After the semi final tie against Australia in the 1999 World Cup I finished work in a numb daze and then wandered around the corner from the hotel in Birmingham city centre and bumped into coach Graham Ford who also seemed to be in a bit of a daze. We walked into a small, inconspicuous pub and had a quiet pint of warm English ale. We consoled ourselves that we were still healthy and that the sun was still scheduled to come up the next morning.
Ten years later, I was standing on a dingy staircase outside the squash courts at Trent Bridge with that same empty feeling, talking to a different Graham. The Proteas skipper had just answered a hundred questions at the press conference in the aftermath of the semi final defeat to Pakistan and then gone through another, shorter version with me.
But he didn’t even have the consolation of good health. “I’m having the elbow operation within 24 hours of our return,” he admitted. “The treatment I had reduced the pain but I’ve lost so much power in my right elbow and the time has come to take the plunge and have the operation,” he said.
It took Sachin Tendulkar three or four months to recover from ‘tennis elbow’ surgery so Smith faces a race against time to be fit for the ICC Champions Trophy in South Africa in September.
After the match it took an hour and 12 minutes to drive approximately a kilometre past the ground. Head-banded Pakistan supporters were a seething, boiling gang of rage, screaming with a mixture of outrage and angry triumphalism, running amok amidst the static traffic trailing national flags and hammering on our car windows. The heavily outnumbered police took the pragmatic view that it was better to allow them to let off steam rather than attempt to control them and risk provoking a riot.
It was all very strange and difficult to understand. Goodness knows what would have happened if Younis Khan’s men had lost. Perhaps everybody would have drifted off quietly back home. Angry demonstrations in victory, quiet reflection in defeat? Maybe the lagers had something to do with it all. The Muslim population in the East Midlands is vast but there has obviously been a degree of ethnic leniency over the generations.
Pakistan deserved victory and, as a subdued Smith acknowledged, “they won it – we didn’t lose it.”
While the rest of us might struggle to get a flight at short notice, particularly to and from Europe at this time of year, the Proteas were able to change their 25 business class seats from Monday to Friday and divert their bus driver straight to Heathrow from Nottingham.
I, meanwhile, will continue to cover the rest of the tournament. It’s 9.18pm on Friday night as I write this with an empty Oval in front of me. The Proteas have been in the air for about half an hour. The West Indies were an embarrassing rabble and duly thrashed by Sri Lanka who will play Pakistan at Lord’s on Sunday.
The crowds have diminished sufficiently for me to tackle the Underground.
A grumpy workman wouldn’t allow me to step over a ditch he was digging at lunch time today. He said it was ‘against policy’. The ditch was about 50 centimetres wide. I would have enjoyed watching him tell that to Thursday’s gangs at Trent Bridge.
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