It was a dark, rainy night, and Sir Edward Smith was in bed. His eyes were seemingly closed and everyone else in the mansion was asleep.
But when a silent notification arrived, and his phone vibrated a centimetre to the right, he quietly got up from his place. He hadn’t truly been sleeping, after all. You’ve always got to keep an eye open for new talent—or for criticism about your existing selections.
He looked to his right. His partner hadn’t been disturbed. This was a relief—not because he didn’t want her sleep to be disturbed, but because he didn’t want her to wake up and ask him about the inevitable.
It was an important night, and he couldn’t let new emotions – or human conversation – sway his decision-making. It was already swayed by his ages-old infatuation for Joe Denly. Sir Edward had been working on a way to reintegrate the legendary Kent hero into the national sides. No luck had come his way so far, but he hoped there remained something from the Luck Potions he’d concocted for Denly to get into the Test eleven in the first place.
But no, tonight was going to be dedicated to more pressing matters. Slipping out of the covers has seldom been an envied task, but when he revealed himself from his slumber, he was already wearing a suit and a tie. He’s always dressed like that. And before you ask, he was wearing a pair of sunglasses too. He’d borrowed them from a friend he knows—a Bond villain in professional life, but also a great acquaintance at the horse races.
Sir Edward is not a gambling man, though. He hasn’t gambled anywhere except his job. Before he could launch into a mental essay about his trust and mistrust of numbers tonight, the phone rung again. Two notifications wait for him. Both of them texts from the Source—the industry name for Cricinfo.
The first notification was somewhat innocuous. It merely informed Sir Ed of Glenn Maxwell’s latest exploits at the IPL, and how he’d found his form again with the Royal Challengers Bangalore. He’d secretly taken inspiration from the Aussie selectors about how to mishandle talented players, so he could not understand why Maxwell was being given stability in his new line-up, which allowed him to perform well and with confidence. Never mind.
But the second notification was akin to a punch in the gut when he was already down: Andrew Miller’s feature on his imminent departure from the English set-up. He’d tried to keep his mind away from the inevitable, but it was alas his old acquaintance who had reminded him of his fate. What would he do now, he wondered – go back to being a contrarian columnist on Cricinfo?
No. Edward had other ideas. And tonight he could not bear to look at the score, check up with Stokes’ or Jofra’s fingers, or slip into his Denly pyjamas. Now that he was no longer going to be on an ECB contract, he could wear them without the risk of being photographed by the paparazzi.
Instead he casually slipped his phone into his pocket and walked up to the bathroom. He switched on the light, but could not understand if it made a difference – he was wearing his sunglasses, after all. But when he looked into the mirror, he could see the pale shadow of a man reduced to humility after a tumultuous year as English cricket’s most powerful selector. Once again, this silhouette-like appearance had more to do with his glasses than any sorrow.
In one corner of his heart, he regretted pulling his punches during his tenure. But on the other he was in denial: “Picking Keaton Jennings for the India tour wouldn’t have made a difference. Picking Keaton Jennings for the India tour wouldn’t have made a difference. Picking Kea …”
When he was done chanting, he looked up again. He still could not see his eyes – why did he ever choose this to be his outfit anyway? – but he certainly knew how he felt …
Yes, there was sorrow in there somewhere, but he did not pay too much attention to these emotions now. Perhaps, he never would again. The world had been too unkind to him for simply loving a few, and mismanaging the rest.
Just then, a third notification arrived on his phone. He took it out of his pocket, and looked at the text:
Plan’s ready, we can implement Operation Rotation throughout the world now.
And then, with flair akin to the Bond villain he’d turned into, he shot a wry smile at the mirror. A curtailed stint at the ECB would not be the not the end of his career; it was merely the background story to what would become the sporting world’s most notorious antagonist.
So he marched out of the room, bade a silent goodbye to his wife, and left the house for a journey with no destination. He only had a suitcase in his hand and a plan in his mind – to make poorly thought-out rotation policies a norm across the globe.
Somewhere along the way, he hoped he would get to have gin and tonic with Buttler as well. That bloke certainly owed him a drink or two.