Living near Cannes means you get to become on first name terms with a number of renowned film directors, as they are frequently in town.
At the weekend, I had a drink with one famous director who asked not to be named (let's just call him O. Rock), who told me a remarkable story about a film project he had worked on a couple of years ago. Basically, he had to pitch the idea to a sinister Hollywood studio boss he hadn't met before. The guy had a pretty fearsome reputation, so Rock decided to tape the meeting. He played me the recording...
Studio Boss (SB): So tell me about the film.
O. Rock (OR): Well it's about a cricket team full of a variety of miscreant characters who mostly don't like each other. They can't play matches at home because of terrorists.
SB: Good, I like the terrorist angle. Very topical.
OR: The team is run by a Tyrannical Despot who continually interferes. He fires Captains at will like Hitler used to do with his Generals.
SB: Good, good.Terrorism, a mad autocratic leader. Sounds promising to me.
OR: That's not all. As I said the team has a number of diverse characters and factions. There is a Mad Uncle, who is prone to doing Michael Jackson moonwalks on the pitch and eating cricket balls in the middle of matches. Then there is the Wise Old Grandad - he looks a bit like Gandalf the Grey and keeps retiring and then making comebacks.
SB: Kind of a Frank Sinatra figure?
OR: Exactly. There's also another older player, Sensitive Captain, who was actually quite successful at leading the side before he was the victim of a coup instigated by the team's Machiavellian Prince. He also falls out in a big way with Tyrannical Despot.
SB: Wow conspiracy and intrigue too. I suppose the Machiavellian Prince becomes captain in the end?
OR: Well, he has a turn near the start before Sensitive Captain, but he turns out to be an even worse captain then he is a player. He also falls out in a big way with Wise Old Grandad and ends up marrying someone on the phone before divorcing her and marrying a famous tennis player. Eventually he is dropped for being too bad even for this team.
SB: Gee a lot happens to him. He sounds like a particularly unsavoury chap. Who are the other main characters?
OR: There's a couple of brothers. One is Butter Fingers - he is the worst wicketkeeper in cricket history and couldn't even catch a cold. The other is Little Slogger, so named because he tries to hit every ball for six. He also pretends he is a teenager and wears green lipstick.
SB: My God, it sounds like the Addams Family.
OR: Then there is Mr Dignity, he becomes captain towards the end and impresses everyone with the way he speaks and manages the team. But the audience is left wondering if he has a nasty secret, which he may or may not share with Rehab Boy, a brilliant bowler who is banned for drug taking but comes back and becomes one of the best bowlers in the world. Again the audience is left wondering if he has retunred to his fomer waywardness. The other character is The Kid. The Kid is an 18 year old wunderkind from an impoverished background, who is regarded as the best bowler of his age in cricket history. He has film star looks and is the darling of the nation.
SB: Kind of a rags to riches tale?
OR: Exactly, but the audience is left wondering whether he, Rehab Boy and Mr Dignity have got into bed with bookmakers and deliberately bowled no-balls in exchange for money.
SB: A lot happens in this film. Is it realistic, is the question I am asking myself? Tell me about the plot.
OR: Well the film follows the Homeless Team around the world for a period of around 18 months. The fact that the captain keeps being changed adds to the state of flux and continuous chaos surrounding the team. First of all, they win the World T20, but then Machiavellian Prince leads a revolt against Sensitive Captain and he resigns soon after.
SB: That sounds a bit stupid.
OR: Quite. Then Wise Old Grandad takes over. Rehab Boy and Little Slogger both do well in New Zealand and the team draw the series. Then just as the audience thinks that the team is on the up. Bang. They go to Australia and it all falls apart. They lose every match including one where Butter Fingers drops even more catches than usual and Wise Old Grandad proves to be a clueless captain. Then Tyrannical Despot goes insane like Hitler in Downfall and bans everyone. The players all come out to the press and say they hate each other. It's absolute chaos.
SB: Surely that wouldn't all happen. Where do you go from here?
OR: Then they appoint Mad Uncle as captain. You just know that it will end in tears but at first things improve. They get to the semi-final of the World T20 but snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Afterwards Tyrannical Despot un-bans all the players he had banned but still won't pick Sensitive Captain.
SB: I suppose appointing Mad Uncle is a bit of a case of the blind leading the blind?
OR: Yes. Of course it does eventually end up in tears on the tour of England, when Mad Uncle resigns after losing his first test in charge against Australia.
SB: No that wouldn't happen. Who ever heard of neutral test matches? Too far-fetched.
OR: Bear with me. Then Mr Dignity becomes captain and Rehab Boy and The Kid destroy Australia in the next match. The team do their best to throw away the advantage but actually manage to win.
SB: Oh great. A happy ending.
OR: It's not over yet. Then they play England, but because Tyrannical Despot won't pick Wise Old Grandad and Sensitive Captain, the batting is too frail even though The Kid and Rehab Boy keep taking English wickets. But they do manage to win one match when Wise Old Grandad comes to the rescue on his charger.
SB: Is that all?
OR: Not yet. Just as people start thinking the team have a promising future, Mr Dignity, Rehab Boy and The Kid fall victim to a tabloid sting, which alleges they are taking money to bowl no-balls. Remember I mentioned that earlier?
SB: Cheating and fixing as well? My God, what happens in the end?
OR: We're still finalising that. Any suggestions?
SB: I'll have to ask my friends in the ICC (laughing). I'm a bit worried all this is a bit too far-fetched. Surely one team couldn't go through all this in only 18 months?
That was it. After the recording stopped, I asked O Rock what happened next. he said it was strange because the meeting ended abruptly when Studio Boss received a phone call and he never heard from him again. Indeed he told me that it was rumoured that Studio Boss had left the business - no one had seen or heard from him since. The project was canned.
Of course, in the light of recent events we discussed how remarkably similar all this was to what is happening with the Pakistan cricket team today. I asked O Rock when the meeting was and the name of the Studio Boss.
And that was the funny thing. O Rock told me that the meeting was in 2008. And the name of the studio boss was Ijaz Butt, one month before he took up his position as Chairman of the PCB...