Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Balcony Scene

During a drinks interval at a test in the 80's, the TV camera panned round to the England balcony where the players were going about their business as their batsmen did battle out in the middle. Ian Botham was sitting down utterly engrossed in a magazine. The camera focussed on him for some time. In the commentary box Richie Benaud wondered aloud what Beefy was reading - the colour summariser suggested 'The Cricketer'. Someone watching TV inside the changing room obviously told Beefy was on camera. He then held up his magazine to reveal a Playboy centrespread! Silence on air for the next five minutes - hysterical laughter in every living room in the country.

The current England changing room balcony scene is slightly less adventurous. No one is openly reading pornography - although Ian Bell does tend to disappear suddenly without warning quite a lot. KP and Freddie are normally standing at the back in skimpy T shirts that wouldn't look out of place in Old Compton Street, comparing muscles and 'tats. Ed Joyce usually has his headphones on - you'd like to think Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers or Van Morrison, but suspect Val Doonican and Ronan Keating. Andrew Strauss is putting on his kneepads in order to persaude anyone who needs persauding to let him open in the next game, Matty Hoggard is walking an imaginery dog around - and so on.

At one end of the balcony sits an impassive figure. What's Duncan Fletcher doing? Well, to quote Edwin Starr -"absolutely nothing" (say it again!) He's staring, unblinking at what's going on out in the field behind an effective mask of total and utter inscruitibility, which suggests that he must be a fantastic poker player. His lack of movement make the legendary Egyptian sphinx look animated in the extreme.

I'll admit that other international coaches also tend to sit pretty still and concentrate entirely on the game - after all, it's what they're paid to do, but they all betray some flicker of life every now and again. Bob Woolmer, for example, occasionally lets his eyes wander down to the laptop screen in front of him where he's surreptitiously watching downloaded episodes of Beavis & Butthead, whilst John Buchanan is 'lying with his eyes whilst his hands are busy working overtime' out of camera vision - in Buchanan's case they're sticking pins in the voodoo doll of Shane Warne in his lap. Fletcher is in a different league though - it's almost eerie.

Then it suddenly dawned on me - maybe what we're witnessing is something darker. Maybe there's a 'Weekend at Bernies' situation going on here. Maybe Fletcher actually died a couple of weeks ago - spontaneous combustion, a freak gardening accident, choking on vomit - who knows? The England squad then took fright at the possibility of a messy investigation by plod, and ever since they've been carrying him round from ground to ground, propping him in his usual seat on the balcony and hoping for the best.

If it's true, then there's a good chance that they could get away with it. The only time Fletcher appears in public, apart from on the balcony, is at press conferences where his performances tend to be at the narcoleptic end of the scale anyway. Freddie is a man of many skills, so surely ventriloquism isn't beyond him. A quick nudge on Fletcher's shoulder anytime the coach is asked a question, followed by Freddie muttering something in a South African accent about keeping focussed.... It's foolproof!

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