A large man sat quietly with his girlfriend in a restaurant near Swansea last Saturday night, sipping iced water and unobtrusive but for the fact that his face looked as though it had collided with a bus.
This was Alun Wyn Jones, the Welsh lock, who'd had an almighty battle with the opposing forwards in that afternoon's 25-16 defeat to Australia. At another table, coincidentally, was a Welsh rugby legend of yesteryear, who popped over to say hello, and to note that times have changed. In Phil Bennett's day, iced water was not the beverage of choice, nor a quiet dinner à deux the chosen situation following an international in Cardiff.
Bennett was in sparkling form on Tuesday night at the Rankin social club in the small Herefordshire town of Leominster, holding a capacity audience in thrall and apologising for arriving half an hour late on account of the road signs being in English. Of course, international rugby was no less brutal in his era; indeed, he played in the most brutal game of all, the so-called "Battle of Boet Erasmus" on the 1974 Lions tour to South Africa. Alun Wyn Jones and his team-mates can anticipate a stern physical test against the Springboks today, but they won't be preparing a call of "99", as issued 36 years ago by Willie John McBride as a cue for his players to belt the nearest South African, ensuring, famously, that "we get our retaliation in first".
Bennett evoked for us the team meeting prior to that match in Port Elizabeth, at which McBride explained what each player had to do. For some, such as himself and Gareth Edwards, the prospect of a punch-up was rather appalling. For others, notably the pugnacious Welsh hooker Bobby Windsor, fulcrum of the fearsome Pontypool front row, it was hugely appealing. "At the call of 99, turn and hit the South African closest to you," said McBride. "Now, are there any questions?" Windsor raised a beefy arm. "Excuse me, Willie," he said solemnly, "but can we hit more than one?"
Will 'Here's Swann to bowl...' join Beeb's Special archive?
No cricket lover worth his or her Wisden collection will be even the slightest bit stumped when invited to pin the following extract of radio commentary to the pertinent moment in the Ashes, but just to make the task slightly trickier I've inserted X, Y and Z instead of players' names.
"Now here's X to bowl to him from the Vauxhall End, he bowls, Y goes back across his wicket and pushes the ball gently in the direction of the Houses of Parliament which are out beyond mid-off. It doesn't go that far, it merely goes to Z at silly mid-off. No run, Australia still 117 for 1. Two slips, a silly mid-off and a forward short leg close to him as X pitches the ball up slowly and... he's bowled!"
Well, of course, X was Eric Hollies, Y was Don Bradman, Z was Allan Watkins and the occasion was Bradman's final Test match, at The Oval in 1948, when, needing four runs to end his Test career with a batting average of 100, he was out for a second-ball duck, all described by the inimitable, and yet much imitated, John Arlott.
Should you wish to hear this and lots of other momentous snatches of Ashes commentary, let me direct you to www.bbc.co. uk/ashesarchive. The Beeb has done a splendid job in making so many classic Test Match Special moments available at the click of a mouse, of which my favourite is not the Bradman duck, nor even the spectacular conclusion of the 2005 Edgbaston Test when Steve Harmison got Mike Kasprowicz to glove a catch to Geraint Jones, but Jonathan Agnew and Trevor Bailey chuntering at Old Trafford in 1993 about the imminent Ashes debut of a certain S K Warne.
"There must be, I would think, a bit of pressure on young Warne's shoulders here," said Aggers, "because he will know that his team are expecting him to come on and take some wickets here, or at least turn the ball." To which Bailey sagely replied: "Well, if he doesn't turn the ball, then England will have a very good time indeed."
We all know what happened next. So I hope I'm not tempting fate, Trevor Bailey-style, by adding that as the 2010 Ashes series bears down on us that by far the best spinner on either side is one of ours, Graeme Swann, who knows that his team are expecting him to take some wickets, to say nothing of his nation.
Good luck to Queanbeyan's finest
This is no time to be wishing sporting success on the Australians, what with the Ashes almost upon us and the Wallabies descending on Twickenham, but I do fervently hope that Mark Webber overtakes Fernando Alonso to win this year's Formula One world drivers' championship. I've interviewed him a couple of times and he's such a manifestly decent guy, who drove inferior cars for so long with even a single grand prix victory looking an unattainable ambition, it would be lovely to see him win the whole shebang. Also, it might just make him the most celebrated sporting son of Queanbeyan, New South Wales, which would compound the pleasure, for that is also the home of habitual Pom-basher David Campese.Reuse content