Johnson column: For Trevor Bayliss, it’s all about taking the positives

(Photo: Getty Images)

By Martin Johnson

When the pundits referred to Perth as the last chance saloon, some of England’s players may have missed the metaphorical connection, jumped into a taxi, and told the driver to put his foot down and get them there before closing time. It’s got the point where you read about so-and-so averaging 26.95 on tour, and wonder whether it’s a reference to his batting, or pints consumed per evening.

Up until now, most of us thought that footballers were the most heavily challenged sportsmen in the grey cell area, but England’s cricketers have been doing their best to change that particular theory. Viewed from this end, it doesn’t appear to be a cricket tour so much as a teenage package holiday to Benidorm, or a stag weekend in Riga.

You wonder what the coach makes of it all, but then again, you often wonder what the coach makes of anything. Trevor Bayliss reminds you a bit of a ventriloquist’s dummy, operated entirely by strings, briefly popping up at the end of every defeat to inform us that he’s taking the positives. Heaven knows what he says to the players, apart from asking them to go a bit easier on guzzling bottles of geer.

If I were Bayliss, I wouldn’t so much be taking the positives as taking the tablets – for blood pressure, anger management, and palpitations. But nothing seems to faze old Trev. Although you’d like to think, upon being informed of the latest outbreak of juvenile behaviour, that his initial response would have been an exasperated cry of something that sounded like ‘Duckett’.

You have to hand it to Ben Duckett, who managed to ensure that England’s relaxation of their bedtime curfew didn’t even make it past the first night. There is a suggestion that one or two of these players will be in for further sanctions when they get back home, although in Duckett’s defence, pouring beer over Jimmy Anderson’s head merely confirms what some of us have been thinking for decades. Namely, that Australian beer is far better used as a shampoo than for drinking. This was followed by Jonny Bairstow being pushed forward to talk about repairing trust, which was a risky choice of spokesman given his performance after the headbutting palava in the same Perth bar. Jonny managed to get through that one in about 45 seconds flat without ever mentioning the words ‘head’ or ‘butt’. It was, though, all very harmless apparently. Whatever it was.

The trust repairing speech was, like most of cricketers’ quotes these days, heavily sponsored, this time at an event to plug Yorkshire tea. A good choice, this, as we’ve yet to hear of anyone getting so high on the stuff that Anderson has to spend half the night pulling tea bags out of his hair.

It’s not, though, the first instance of an England wicketkeeper being associated with either tea or headbutting. Jack Russell drunk nothing else, and would make one tea bag last an entire Test match, but while Jack was normally far too gentle to go around nutting people, his kettle did come to the boil, so to speak, when the ECB tried to get him to swap his battered old floppy hat for a nicely starched England cap.

In some ways, though, we shouldn’t be terribly surprised when cricketers fall off their pedestals, or in the case of some England captains, their pedallos. There aren’t many sports when you find yourself hopping from hotel to hotel with a bunch of mates, and when someone says: “Anyone up for a night out at the last chance saloon?” it takes a strong man to reply: “No thanks. There’s a repeat of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo on the telly tonight.”

It was, for instance, an unfortunate confluence of events which provided the only known case of two professional cricket teams, with one or two individual exceptions, being totally out of it on the field of play. It was at Cheltenham College in the 1980s, at a Sunday League game between Gloucestershire and Leicestershire, and I was only hack to witness it.

It began with a downpour of such biblical proportions, that long before the scheduled 2pm start, the ground was only fit for a regatta, or a water polo match. The spectators, the local agency man, and the local newspaper reporter, had all gone home, leaving the players, and the visiting Leicester Mercury reporter (my good self) to accept a kind invitation to the sponsor’s tent.

For the next three hours or so a good time was, as they say, had by all, without, as far as my own blurred vision could make out, a single instance of anyone tipping beer over a team-mate’s head. And it was at this point, to gasps of horror from all inside, that the umpires arrived to announce that the sun was out, the water had evaporated, and that a 10-over slog would shortly commence.

There was one late change to the team sheets after the Leicestershire batsman Ian Butcher mistook the away changing room for the home one, and had his nose re-arranged by walking through the door at the precise moment the Gloucestershire batsman Paul Romaines was practising his golf swing.

Leicestershire also had a change of captain, when Peter Willey conducted the toss in the belief that David Gower had rendered himself incapable of recognising heads from tails, a suspicion re-inforced in the opening over of the game when Gower made a spectacular dive at mid-off, albeit – like a goalie guessing incorrectly for a penalty – in the wrong direction.

The game was eventually won by the visitors (largely on the basis that some semblance of single vision had returned when it was their turn to bat) and the fact that there were no recriminations – unlike the current situation in Australia – was entirely down to there being no witnesses. However, we can at least console ourselves with the thought that we’ll make through this Ashes tour without Joe Root getting involved in any unseemly headlines, if only for the reason that he doesn’t look old enough to get served anything stronger than a mug of Yorkshire tea. And that, as Trev might say, is yet another positive to be taken away.

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