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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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Brisbane Day 5 Losing It

The rain never came. Instead it was all over before lunch, defeated by nearly three hundred runs. That is a heavy loss, and it will be hard to pick up and go on from there. (But not nearly so hard as a three day massacre, the likely outcome had Ponting enforced the follow-on.)

For me the day started so well, a seat high up and straight behind the bowler’s arm. This is how I like to watch cricket, down the wicket, tracking the slightest deviation of line, length, angle and seam. Truth be told I’m not much of a shouter; when the opposition chant at Coventry ‘You’re not singing anymore,’ it’s true of me at least, because I wasn’t singing in the first place. As a founder member of the Serious Cricket Watchers’ Association the only sound you’ll ever get from me is polite applause, sssshhhh of vacuum flask or tupperwear sandwich box opening or head nodding asleep in the late afternoon.

England’s day starts well too. The Barmy Army, the legendary legion of English fans, so far split up by the ticketing arrangements, are in one cohort, a phalanx of support for their beleagured team. Four days of dispersal, unable to give clarion voice to their desire, is now over. They are one and make the most of it.

“We are the Army, the Barmy Army,
We are mental, and we are mad”

A new song, to the tune of You Are My Sunshine, and it fills every corner of the Gabba. You would think this was England, and England about to win. Had they been able to sit as one throughout the game it would have provided a tremendous psychological advantage. You don’t outdo the home support, do you?

For half-an-hour, never mind some corner of some foreign field being forever England, all Australia seems to be. Instead of being thrown out for standing up for their country, as may well have happened on the previous four days, they fill the replay screen at the ground and doubtless tvs throughout the continent, not to mention back home in England. It’s terrific. The Aussies love it. Even Brett Lee their fastest fast bowler, fielding at the boundary’s edge in front of them, shakes his hips to the rhythm.

It brings to mind Siegfried Sasssoon’s famous poem, of men marching to war and death. Everyone Sang – set by the late lamented jazz composer Neil Ardley a couple of years ago to be sung by the Bakewell Choral Society.

Everyone Sang

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on - on - and out of sight.
Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away . . . O, but EveryoneWas a bird; and
the song was wordless; the singing will never be done

The silence in the Gabba as the Barmy Army drew breath was sepulchral.

On the pitch it was pretty well over before the singing begun. Fourth ball of the day Pietersen hit Lee down Martyn’s throat at midwicket. The Fat Lady might have started to think about singing but she was drowned out by The Barmy Army.

Where do we go from here? The obvious answer is Adelaide, and I leave Brisbane behind hardly feeling I know the place.

Friendly but sharp, I’d call it. For me the contest started last Tuesday at Brisbane International Airport. Feet poised to tread on Australian soil, the customs officer asked

‘Come for the cricket? Packed plenty of tissues?’
‘Why no,’
I replied. ‘Sorry, but didn’t have you lot down as cry-babies.’

I’m lucky. As a poet I can take a dispassionate view, be detached from the hurt of losing that other English supporters inevitably feel beneath the shadow of Mount Gabba, their team falling 277 short of its summit. Of course the Australians lost last year, and maybe the impact of that had been forgotten in the lauding of the English team since then.

The Final Ball

five days hard cricket
pretty well going to plan
every run and every wicket
charts our course set on victory

no thought of commiseration
just a job well done
the emptiness of loss
is all too hard to bear
winning hard enough
but losing’s just begun