Charlie, the thirty something man on the Clapham omnibus, carefully picks the one graffiti free seat and stretches back following a hard day at work. Out of the corner of his eye he sees a large sports bag and, eschewing the obvious explanation that it is being used to transport the takings of a local break-in, he thinks how unusual it is to see a Briton participating in sport, rather than drinking copious amounts of lager whilst watching others sweat. Showing lateral thinking he didn’t think possible, his mind turns to the personnel of the England Test cricket team.
And who could be more “cricket” than the well-spoken, public school educated opening batsman Andrew Strauss. Unfortunately, Strauss’s career is beginning to resemble Charlie’s year so far: it started with fireworks but got pretty bad, pretty quickly. In fact, the only serious runs Strauss has scored for the last two years were against New Zealand (or New Zealand 2nds as some Mouthy bloke on a pinko-liberal sports blog aptly calls them).
No, Strauss has clearly been found out thinks Charlie as his mind moves to a more enigmatic batsman. Oscar, Charlie’s former work colleague and born optimist, has told Charlie for months that Ian Bell is the most technically adept batsman in the side with a highly respectable Test record. Charlie is more streetwise though. Bell will always be soft and prone to being bullied by the likes of Shane Warne; his debut Ashes series proved that. With his character he will never score runs when it really matters. Charlie grins as he thinks back to flushing younger kids’ heads down the toilet as a schoolboy.
There is one England batsman who will never be intimated though. Charlie hadn’t known what to make of KP when he first broke into the Test side – he hadn’t liked the sound of someone choosing England because of a quota system in their country of his birth. Pietersen had won him over with his batting form though. And nobody can claim that KP only thinks of money any more. After all, he decided not to pump his team up for the possibility of winning $1 million a man for a couple of hours work, preferring instead to save them for the proper challenges ahead.
And what about Andrew Flintoff? Great man chuckles Charlie to himself thinking about both his outstanding performances in the Ashes 2005 and his hungover demeanour at the post-series celebration. Just a pity he has been at more breakdowns than the AA over the last three years. Or maybe the other AA would be more appropriate thinks Charlie mischievously as he considers the infamous Fredalo incident.
Then there’s Steve Harmison. How many chances does he get? In real life you only get one chance. Oscar learned this the hard way when he got into a booze-fuelled fight with the boss at the office Christmas party. Unsurprisingly, a P45 was on Oscar’s desk the following Monday. What chance was Harmy on? Sixth maybe, or seventh? Charlie had lost count. Yet still some people view him as the saviour of English cricket.
Charlie has always had a soft spot for spinners, and he smiles as he remembers Monty Panesar in 2006: unable to bat and field, and with limited bowling variety and cricketing nous, but with a beautiful high action and dangerous on turning pitches. Yes, he had a lot of rough edges but he was young and would improve with coaching and experience. Charlie’s smile turns quickly to a grimace when he realises that the Monty of November 2008 is exactly the same but two and a half years older.
Not much of a team, but at least the Aussies are suddenly struggling. Plus, reflects Charlie, Beefy thinks we will win the Ashes and he took more than 350 Test wickets and scored over 5,000 Test runs, so he should know.. Right? Unable to answer that question definitively Charlie’s mind turns to more pressing matters, like whether the long-legged girl from accounts will make it to post-work drinks at the Rat & Parrot on Friday.