The minutes are counting down before the start of play. Nervous, I’m passing the time by talking to a delightful lady about her experience with the police today (they banned her glasses case because they thought it was a missile….) and Mackem Rob about his team’s prospects against Chelsea.

Still no sign of him.

Seconds before the players take the field, Matt turns up. He’s on his own.

Shit!

There follows a salient mixture of James Corden and Karl Pilkington. The features amiably the former, the delivery starkly the latter.

“Err, Paul couldn’t make it….”

Since Day One of the Mumbai Test my pre-play handshake with our mutual friend has formed the cornerstone of my match day routine.

Couldn’t make it?

“Err, no, he’s come down with a fever or bug. Thinks it might be too much sun or summat.”

Bad portents, bad, bad.

No bounding, grinning, ginger Yorkie, hand outstretched, smile resplendent under the type of beard you could hide a series of Last of the Summer Wine scripts.

The handshake that extols assurance. Have no fear. We’ll be reet lad, thar knows.

I puff my cheeks out and take my seat. Two balls later Graeme Swann edges behind to leave England seven down for 294. They’ll soon be all out for not many more.

Lucky Paul? Where are you? Get off your sick bed fella. We need you.

Then Virender Sehwag tucks into England’s attack in that way if his. Flashbacks. Ahmedabad. Howl! Monty Panesar gets the treatment. The lunch break can’t come quick enough. Neither can the return of Lucky Paul.

Matt treats me to his lunch time staple, Bhel Puri. A snack concocted of baked rice, spuds, chillies, onions and deep fried bits. I’m not very keen on it but Matt is really quite sad at having to leave this obscure hors d’ouvres on his return to Blighty next weekend. So much so that he’s considering making his own recipe using Rice Crispies and selling it to the unsuspecting people of Cheshire.

Swann gets Sehwag first ball after lunch. Then the rest of this rather unloveable Indian team get in a bit of a pickle against our lads. Steve Finn is rampant. Ian Bell reminds us he has something to offer English cricket still by running out Cheteshwar Pujara. Jimmy Anderson splatters Yuvraj Singh’s stumps. Tendulkar and Dhoni are back in the hutch too at tea. England sniff victory. The Barmy Army give it some in response.

Lucky Paul, schlucky Paul. Silly comfort blanket superstitious nonsense. Still, shame the ol’ boy can’t be here to see it though.

Play resumes, no-one tells Zaheer Khan and Virat Kohli. Then comes R Ashwin.

Resilient. Redoubtable. Really, really annoying.

Slowly the momentum drains from England towards India’s unsung number eight, who has been better value with bat than his main role with the ball in this series. So it proves again. England plug away. Ashwin resists. And how. The boundary count goes up as the deficit comes down. As it becomes clear England will need to bat again to win the Test the Indian support goes up several decibels. Fever pitch stuff. They’ve made England bat again, judging by the ferocity of the celebrations you’d have thought they’d reclaimed the Number One World Ranking spot. Every shot, whether there’s a run from it or not, is cheered boisterously.
Either Bengalis have taken the concept of irony to new levels or, as most of the travelling support tend to believe, these people really are mad. A mother next to me who has been jabbering on in Hindi throughout Ashwin’s heroics suddenly switches tongues and knowingly tells her brood, “For India, Nothing Is Impossible.”

Time stands still. The balmy, hazy dusk is replaced by an Arctic chill.

Forget Ivor Emmanuel in Zulu, forget Russell Osman in Escape To Victory, this shit just got real. England come back tomorrow needing one wicket plus however many runs.

All three results are still possible. Looking for sanity, for salvation, I glance round to Matt….

I don’t care what state he’s in tomorrow. For the love of God, we need Lucky Paul.

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