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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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Brisbane Day 3 Getting away with it

English might feel agrieved. According to Hawkeye, Pietersen wasn' t lbw, and Flintoff was caught off a no-ball. Australia is a place where you can't get away with anything. Not even if you are Hawkeye Pietersen, the svelte scout from the velt. (Hawkeye is the name for a laser interpolation system that predicts if a batsman was LBW as well as offside.)

Yesterday I was on tv twice. Already mentioned the ITN Lords Prayer for Flintoff and England, and by God, how they need it. Just beforehand a steward kindly asked me to move a small bottle of water from the edge of the aisle. It had been caught on security camera, and they'd asked him to ask me to move it. You can't get away with anything in Australia.

Maybe that's why they love their Warnie. The mythological larrakin lad following in the line from Ned Kelly onwards. Those who have broken the rules and got away with it. Even the jolly swagman of Waltzing Matilda shot three state troopers. Shane's different. Not just the sheer range of proscribed behaviours – drugs, infidility, and the ultimate male omerta, baldness. Shane's still alive. Ned Kelly was a good-for-nothing, ne'er do well, robbing, thieving murdering swine till they shot him. So he didn't get away with it. Australia recreated him as a means to rebel safely against itself - an essential sub-text to Peter Carey's novel about Kelly.

Only this time Shane isn't going to get away with it. 'He likes this ground,' an Aussie tells me as Strauss and Clarke come proudly out to bat for the first time. 'Never taken less than six wickets in a Gabba test.'

Don't bet on it. Warnie may not be called upon. McGrath 6, Clark 3 and Lee 1, did the necessaries as England undid themselves to reach 157 all out. With Giles ending it all with a distress flare of a skier they’d barely clambered quarter the way up Mount Gabba. Only Ian Bell stood firm, resolute and skilled against the numbing accuracy of Old Glenda.

Glen McGrath
Can’t quite reach ninety miles an hour
No worries. Where he puts it is
Their top order’s nemesis

Ian Bell
What the hell
Has long lost the habit
Of being a baby-faced rabbit

If Aussies can't get away with it, foreigners certainly can't. Instead of inviting – such coyly false politeness in the term - “Excuse me, Frederick, old chap, would you mind awfully”- to go back to Mount Gabba 445 runs still to climb, the Punter chooses to bat on. Mount Gabba is about to grow even higher before our eyes.

You can see why.

Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust. This is something else. It grinds the dust into dust till there is nothing left, not even dust. Nothing for England to cling on to. You can’t get away with it in Australia; you can’t break the rules. And rule one is the Ashes are Australia’s. The Green Baggies set about squeezing Freddie’s men back into the 4¼inch high urn. Each additional run doesn’t just screw down the nails already banged in on the coffin lid, but bury it so far underground, deep beneath the mantel of the earth crust. Teams can come back from the dead, but only after banging on the coffin lid and tunnelling their way back through miles of rock to reach the surface.

It could just back-fire. Not through rain – something England and Queensland both pray for, since the State is in one of the worst droughts ever, now up to Level Four water restrictions, the fountains in Brisbane long since dried up and the fruit crops decimated. No, just when the three English lion’s claws have been so worn they couldn’t cling onto anything, hope is in the main. I can reveal exclusively, dear readers, the secret treaty signed between perfidious Albion and the Klingon Nation, that in deep in the stars above where Captain Kirk boldly went to split infinitives where no infinitives had been split before, the Klingon Battlefleet is warp-factor hyperdriving its way to Mount Gabba, the Strineship Enterprise a sacrificial lamb to imperial domination.

Don’t think even that will save this game, if not the Ashes. The cricket becomes, to put it in one word, boring. The lack of contest as Australia set about earth-moving Mount Gabba back to its former height and beyond does not enthrall. There is one moment of competitive interest. England give away four overthrows. Ponting looks at the ball hurtled by English hand to the boundary in a way their bats singularly failed to do earlier, and claps his glove against his bat in harsh public irony. It’s rare a bat sledges a whole nation so eloquently and effectively.

Even the crowd get restless. The Aussies love their inflatables. Perhaps even more than stuffing the Poms, since it’s something everyone can join in on, even the police. We’ve already had the Gatorade reject sperm donator drinks trolley from Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Too Afraid To Ask, today being Saturday, we see the Giant Milo Tin in support of kids’ Kwik Cricket (Milo is a popular milk shake, not Milo Mindbender from Catch-22) and two twenty foot high cricket balls race each other on the outfield during the tea interval, one called Beefy and the other Boony, in support of Victoria Breweries – no one in Australia drinks tea in the tea interval of a cricket match. (Someone is said to have tried it in a more genteel part of Melbourne last century, but it didn’t catch on.)

In response the crowd bounce giant beach balls between themselves – this is also the nation which bought you beach volley ball as an Olympic Sport. The rules of cricket volley ball are simple, keep the ball in the air but if it goes out of the seating area the police get to keep it. Near us a group go too far. Instead of a ball, they have a ball with an inflatable woman. For some reason this is also against the rules, even though Cricket Australia publicised this series with a thirty foot high Giant Warnie they pumped up and took to England just in case anyone in Australia didn’t happen to know the Ashes were back. (Imagine the FA commissioning a Giant Rooney to take to the Reichstag in Berlin ahead of the World Cup with shops selling out of St George flags and you’ve got the picture.) The police move in. They arrest the inflatable woman who by all accounts refused to give her name, address or any other details and kept her integrity intact under intense scrutiny till one prick too many. She may well return tomorrow disguised as a blow-up policeman.

What do you think? Should Inflatable Sheilas be allowed to watch cricket?
have your say on

O yes, the cricket. The Aussies missed one chance. To shout ‘Oi, Flintoff, give the inflatable Sheila a bowl. She’d do better than the lot you’ve got on the park.’ It’s worse than the task of Sisyphus, carrying stones up Mount Gabba only to see them hurled back down again, yet through their efforts to reduce the task the hill gets higher, the climb becomes steeper. At the start of their first innings Mount Gabba was 602 high. It now stands at 629, and England have one innings less to reach safety.

Read all about it in the Ascent of Mount Gabba at the end of the game.

In the meantime in homage to the sixty foot Christmas Tree sweltering in the centre of Brisbane (artificial but curiously not yet inflatable)

On The Third Day of Play (to The Twelve Days of Christmas)

On the third day of play the Gabba gave to me
A blow up babe in custody.

On the third day of play the Gabba gave to me
Two big balls
And a blow up babe in custody.

And so on, till

Twelve crowd ejections
Eleven top selections
Tending to win
Nine tired bowlers
Eight ways in
Seven poms out
Six hundred lead
Five for McGrath
Four tall pylons
Three English Ducks
Two big balls
And a blow up babe in custody