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The Headingley Incident - Chapter 2

The Headingley Incident - Chapter 2
By Dan Liebke • Issue #24 • View online
Excerpts from the Cricket Australia integrity officer’s interview with the Australian captain in the aftermath of the event 

The Selector’s Favourite
Q: Did you speak to anybody after the meeting?
After the meeting, the selector’s favourite stayed behind to talk to me about the new kid and his insubordinate behaviour.
“Sorry you had to go through that,” the selector’s favourite began.
“Why?” I snapped back. “Did you put him up to it?”
“N-n-no,” he stammered. “Of course not. I would never undermine your leadersh—“
I held up a hand to stop his wearisome spluttering. One gentle jab had completely undone him. He was worse than the West Indies squad that had toured two summers ago.
The selector’s favourite’s craven desperation for acceptance had always repulsed me. But since I’d taken the leadership of the team, his fundamental neediness had devolved into a sickening subservience, the prodding of which I found nigh impossible to resist.
If only he had needed to be liked just a little less, I’d have liked him so much more. As it was, he ached for my approval and it was therefore the one boon I would never grant him. Instead, I took a base delight in watching him flail and flounder as I twisted his unctuous flattery against him.
This verbal divertissement was all the more delicious for knowing he could never triumph. The selector’s favourite defined himself by his unwavering loyalty, and his fawning cowardice denied him any room for even the mildest of disagreement. 
I revelled in the lack of sport in our sparring, like ju jitsu against a toddler or facing an English leg spinner. 
“Enough,” I said.
He cut short his spluttering. Then started again almost immediately as a fresh lickspittling approach seemed to come to him.
“It’s just—”
“Enough,” I repeated.
And this time he forced himself to stop. But once more only for a moment.
“I think the mankad tactic is brilliant,” he blurted out, as if the notion was too grand to be held within the constraints of his second-rate cranium.
“It’s hardly brilliant,” I said. “It’s simple logic. We want them out. They’re standing outside their crease. Ergo, we run them out.” I smiled with hard-earned modesty. “It doesn’t require some form of cricketing Einstein to figure that out.”
“No,” he said. “I suppose—”
I interrupted him as I spotted the blemish in my previous pronouncement. “Actually, Einstein’s probably a poor analogy,” I said.
He hesitated, and in that moment, I realised I’d inadvertently laid a trap for him. To disagree with me on this correction was to discard the fundamental role of mindless cheerleading support that he’d set himself. Yet if he agreed, he instead became a party to the notion that my prior analogy was imperfect, and that was a similar abandonment of his self-appointed mantle. 
I smiled, pleased with my own subconscious brilliance. 
The selector’s favourite, meanwhile, commenced his bid to escape my accidental trap. “I wouldn’t say it’s poor…” he began, before his voice trailed away, unclear what logical path to traverse next.
“It’s certainly flawed,” I continued, unwilling to wait for his calcified synapses to fire. “The Einstein analogy suggests that Operation Vinoo is a scientific process rather than a battlefield strategy.”
“Right,” he said. “Good point.” 
I suddenly realised I’d offered him safer ground. A mistake on my part, but not an irretrievable one.
“I should have said ‘It doesn’t require some form of cricketing Sun Tzu to figure that out’,” I continued.
He smiled again, his confidence restored for the moment. “Yes,’ he said. “That is better.” He nodded again. “Perfect.”
“Having said that,” I said, laying out my next trap. “The strategy does require a certain amount of courage…” 
“An enormous amount!” he said in emphatic agreement. “We’re lucky to have a leader such as yourself with sufficient bravery to follow through on this plan.”
“Lucky?” I said, yanking the verbal rug from beneath him. “Are you suggesting my leadership of this team is a mere happenstance?”
He paled in sudden shock. “No. No. No, of course not,” he said. “You’re a leader without peer. Fully deserving of the role. It would be madness for you not to lead us.”
What he was saying was true. But I also knew that he’d say the exact same thing to the grizzled veteran if that greying simpleton were the skipper. This is why everybody hated the selector’s favourite. Well, that and the lack of runs. And wickets. And any other measurable benefit to the side.
However, so long as I remained captain I could trust the selector’s favourite to maintain his loyalty. Which meant that he was the person I could trust best for what I now needed.
I told him that we needed to keep an eye on the new kid.
“Agreed,” he said, hurriedly. Then added, “I have been.”
“You have been?” I echoed. The spiritless nitwit. Why offer such a fruitless elaboration? Worse than fruitless - detrimental.
“Of course,” he said, oblivious to his misstep.
“Then why didn’t you warn me that he was going to challenge Operation Vinoo in public like that?”
“Uh, because, uh…” he said. His words faded away again.
“Were you not aware that he was going to challenge Operation Vinoo?”
“Exactly,” he said. Relieved for the exit I’d offered him.
“Then what was the purpose of keeping an eye on him if you were incapable of detecting his looming misconduct?”
His face fell as he realised his escape route was a mirage. “I just, uh, just must have missed it,” he muttered, defeated.
I pressed on. “This is not filling me with confidence. I need to know I can trust y—”
“You can trust me,” he exclaimed, scrambling for solid ground. 
I glared and began my sentence again, holding up a hand to prevent any further interruptions. “I need to know I can trust your insights into what challenges may be coming my way.”
He went to interrupt me again, but I held the hand. As a further deterrent, I raised my eyebrows. He held his silence, like a cowering puppy. “The new kid won’t be my biggest problem. You know who will be, right?”
He paused for a beat, before hesitantly suggesting the stodgy opener.
I frowned. The stodgy opener? “Why would he be a problem?” I asked.
“Oh,” he said. “He probably won’t be.”
“Then why did you say he would be?” 
“I thought that’s who you thought would be a problem.”
“Why would you think that I’d think that he’d be a problem?”
I glared at him. Was he onto something? Or was he merely trying to tell me what he thought I wanted to hear and guessing incorrectly?
God, I hated him.
“I don’t want you to tell me what you think I want to hear,” I said. “That’s useless to me.” Enough play. It was time to put this toadying simpleton into proper service. 
“Sure, yes,” he said. “Of course it is.”
“I need you to offer me your opinion on what these insurrectionists might be up to. Your opinion. Your genuine opinion. Not what you think I want your opinion to be.”
He’d been nodding throughout everything I said and hurried the nodding still further at the end of it.
“Yes, yes, yes,” he said, in amiable agreement. “Gotcha. My opinion.”
“Exactly,” I said. “I don’t need an echo chamber. I need external advice.”
“Of course, yes,” he said. “That’s exactly what you need.”
“Well, I don’t need it,” I said, unable to resist the opening he’d offered. “The day that my leadership of this team depends on the procurement of second-hand information from a pea-brained sycophant is the day my leadership is done.”
“Right,” he said.
“Right?” I said, feigning outrage. “You think my leadership can be toppled that easily?”
“Oh no,” he said. “I think, uh-”
I interrupted him again. A fun diversion, but it was time to focus. “Any intelligence - in the espionage sense of the word only, of course - that you can provide is something that I can take in and ponder, adding it to a multitude of other informational sources, all weighted appropriately so that I can make the optimal decision.”
“Exactly,” he said. “That’s what I was trying to say.” He tapped his forehead, presumably to indicate that his inability to summon the correct words was a result of his fatally flawed mental acuity.
I did not need reminding.
I gave him his primary targets for observation - the new kid and the grizzled veteran.
“So go away and keep an eye on them,” I said. “And tell me what you spot. And what they might be up to.”
“That’s exactly what I was going to do,” he said.
“Good,” I said. Then I asked about the stodgy opener again. “Do I really need to worry about him?” I said.
He frowned. “Maybe,” he said. Then another long pause. “What do you think?”
I sighed. “Let’s keep an eye on him too.”
He scurried off. I allowed myself a modicum of hope. The selector’s favourite was a feckless coward in regards to my leadership, but when it came to my enemies he was utterly fearless.
Next question.
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Dan Liebke

Every Friday, I go through my big list of cricket ideas, and churn out a first draft of something I've got in there. It won't be polished. It may not be interesting. I make no promises. But I'm going to throw something up and see what works and what (infinitely more likely) does not.

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