Ashes Poetry - cricket

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David Fine, Ashes poet in residence in Australia 2006-7

England vs Australia.
Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne, Sydney 2006-2007

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Brisbane Day 1 Nearly Didn’t Get In

Wandered out of the hotel just after eight to catch one of the free buses to the ground. Queues the length of Brisbane. Our luck’s in; being with a spread-betting magnate, we find the only vacant cab in town, and rush the rush hour traffic to the ground. Plenty of time to find my seat to soak in the atmosphere and sun-block. No worries.

No such luck. Waiting to go through the turnstiles, a friendly Aussie who knows more than me about Brisbane poetry says ‘Heard of Ross Clark?’ only to spring from Mark Waugh’s poetic qualities to the prosaic and immutable fact they won’t let me into the ground.

News to me, and thousands of others, since they only changed the rules just ahead of the game. Very carefully back in Blighty I had planned and packed a day bag, to the point of negotiating with Loz, our eleven year old daughter, to take her school bag in exchange for a new one ‘Mine’s too small for all the stuff we have to carry to Lady Manners,’ she says.

Clearly too big for The Gabba, capacity 45,000, and conforming to Cricket Australia The Ashes Down Under Official Travel Guide of Cricket Australia “Coolers, eskies and other belongings must be stored under your seat.” I join another queue to find I have to pay $5 (about two quid) for the privilege of disobeying rules I didn’t know about, or obeying rules I did know about. I wasn’t about to argue; sports fans the world over know you can’t win with sports authorities and there was a queue as long as Brisbane behind me. ‘You wouldn’t happen to have a plastic bag I can take my belongings in with.’
‘No, sorry.’

I’m missing something here which Bill Bryson would have nailed into the bleachers. The reason people carry bags is to carry things inside them. If you take away their bags, that still leaves the things they were carrying – like water, sun-block, not to mention a copy of Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, Man Booker short list from Australia. In other words, the stuff to keep humanity fit and well watching a game. You’d probably probably think ‘Won’t they need a plastic bag to keep those things in, especially as we’re charging them $5 to change the rules without their knowing.’

No, sorry. I look wistfully at the 7-11 across the road with trillions of plastic bags with the queue of Brisbane between them and me. Only connect, as E M Forster said (and Ricky Ponting did.)

Two fans in England shirts decide to get shirty with a whiteshirt bloke with raybans, blue-tooth in one ear, walkie talkie to the other, and The Great Australia Desert in between. ‘It’s in the papers,’ he snarls. True. One line in a copy of The Courier Mail ‘Serving Queensland since 1846’ left in the ground “Spectators also have been warned to arrive at the ground early to clear security and not to take large handbags, backpacks and coolers” Liam Plunkett’s drink-drive incident receives four column inches below another ten about Queensland public servants attending the game, doubtless at the expense of their public.

You can’t win. Sports fans the whole world over are victims, ultimately of themselves. At the end of the day, I retrieved Loz’s old bag and asked how I might complain. ‘Cricket Australia.’ I shall, and advise them to get in touch with The Bakewell Show Committee who are one of the best organisations in the world at running large crowd events over several days.

The Gabba is the future. No pavilion, no ends, an oval with a stretched steel roof, it looks like the Starship Enterprise has landed. ‘It is a cricket ground, Jim, but not as we know it.’ Actually it’s not a cricket ground. It’s a sports arena where they play cricket, football – league and Aussie rules, but not soccer – and what’s more in the middle of the night, when no one’s watching it takes off on stupendous missions throughout the universe…

Stardate 346 for 3. Skipper’s Log Of The StrineShip Enterprise. Our mission? To boldly be more Australian than no Australian’s ever been before.

The real action of the day was before play started. Australia won the toss and Punter Ponting decided to bat, both as a team and for himself.

This is a shirt-front pitch. Not that the first ball of the series hits it. A wide from Harmison which 2nd slip takes. Rueful grins all round.

One ball hits the pads in the first hour, pretty well none for the rest of the day. Still Langer edges just wide so many times, if he were a cat he’d be dead by now.

The swifts swoop down just before each drinks interval, where a gigantic yellow and green plastic monstrosity wheels itself onto the pitch. It’s from America, the Gatorade Carrier. It looks like a cross between a Sino-Soviet Cold War May Day Parade unknown missile device and a prop from Woody Allen’s Every Thing You Want To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask – the scene where Woody plays a reluctant sperm. You don’t get this at Lords, where the members might well have forgotten what sperm were and were for, even if a horde of them (sperm not members) rushed the Long Room and willowed everyone over the heads with Sloghard Thugbusters.

Ponting’s bat is more a magic wand that takes the game from England to Australia.

Just before lunch Ashley Giles comes on for an over.

From Our Parliamentary Correspondent

After a season’s recess
The International House resumed sitting.
Across the dispatch box
Mr A F Giles, member for Warwickshire and England, faced
Captain R T Ponting, Tasmania and Australia,
who immediately lept from his place at the dispatch box
and smote the member for Warwickshire and England’s
very first question high into the opposition’s back benches.
The member for Warwickshire and England
returned to his mark to resume questioning.

Mid session between lunch and tea the game changes. Australia know they shouldn’t lose, and England are looking more at a draw. Ian Bell comes on after tea to bowl in tandem with Giles. Here’s one for the Frindaliser Drive which powers the Strineship Enterprise, and all you cricket stattos. When was the last time two Warwickshire players bowled in tandem for England?

Ponting isn’t about statistics, although his century equals Steve Waugh’s record and tomorrow he might go past 226, the highest score at the Gabba, posted by Don Bradman.

Viewing the game side on just behind square you appreciate the quickness and class of Ponting. Feet move early, bat plays late. Fantastic. Ponting doesn’t get the adulation I think he deserves for style. Australian teams are meant to be efficient more than stylish. Ponting is both. Flintoff does his all to try and get his man.

Brisbane End of Day One Australia 346 for 3 A Flintoff 2 for 42 R T Ponting 137 no

The Blacksmith and The Dancer

Down they come, twenty-four hammering blows
Run up against the anvil of the crease,
England’s finest, leader of tall strong men
Pounds a flat pitch to make something from nothing.

Red-hot ignots bounce and spit from the anvil
Of Thor from the north to thud pain and fury
Even into the gloves of his own keeper
Three pitches distant from the beginning.

Those in the middle dodge hurtling force,
The smell of singed leather beneath noses
Sears their minds long after danger passes
Till an opener edges heat and is gone.

The dancer comes. Small, slick-quick tip-toe feet
A ballet pump or conductor’s baton
In his hands against Thor’s redoubled thunder
Strong enough to break his own braw bones
In the pursuit of forging victories.

The dancer banishes other tradesmen.
No interest but the blacksmith’s anvil,
Each hammerblow a pirouette, paso
Doble, cock a snook at the once red-hot ignot

Now dulled with dancers’ taps as the floor
For clubbing when clubbing has been done,
Small feet and hours from Hobart unto Accrington,
The dancer and the blacksmith each know the score.

The dancer needs the smith to play
As the smith the dancer’s touch
To end the dancer’s say.