A man was eating a pie, a meat pie – the Australian national dish – but it was too hot inside and he lurched backwards from it as he took a bite. As if that would help.
He had a beer in the other hand and it splashed down his shirt and across his flip-flops making them sticky for the rest of the day. Just what he had been trying to avoid.
As he leapt away from his scolding pie sucking air in through the sides of his mouth and not wanting to waste the precious, glutinous contents inside, he reversed into me and started a domino effect that saw three or four people clatter into neighbours.
“Strewth, mate, sorry!” he said quickly before noticing the Paddington Bear label we journalists have to wear around our necks to identify ourselves to security staff.
“You a journo, mate?” he asked keenly, but politely. “Where from? South Africa!!”
“Mate, what’s with Anndray Nel? Is he all there, mate? Seriously, the boys were wondering…what’s he like at home?”
Nel has been the star of the tour so far. There are people who have been watching international cricket for 20 years and can count on the fingers of a single hand the number of players who acknowledge the applause of the crowd with a simple wave of the hand, let alone engage them in the full-on way that Nel does.
One minute they are chanting “W***ker, W***ker!” at him and the next he is signing autographs for the same people in between deliveries at fine leg.
“It’s a bit of a love-hate thing, I suppose,” he says with a laugh, “but you have to interact with the people, give them some value for money.”
Objects are thrown at boundary fielders on a regular basis in Australia but the reason you don’t get to hear about it is because the players have known ever since they started coming here 12 years ago that the missiles will double in number the next day if they are seen to be complaining – or ‘whingeing’ as the Aussies would have it.
I’ll never forget four years ago when I was ‘ghosting’ Gary Kirsten’s column for the Cape Times. We met in the players’ tunnel soon after the end of a day-night match at the MCG and he was emptying his pockets. Three golf balls and a suitcase padlock were amongst the collection he picked up at third man.
“What if they hit you on the head?” I asked.
“I don’t know. You just hope they don’t,” he replied.
It takes courage to stand on the boundary with your back to the crowd and that’s something that needs to be remembered. There have been many occasions in the past decade when players have asked not to be positioned in the deep.
And it also takes courage to point out an individual in the crowd to umpires and security staff knowing that he will be ejected from the ground.
When Nel was called a “k***** lover” by a member of the notoriously delinquent Bay 17 at the SCG on Wednesday, he reacted with the calmness of an off-duty doctor at a bomb blast. He did what he had to do without fear or delay and never considered the potential consequences (psychos and freaks come to the cricket too, presumably).
The wisdom of the team’s desire to make each incident of mindless provocation public is becoming extremely questionable. There are still five weeks to go in Australia and the presence of at least a couple of feeble-minded weirdos in every crowd is virtually guaranteed.
The man with the meat pie brought up the subject. “Mate, can I ask you a question?” he said after we’d been chatting for three or four minutes. Even though I was on my way to work I was enjoying his company. He seemed the very best sort of Aussie ‘oke.
“What does that word actually mean, you know, the ‘k’ word?”
He had an idea, of course, but wasn’t certain. He struck me as the kind of guy who could be persuaded (with a couple of hundred dollars and half a dozen beers) to shout such a taunt towards the end of the day.
If Cricket Australia are serious about their “Zero Tolerance” attitude towards racial abuse then they will do more to identify offenders and then issue life bans to them.
But in the meantime, the sport might reconsider what appears to be a steady supply of ‘dare’ material to the gibbering underclasses of Australian society.
‘Nella’, meanwhile, will continue to do his stuff. And bless him for that.
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Feel free to get in touch.