Some of you will know that Third Man keeps a lightweight aluminium extendable ladder under a bush in the garden of the dilapidated house at the bottom of Cavendish Avenue, by which he generally gains access to Dark’s Cricket Ground*.
Even at 6 am on Day One of the Second Test, England v Australia, there were a fair few members lining the Avenue and forming an orderly queue. No-one notices an old cricketer with a window-cleaner-look-about-him carrying a ladder and so, in a trice, the ladder was unearthed, hoisted against the wall and drawn up behind Third Man as he dropped into the ground and headed for Mick’s warm kitchen for a well deserved cuppa.
“What’s this about an email Mick?” Third Man asked.
“Not true Third Man. But one of those dodgy young ECB types did sidle up the other day. You can imagine the earful I gave him.”
“Some ripe old Hambledonian stuff, I take it, Mick.”
“It’s a good track TM – not quite as good as last year’s for India. But a cricketers’ track.”
“What’s that noise Mick. Is it the hover covers coming off?”
“No, it’s Mark Nicholas using the Misses’ hair dryer.”
True to his word, there was a fair green tinge on Mick’s masterpiece. TM regretted failing to bring so much as a brolly or a MacIntosh, but it was no Massey day. The wind stiffened the flags and whirled about a bit down at pitch level.
He made his way into the Pavilion and up the flights of stairs to Dressing Room 7**. A few of the old hands were already there, dozing mostly. There was full agreement; bat, bat, bat. “Difficult, but do-able,” said Timmy O’Brien, and no-one, not even the Doctor, argues with Timmy.
* * * *
The advantage of being at a match is that there is no mediation. It is the watcher and the game. No bad thing. You move around during the day, but basically, your only equipment is the vantage point. No hype. No cod-piece narrative. Anyone who voluntarily dons a small radio ear-piece is taking a drug that they do not need.
Dark’s is perhaps the only venue that can afford for there not to be a ‘day five’ with its income of booze and grub. If there are slow plodding tracks in this series it is because of the tendering system and the number of grounds now competing ruinously for the chance to host internationals. The rule of thumb is bid what you can make in four days and hope for a fifth.
But this Test can be different. Wealth is independence. Third Man for his visit to the village of St John’s Wood had not packed a fifth shirt.
Where do all these memes come from? Hear this, Clarke called it “a very good pitch”. More than likely Chris Rogers had had a word with Mick over the practice days and that assessment by the captain was correct. It is difficult to exaggerate the degree of respect and affection everyone has around here for young Rogers.
Anderson’s second over, the third of the day, seems key.
Ball 1 fullish length, a hint of shape, no more than that. Ball 2 down leg. Doesn’t count in any self-assessment. Ball 3. Middle and off and played to mid-off. Ball 4 Rogers across and clips to square leg. Ball 5. Length outside off, Warner tries to leave but is late. Ball 5. Pitched up, Warner drives straight for 3.
Anderson makes his assessment. His decision shapes the match. From fifty yards, TM senses the lever pivot and Planet Cricket shifts its orbit. Gradually but relentlessly the length is brought back. The Bowlers’ Club follow his lead. The decision consigns England to ten hours in the field.
In sport, in cricket, you either hurt or are hurt. Time is either slow or quick.
Anderson surrenders the initiative seized in Cardiff where England inflicted the pain. In the afternoon he will bowl with a 8-1 field.
How does Rogers see it?
In his first over he has shown intent. Driving and edging over third slip but then following it up with 4 through the covers. “In front of square”. “Through the covers.” “Hitting the Duke where it is going”. “Late and with the swing”. Boof’s license, Rogers’ extensive English experience. This is the key: wait and play with the swing and not against the swing. It is exactly what the Australians (barring Rogers) didn’t do in the First Test.
The effect of this one shot in the dressing room is game changing, perhaps series changing.
Another one’s doing the hurting. This time the other one’s being hurt.
*Those who played on this ground 180 years ago, know that it was Mr Ward and dear ol’ Dark who saved the ground for all of you to enjoy today. It is a travesty that it is called Lord’s when Lord wanted to sell it for development. Ward stepped in and bought. Dark ran it. It was his baby. He dedicated his life to this ‘theatre’ for the game.
** They converted the lovely Dressing Room 6 sometime ago, but the old ghosts that haunt this building have managed to hide the existence of Dressing Room 7. It is filled by them most of the time – smoking and scraping the marks of the ball off their old bats with razor blades. There’s a welcoming smell of linseed oil and horse liniment. If you tell the Club’s Chief Executive cum Secretary about its existence, you’ll be cursed for life.
*** Image thanks to Aakash Chopra whose piece on Rogers is well worth a read. TM wishes he could enlarge the image but WordPress system changes seem to prevent it.