Thursday 20th - May
Pakistan v Scotland - Warming up with Wasim...
Tail-Ender suspects he is rapidly turning into a Pakistan groupie as a friendly Geordie cabbie transports him to the game, regaling him with some amusing tales of life in the Northern leagues. Tail-Ender was particularly tickled by the legend of Old Len a six o'clock umpire of the old school whose raging thirst apparently always intervened at said hour, when he'd whisper seductively to the bowler, "All you have to do is hit his pads lad."
And so Tail-Ender arrives at the lovely Riverside stadium which is a perfect picture with a lofty castle looking down on a marvellous ground which is swathed in beautiful bright sunshine . So much for the Jeremiahs who'd predicted the tournament would be a wash out, we've yet to experience a Duckworth-Lewis, let alone a reserve day.
Tail-Ender has always fancied trying his hand at a pitch report and so decides he'd like to see the view from the middle and chancing his arm, wanders out to inspect the wicket before play, where he encounters England's greatest living all-rounder, the Both-meister. Trying to look inconspicuous, Tail-Ender listens in on Beefy who is counselling Scottish all-rounder James Brinkley on how he might win the game for the Sweaties. Although Beefy's advice seemed to basically boil down to "Play like me lad and you won't go far wrong" and "They don't like it up em" young James certainly seemed to appreciate the sentiment and the Beefy one's guidance.
Tail-Ender runs an eye over the wicket, but for once finds himself perplexed and suddenly remembers the words of a canny old Scottish groundsman who once told him, "I don't know why you buggers bother, I've never yet met the player who could tell a bloody thing about how it's going to play before the start" There's a marked contrast in the two camps warm-ups, Scotland limbering up with some scientific stretches while the Pakistani lads play a roughhouse variation of handball. Tail-Ender wanders across to the boundary, suddenly remembering to conceal his packet of potato crisps when he passes Inzamam-ul-Haq, for fear of causing terminal offence and quite possibly saves himself from a good thrashing with the touchy one's bat.
Lounging on the boundary boards, Tail-Ender is in close attendance as twelfth man Wajahatullah Wasti throws a few balls down to Pakistani skipper Wasim. Even in practice, Wasim wields a mean willow and immense power allied to immaculate timing sends each ball positively thudding into the boundary boards. Tail-Ender ends up doing a spot of fielding for the pair and inadvisably stoops down to stop a Wasim rocket which stings his fingers like a nest of hornets. Grinning outwardly, but grimacing inwardly, Tail-Ender returns the ball and is relieved when the pair retire a moment later, so he can hop over the boundary to lick his wounds.
The game itself becomes an intriguing affair with the Pakistanis reduced to the 95-5 at one stage, but are subsequently rescued by some excellent contributions from Yousef Youhana, Moin Khan and the tail-end blitzkrieg that is Wasim Akram. They're also let off the hook by some woefully wayward bowling from the Scots who post the only World Record that they're likely to set in this tournament with a whopping great 59 extras. During the break Tail-Ender, wanders around the boundary and accepts an invite to turn over his arm from some slightly inebriated Scottish lads who have taken over a practice net and is delighted to find his touch hasn't deserted him when he clean bowls a kilted one with only his second ball.
There's vociferous support for both camps with some fine banter and chanting between the fans, the Pakistanis jubilant, enthusiastic and noisy in green and the Scots resplendent in kilts, tartan bonnets and ginger wigs and showing an unusual talent for irony with some stirring renditions of "Tartan Army" and "You only sing when you're winning". Gavin Hamilton showed himself to be a class above any other Scotsman on view and played a defiant knock, perversely enough probably playing himself into a future England side on the strength of his performance. As Pakistan wrap things up and the fans charge onto the field Tail-Ender is head down in the press box, feverishly typing up his match report when his concentration is broken by a yell from the field. "Hey youse ?youse yeah youse ?journo man!" Tail-Ender glances up to see the kilted one he'd bowled in the nets at lunch time, unbowed in defeat, wrapped in his country's flag and swaying unsteadily with the broadest of grins on his face. "Hey youse, journo, you're a shit bowler mon!" With that attitude, the lad will go far.