Paul Edwards suffers for his art in Birmingham....
Gluttony takes many forms. On Thursday afternoon, just as Alastair Cook was making his inexorable way towards his 19th Test century, I received a gentle tap on the shoulder. No, it was not the Society for the Protection of Written English, nor even the Inland Revenue. Instead, I turned to see two members of the Edgbaston staff. One of them held a huge basket of strawberries, the other, a vast bowl of melted chocolate.
"Would you care for a strawberry or two...?" began the first. "...dipped in chocolate," completed his assistant.
Well, it would have been rude not to, as they say. The brimming bowl reminded me rather of that scene in The Vicar of Dibley when Geraldine is presented with a flowing chocolate fountain and dives headfirst into it. I suppose my colleagues in the press box should be relieved I didn't follow suit.
The absurdly generous hospitality the press are enjoying at Edgbaston is part of a countrywide beauty contest. There are ten contestants and this is Miss Birmingham's entry. The aim is not to win outright, but to finish in the top five and be awarded an Ashes Test in 2013. Miss St John's Wood and Miss Chester-le-Street have already been selected; Miss Leeds has said she can't afford the outfits required and has flounced off in a huff. Many criteria will be used to decide the three other lucky winners, and I suppose that the facilties offered to the media count for something.
So - and you may want to avoid reading the next paragraph - we have egg, bacon and sausage rolls for breakfast, Danish pastries in mid-morning, all manner of curries, smoked salmon and cold meat for lunch, and a cholesterol-laden afternoon tea. All day there is mineral water, coffee, tea and Red Bull on tap. There is chocolate and - my favourites, these - there are great glass jars of popcorn and jelly-babies. It is a never-ending diet of excess. However, the menu does not include chips or barm cakes.
We can even have a massage, which is not a euphemism for something else entirely, but a little bit of gentle physiotherapy for our shoulders and neck, twisted and knotted as they are by our ceaseless slaving over a hot laptop. I would only be slightly surprised if, at the end of the day's play, we were offered a mug of Ovaltine and a soothing bedtime story such as, "Malcolm, the Naughty Vicar".
However, while Edgbaston's £32m redevelopment is certainly plush, it is not immune from error. This morning, for example, the lift broke down. Now, of course, this could all be related to the amount of food they've laid on for us: in order to avoid a rash of coronaries in the press box, the Warwickshire authorities have decided to make members of the fourth estate walk up the stairs. Certainly at the rate the muffins and dairy milk were disappearing yesterday afternoon, there seemed an even chance that the press box itself would tip over onto the outfield. Mind you, that looked to be one of the few ways of stopping Alastair Cook grinding his way towards a triple-century.
As for the cricket itself, Friday's was by far the dullest I have seen this summer. There is little satisfaction to be gained from a brute annihilation of a weakened opposition, and while England's players and supporters will point to the way in which their side's powerful displays have broken the spirit of the Indian team, I long for a proper contest. Specifically, I long to see India's batsmen show us what they are truly made of; more precisely still, I'd like a last look at V V S Laxman in full flow.
Editor's note: Paul Edwards is not in this picture!
Crowd photo at Edgbaston (c) Rui Vieira/PA Wire
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