Miles Jupp: England an after-dinner disaster

I knew that the third Test at the Antigua Recreation Ground was going to go down to the wire. But I was looking forward to it. Like our match at Barbados in 1994, I thought a resounding victory would enable us to wash away the filthy memories of our previous humiliating encounter, and that, like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, we’d be able to thank God for the rain to wash the trash off the sidewalk.

Any time that England are searching for victory at the 11th hour is going to be nerve-wracking but for me that final day was doubly tortuous. It clashed with a booking I had to do an after-dinner speech in a hotel in Southampton and which I had long been dreading.

I phoned ahead to make sure that the hotel rooms had Sky and then booked in early enough to watch most of the afternoon session. England, and Broad especially, bowled beautifully, but we didn’t seem to be making enough headway. And at tea, with the score on 279 for 5 I had to go down for the dinner.

The most hellish aspect of after-dinner speaking is having to sit and have dinner with the people to whom you are about to speak. It’s not because there’s anything wrong with them, it’s simply that you have to spend the entire meal giving an impression of confidence and experience while looking in abject terror around a room of increasing and unilateral drunkenness wondering just how badly it will go. The people you are sitting at the top table with aren’t just your dining companions, they are also your employers for the night, and this means that on the outside you must appear to be polite, attentive and charming while on the inside nerves are tearing your organs apart, and you long to curl up in a ball under the table pounding the floor with your fists and praying that someone will phone in a bomb scare.

That night I had to conceal all of these feelings while also hurriedly checking the England score on my mobile every five minutes. The meal dragged on in much the same way as the final session. At times the scorecard didn’t seem to change for hours. When the puddings finally arrived, West Indies were nine down. Surely, I thought, they can wrap this up before I have to speak. Maybe I could open my speech by telling the room that England had won? Moments before I was due to stand up I was able to steal a final look at my phone and saw the horrifying words “match drawn”. The evening was over.

The speech, inevitably, was a disaster – those at the back couldn’t hear it and those at the front wished they were at the back. Early next morning I walked through the rain to the train station cursing England’s lack of penetration and feeling about Southampton much as Travis Bickle had about Manhattan.

Miles Jupp is an actor, comedian and cricket fan

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