Old Father Time talks of the future, too!

Published : Apr 25, 2015 00:00 IST

“Mitchell Johnson can bowl a bit, can’t he? The best I’ve seen and quite a bit of backup from that Starc and the rest. I don’t see our lads winning back the Ashes against that pace attack.” Ted Corbett catches up with Old Father Time.

I heard Old Father Time had been rather badly injured by the wind, so I went along to Lord’s to have a encouraging word with him. He was not in the mood for light chatter and, oh yes, he made out it was all my fault.

“You again!” he snapped as I plonked myself down beside him on his roof space. “I remember you. Came here once before and then wrote a piece full of snide references to my name. ‘Time for a change. Lord’s Father farther from the truth. The HQ of cricket doesn’t need this old man.’”

“That was 50 years ago,” I came back. “We have both matured since then.”

“All right, then, young ’un. What is it this time?”

One thing I’ve discovered over the past 50 years or so is that a man of cricket — player, umpire, official or whatever — will always open up if you inquire sympathetically about his state of health.

“It was the wind,” he explained. “Tore away some of my best copper bits and left me looking as if I had just played six successive balls from Mitchell Johnson. Hey, just tell me what you think. He can bowl a bit, can’t he? The best I’ve seen and quite a bit of backup from that Starc and the rest. I don’t see our lads winning back the Ashes against that pace attack.”

I confessed I felt the same way. Pace, plus a dose of Aussie aggression and one or two green pitches . . . we’ll need all the help we can get.

“Do you think they’ll let old KP back?” Old Father Time asked. (OK, I know he is not really Old Father Time but allow me a little poetic licence.)

“Maybe. The new chairman Colin Graves got his own way at Yorkshire and he seems to be trying to establish his right to speak his mind. He has upset one or two people I can tell you. They think England are better off without KP. As for four-day Tests . . .”

“I have heard the same stuff even though I am perched on the top of this roof,” he grumbled. “A group of schoolboys came past the other day, and you would have thought they would have been delighted at the idea of a comeback by Pietersen, but no they were right against the idea, poor lambs.”

I said: “I’ll be honest with you. I think England ought to bring back KP, make him captain for two years and give him a place on the selection panel. That would be a victory for Mr. Graves but I think the ordinary spectator would be delighted especially if England won a Test or two.”

Father Time sighed. “Dream on,” he said. “They’ll need proper fast bowling to win here and that means the Aussies. I love watching that Ryan Harris to name only one. He looks as if he means it: steam coming out of both ears. He frightens me 80 yards away.”

“Right,” I said. “Me too. Even if I am 70 miles away I hide behind the settee or go into the kitchen when he comes on. Not getting any younger, mind you.”

“Glenn McGrath was still bowling us out just before he retired, Shane Warne used to collect his pension before he came on to bowl... it’s not how old you are, it’s how young you feel. The mere sight of three lions on a sweater knocks 20 years off the age of an Australian and as for stepping on to the turf here, it puts 20 miles an hour on his fastest ball.”

I pause to take a look round the old ground, glistening in the spring sunshine, fresh from a lick of paint, empty except for the great memories. It seems a shame to spoil it by staging an Ashes Test here when England are in such a state and Australia are ready to jump all over them.

Father Time catches my mood. “Concentrate on the good stuff — Steve Smith v Joe Root, Jos Buttler v Brad Haddin; a full house, the brave sight of two captains walking out to toss on a Thursday morning, sunshine after the rain. A Lord’s Test is always such a wonderful occasion and remember every Aussie player will be overawed.”

“Aye, but only for the first ten minutes, then it’s back to the sledging and winning.” Father Time was clearly convinced England were beaten already. I could not let the old boy continue in this vein.

A young England player might hear him and get the wrong idea about playing for his country.

“Don’t forget 2005. I made a small fortune by betting on England after they lost the first match. Don’t forget the Dunkirk spirit, the ability of the likes of Freddie Flintoff to fight back and . . .”

OFT says. “Bet on England if you must but I am here to tell you the series is already lost and the Ashes will fly back to Oz triumphant again.”

Even though there are good and great players in the England side the management and the admin staff are so ordinary you can’t back them with any confidence.

Unless . . . and there and then I get a vision of KP striding back to the pavilion, his bat aloft, a tear running down his cheek, the crowd on their feet and even Father Time punching the air.

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