A quiet welcome for the Aussies
G'day and welcome to Leicester – a city full of surprises, the latest being that our fair dinkum Aussie guests apparently couldn't give a Castlemaine XXXX about us.
The world's best cricket team arrived at Grace Road yesterday, playing a role so often filled by the English – out of a major competition at the first hurdle and with too much time on their hands.
Could that be a good thing? Australian captain Ricky Ponting was asked by commentators this week: might it give you more time to prepare for the forthcoming Ashes showdown?
"It's no consolation at all mate, – we're in Leicester for a couple of weeks," he said, downcast and unaware his off-the-cuff comments would be used to somehow prove he hated our fair city.
Cheap Car Insurance For Drink Drivers -Contact Insure365 01782...View details
Cheap Car Insurance For Drink Drivers -Contact Insure365 01782 898188, Free Legal Protection Included valued at £25.00
Terms: 1 Voucher Per Customer
Contact: 01782 898188
Valid until: Friday, June 21 2013
Ricky Ponting, fact fans, is from Tasmania. It's like Australia's Isle of Man. Two weeks in Leicester is like a dream cultural break for the Aussie captain.
Yesterday, at 2.40pm, Mr Ponting and his men arrived. They drew into Grace Road in a fancy, black-windowed coach to be greeted by a couple of members of Grace Road staff and precisely three autograph hunters.
It's debatable whether Ricky likes us or not, but, regardless, it seems we're pretty ambivalent about him.
"I've been told," whispered one of the groundsmen, "that they're in and then straight on to the pitch. No chat, no autographs, nothing."
The autograph-hunters, all three of them, looked crestfallen.
Stewart Walker, 26, of Aylestone, had three hefty cricket annuals under his arm for them to sign.
Then out trotted the Aussies and promptly signed everything that was put in front of them, amid a good-natured flurry of "'ows it going, g'day and cheers, mates".
Ponting was the fourth off the bus. For a cricketing colossus, the best batsman in the world is a very small bloke. He is the size of a year 6 child.
Ricky, a word for the Mercury?
"The who?" he said.
The Leicester Mercury, Blue. We're the daily paper in Leicester.
"No, no, I can't say a word to you unless you've had a word with our media man."
He pointed to another little fella who looked like a dark haired version of Crocodile Dundee and, with that, he was gone.
I had in my pocket a leaflet about the joys of Leicester Market and the opening times of the nearby Aylestone Road Gas Museum, but before I could hand it over, Ricky was off as fast as his little legs could carry him.
Next came Brett Lee. "Welcome to Leicester Brett," Stewart Walker said. "Yup, cheers mate," he replied. "It's good to be here. Do you fancy coming training with us?"
Stewart was gobsmacked. "I could do," he said. "I could do with losing a bit of weight."
The Aussies went off the coach and straight on to the Grace Road turf.
When they were here last in 2005, they were apparently so impressed by the facilities at this quintessentially English cricket ground that they had booked them again this month just in case they were knocked out of the Twenty20 World Cup.
They played no cricket at Grace Road yesterday. They ran a bit. They kicked a rugby ball around. And they practiced their swearing, which they all seemed to be very good at.
All the time, I was looking for their media man.
If I could speak to him, maybe he'd encourage Ricky to come over for a chat.
This was a flawed plan, however, as the Crocodile Dundee lookalike – along with the team's fitness coach, physio and bus driver – was playing Aussie rules football with the rest of the team.
As the dark clouds gathered over Grace Road to give the Aussies an authentic taste of an English summer, they moved on to play the most competitive game of catch you've ever seen, accompanied by more top drawer swearing.
One of them – an unshaven, lanky bloke, who I don't know now but probably will do by August – dropped a dolly of a catch.
"MAN, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" screamed his team mates. It was, you had to remind yourself, a game of catch.
Note to the English Cricket Board: Yikes – if they're this competitive over a training ground game of catch, brace yourself for a bruising summer.