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Last Updated:  Friday, 28 February, 2003, 18:32 GMT

Facing England's tormentor
By Thrasy Petropoulos
BBC Sport in Port Elizabeth

It was the sight of the man from the Press Association wringing his swollen right hand that made me doubt my sanity.

Thrasy Petropoulos pads up as he prepares to face the Australian bowling attack
Does our man know what he is doing?

For some mystifying reason I had agreed to face the Australian fast bowlers - but not for a moment did I believe they would be taking it seriously.

Big mistake.

Had they seen my quivering hand as I signed an insurance waiver and my fumbling attempt to equip myself they would surely have taken pity on me.

"Ball box, sir?" inquired a schoolboy from Grey Hall school, two minutes' drive from St George's Park cricket ground in Port Elizabeth, and he handed me my most vital possession.

Then came the leg pads and the various guards - thigh, inner thigh and arm. But where was the chest pad other batsmen had been given?

"Sorry, sir. Someone has taken it away with them."

This was not a good start.

It had not been a good arrival, either.

I had walked past the Australians and overheard the bowlers talking among themselves.

"We only have to bowl at half pace," said one.

And then it was Bichel again. He had jumped the queue and was sprinting in

"Don't be stupid, mate - this is the media," Andy Bichel replied.

I didn't appreciate the danger of these words at the time.

This was the day before the Australian medium-pacer went on to take the second best figures in World Cup history and inspire Australia to a dramatic victory over England.

So on went the helmet - the first time I had ever worn one - and into battle I bravely strode.

I thought of taking guard but then realised they might have believed - wrongly - that I fancied my chances.

I tapped away nervously - a million thoughts running through my mind.

"Would I see my children again?"

"Would I have children again?"

And then, from the distance, Glenn McGrath was on his way.

He cruised in ("What am I doing here?"), his right arm pumped by his side ("He's bigger than I thought"), he jumped into his delivery stride ("He's not smiling"), and in a flash the ball was gone.

By some strange reflex that I had previously never used, I picked up the line - my first and last sight of the ball, I might add - and opted to leave it well alone.

Andy Bichel bowls in practice
Warning: Do not hit Bichel for four

The first I knew of its presence was as it dribbled back past my toes, having thudded into the back of the net.

McGrath smiled. Licked his lips and turned his back.

Good start. McGrath seen off. Time for Brett Lee.

It was short and aimed vaguely in the direction of my body.

Don't ask me how but by some miracle I jabbed down on the delivery and the ball plopped (sadly it was no more than plop) at my feet.

"Well played, mate," Lee said.

Andrew Symonds was next. It was short and wide. This was my big chance.

I swung and heard a crunch of leather on willow as the ball flew into the side netting. One of the Aussies signalled four. Great feeling.

Then I made a fatal error.

Bichel decided he'd pitch one up and knock over my stumps, but I swung and drove loudly past Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn in the covers (my imagination was into overdrive).

In hindsight, this was a foolish thing to do. The England batsmen were destined to find the blonde bowler virtually unplayable at Port Elizabeth the next day, let alone a novice like me.

The waiting bowlers cheered at their team-mate's embarrassment.

Bichel gave me a sideways glance and clapped - too slowly for my liking.

Lee rushed in. Short again and... ouch! Into my side. Not so silent expletive.

Thrasy shows off his bruise courtesy of a Brett Lee special
The grandchildren won't hear the end of this one

"It's like a giant needle, isn't it, mate?"

Try a dagger, mate.

Still, the bruise would make a good story.

And then it was Bichel again. He had jumped the queue and was sprinting in.

This was going to be full pace, and it was going to be short - and personal.

I vaguely saw the ball pitch and kick off the turf towards my head.

Self-preservation took over. Forget the bat, this was a job for my hands.

Up went the gloves to protect my face and the ball thumped into my arm guard and flew to the ground.

Bichel kept coming. "You've had your last half-volley, mate".

"You still haven't got me out, mate," I snarled back.

Actually I didn't. I just stood there and grinned nervously. My time was almost up.





Links to more World Cup stories


 

SEE ALSO
McGrath storms into history books
27 Feb 03 |  Team Pages
Awesome Australia
27 Feb 03 |  Australia


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