face didn’t he – like his parents with his names.”

The Squire was referring to the fact that the victorious performance is merely the prelude to events in which the status as champions is put to the test.

World Champions, England, have lost four Test matches on the bounce.  In each of which their batting has failed the True Champion’s Test,

“TM, as that keen exponent of the 2nd Law of Thermo Dynamics, the Dowager Duchess herself was fond of reminding us, ‘A plastic coat does not permanence make’.”

“Perhaps Your Grace should send Mr Flower your celebrated essay, ‘On Shot Selection’?”

“Have it coated in vinyl immediately and require Hague to dispatch it in the next bag to our Man in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.”

In a world where we are forced to conform to society, it is necessary to have personal chaos – T Alan Armstrong.

“Bring it on.”


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