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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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Adelaide Day Five - Hubris

It started before I stepped on Australian soil. The Customs Man asked where my tissues were, I’d need them. I replied that I didn’t have them down for cry-babies. We were both right. The Green Baggies are many things but not cry babies, and England will need a lot more than paper hankies to retain the Ashes after played two, lost two.

It should be different.

Kay, my wife e-mails to say she heard me on Radio Derby this morning, and I sounded like I was dead tired and about to fall asleep. I was dead tired and about to fall asleep. It was recorded at eleven o'clock at night after watching too much slow cricket under too much slow sun - "He should complain. It's brass monkeys, freezing rain, fog, snow, ice, gale force winds and general miserableness in the run-up to Christmas. Bring us some of that Aussie sun."

I shall aim to sound pinkier and perkier tonight, and those reading this on will just have to imagine the joie de vivre in my voice.

You’re more likely to get anger.

However montonous my voice sounded yesterday, it's nothing compared to the pitch. Benjamin Disraeli, the 19th century Tory spinner, said there are lies, damn lies, statistics and cricket statistics, but seventeen wickets in twelve sessions (just under 1.5 wickets per session according to my pocket Frindaliser) speaks volumes in a dull monotonous railway announcer's voice. 'We regret to announce the fall of the next wicket will be delayed due to a total lack of life in the pitch.'

Talk at the start of the game was the dry weather - level two water restrictions, not quite the level four of Brisbane, could lead to wicket cracking up. 'Never mind level two, the ground staff might have to water it.' With superglue. You could land one of the many Boings that fly over at regular intervals on this track and still not leave a mark.

It's almost as bad as the Buxton to Stockport train Kay takes to work, which is delayed or cancelled due to leaves on the line, no leaves on the line, the wrong sort of leaves on the line, too hot, causing the rails to distort, too cold, causing the rails to distort, but basically the permanent way is knackered, and will remain so until the government decides to unknacker the railways.

If they do, Transport Secretary of State Douglas Alexander (and how many of you knew his name; I didn’t) should contact Les Burdett, groundsman, or curator as they're called here, about the Adelaide Oval. A railway made from this wicket would run forever. As I said to the security guy who checked my bag, they shouldn't have allowed this pitch in. Were Les ever to make car tyres, put me down for a set. I could hand them down to my children's children. This is the diametric opposite of a result wicket. You could play on this till the end of the Fifth Test at Sydney and still get a draw. At the end of the game, the South Australian Cricket Association could pulverise this Mogadon Special into sleeping pills for chronic insomniacs –

Two Burdetts before hitting the sack and you'll be sparko. Eight hours zeds guaranteed.'
'Gee thanks, Doc.'
Not to taken if you drive or use dangerous machinery.

Credit where credit's due. Les may have discovered the alchemist's dream - perpetual motion. As a kid with my threppence pocket money (one pence or three Aussie cents in new money) I often mithered about buying a Bassett's Everlasting Strip. This was a very long and thin stretch of toffee, designed to extract a lad's threppenny bit from the pocket of his short trousers. It did last a long time, about a day and half before there was only sticky paper remaining in my pocket. Les has cracked it. This wicket is an Everlasting Strip.

Only no one reminded the England batsmen.

Warne still extracts psychological mesmerism from somewhere, Strauss out for 34 caught off one which hit the pad. Then Bell's run out hesitating on Collingwood's call on a dab behind square. 70 for 2, 108 runs ahead. Game on.

Can England last out on the Everlasting Strip of the Century? No.

Warne reprises his ball of the century bowling Pietersen sweeping round his legs hitting off-stump. If anyone can take on the combined might of England and this pitch it's Warnie, but why does Pietersen sweep fifth ball in, when he never swept in his first innings big century?

The Barmy Army are conspicuous by their absence - where are they when Super-Super Freddie Flintoff comes to the crease, a captain's innings needed to save England?

I ignore Brit know-alls who are blathering on about how they saw Jonathan Agnew dressed up as a dog's dinner at a romantics do, but his wife looked stunning. None of them notice Gilchrist stand up to Clark, as Jones had to Hoggard. Safe enough on the Everlasting Strip with its slow regular bounce to keep batsmen in their crease for fear of stumping. The Brit know-alls all would have caught Ponting's hook that Giles spilled at the same time as responding to Collingwood's call which ended with Bell's run out. The game's always easier to play in the stands than in middle, but it does help to watch what's going on.

Flintoff ct Gilchrist b Lee 2. A useless waft outside off stump. 77 for 5. We're about to clutch defeat from the jaws of a draw. If the Green Baggies win this, the series and the Ashes are more or less lost. Two down, three to go is all but irretrievable. Seriously squidgy-bum time for us Poms.

Lunch comes 89 for 5. Far from watching paint dry while still in the tin, for the disinterested spectator this has been the most absorbing session of the game, if not the series. You can almost hear Fred Trueman up in heaven saying 'Funny game, cricket.' The English aren’t laughing.

Not so funny after lunch, as Jones goes fishing for a Brett Lee wide one to be pouched at gulley. Didn't see it. Think I've lost my mobile phone somewhere between My Place backpackers hostel and my seat in the Chappell stands (and talking of stands, neither Ian nor Greg would've contenanced the woeful England shot selection) Come back after lunch, they say. Lo and behold, I bump into John Turner of, who e-mailed to say he particularly liked yesterday's Matthew Hoggard poem, and perhaps we could meet...

My mobile's already taken three wickets at Brisbane. The near McGrath hat-trick, while away from the action talking to ITN radio, then final day ABC Radio Sydney call just as the ball leaves Pietersen's bat to go down Martyn's throat. Even without it I miss the demise of Jones. The roar goes up just as I enter the stands. Four or a wicket. The scoreboard tells all. Another victim to the Nokia 1100 wicket taker. Had I found it in the ground, I'd have dropped-kicked over the stands, one bounce into the Torrens River.

Natural Break

sooner or later over five days
nature calls outside intervals
you leave the arena all a rush
hasten necessities
praying for quiet.
A roar, is it four
or a wicket fall
in midstream?

the hiatus afterwards tells all
a measure of time elapsed
for the next bat to take guard
or bowler to return to his mark

if only a force of nature
why is it never what you want?

Warne gets Giles with a leg-spinner that bounces - maybe a puff of dust, Mr Burdett. He takes Hoggie with his googly. Barmy Army arrive in force, but it seems too late. Collingwood's still there, and his first innings double-century drew comparisons in the commentary box with Wellington, but not even Blutcher's Army could save England today. Sod 'drew comparisions.' All England are willing Collingwood and the tail to hold out for a draw after the top order have failed their profession.

Watching Australia in the field, there are no hysterics (except for the staged appeals, which are all part and parcel of being professional.) McGrath’s walk to his mark at long leg bears precisely the same demeanor when England were four hundred odd for three in the first innings or 118 for 8 in the second. Just another day at the office.

McGrath leaves his desk in the deep to step up to the mark to nab Harmison lbw. Nine down. 158 for victory. Even if Durham compatriot Collingwood delays the inevitable till tea, half-an-hour away, big Stevie has to step up to the plate, and then some to save England. The only way they can win the game is to do their damnedest to lose it. They've pretty well achieved the first part. Anderson out last ball before tea gives Australia two extra overs.

Not that they need them. Ten off the first over, 168 is made fairly easily, four wickets down and three overs to spare. Unlike the rest of the test on this last day it’s like watching men and boys, or Nyren’s XI thrashing the twentytwo of Muddleshire, or Ashford, a village near Bakewell, taking on Derbyshire for their annual charity game to raise cash for a new pavilion – a few good hits, loss of wickets but the difference in approach is palpable.

That's history and a charity match. This is the Ashes.

A View From The Bridge

All is fine.
No reefs, hidden sounds, rip-tides, storms, fogs
or unanticipated conditions,
the sea a milkpond mirror,
the final day an easy cruise ahead.

Too easy. Captain and crew conspire
to foul propellors, drift off-course,
lose way, take incorrect bearings
till the SS Five Day Draw
is dead in the water,
listing badly,
holed below the waterline,
leak pouring in, pumps unable to cope,
doomed for the depths.

Aussie destroyers race from their stations,
each lacing boundary a torpedo
to dispatch the hulk to the bottom
with all due speed and efficiency,
leaving survivors to fend for themselves.

England seem come-day, go-day, Australia ruthless. That's what hurts; everyone, fans, journalists, players who support England. The lack of professional acumen. I wrote that Adelaide Oval is so achingly beautiful you wouldn't mind watching your team lose there. That is, if they played to the standard befitting their and the ground's stature. If not, it hurts, and hurts bad, extra bad. Truth is beauty and beauty is truth, as Keats wrote, and England lost ugly today.

I’m angry, livid, bloody livid. I can’t remember seeing England bat so badly, although another supporter says they were as poor losing twice in Pakistan this time last year. All the supporters feel the same. This talk is called hubris, but a more exact term to sum up England fans, supporters and doubtless the team's feelings is XXXX, and not a reference to a Queensland beer.
Of course the Aussies fans love it. Even the Germans in the hostel say ‘Zwei-Nul’ (and the German cricket correspondent’s summing up of England’s batting performance ‘unmöglichisher schlecht’ – unbelievably bad. Let’s face it, it was about as poor as England’s inept display losing to Norway in the 1990 World Cup qualifiers:-

Captain Cook, W G Grace, Wilfred Rhodes, Hobbs and Sutcliffe, Percy Chapman, Wally Hammond, Douglas Jardine, Harold Larwood, Hedley Verity, Alec Bedser, Godfrey Evans, Sir Len Hutton, Jim Laker, Fred Truman, Ken Barrington, Ray Illingworth, John Snow, Derek Randall, Mike Brearley, Ian Botham, Bob Willis, Mike Atherton, Phil Tufnell and Dickie Bird,
Your boys took one hell of a beating.

Two Boxing Days ago I watched Coventry lose 3-1 to Leeds at home. It was the worst performance from the Sky Blues I’ve had the misfortune to witness, and there have been some X-rated shockers. Enough that if someone published Coventry City – The Fifty Worst Games it’d be a sell-out, and fans would argue its selection. The 3-1 Leeds game was the worst because not only were the team clueless, they weren’t even trying hard. No dedication or application. Manager Reid resigned straight afterwards.

England’s batting this morning in Adelaide made me feel the same, if anything worse, since they are more immeasurably more talented than Coventry, and had applied themselves well to the task at hand in the first innings. Forget the tissues, naughty boy nets, they need to queue up to give each other a bloody good kick up the arse first thing, otherwise this will be the longest of tours with the shortest itinerary for themselves and their fans.

England Expects Every Man To Do Their Duty

The ground should be empty, dead,
Everyone gone, the last hour not taken;
England have batted out their draw.

The only Aussies remaining,
Paid to stay behind, clear up the mess,
The rubbish, plastic beakers and pie-wrappers,
Dross. They do a good professional job for little reward.

Two teams already gone, ready to go on to Perth,
Adelaide rush hour stuffed with traffic going home
To comment and criticism restricted to the pitch.

The ground is full, the CBD deserted,
England's collapse mimics Jessop's prowess
To empty offices. As wickets tumble

To false shots that'd earn official rebuke
in the workplace, Aussie workers scent blood.
Precious little work done this afternoon,

Collars and ties outweigh t-shirts and shorts
as gleeful witness the inevitable loss
four wickets delay. Englanders are so angry

no sorrow and little respect remains
for players who failed to play professionally.
They need to stay behind, clear up the mess
they created in each of our hearts and their own.