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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Monday, December 04, 2006

Adelaide Day Four Anticipation

Trekking along the Torrens on my way to the ground I overtake an elderly English couple with MCC straw hat (him) and matching cushions (her). She speeds up to overtake me. 'No need to rush,' I say 'You'll get in before the start of play.' 'I want to soak in some of the atmosphere.' I look up from the Torrens to the teeming thousands crossing the Adelaide Bridge. That is the atmosphere, I think, and in your rush to get into the ground you're missing it.

I catch up with her catching her breath at the start of the bridge. 'He's a little way behind,' I say. She doesn't reply, but her eyes speak volumes. We both know she's lying. This has nothing to do with soaking up atmosphere but making a point in their marriage. He's significantly frailer than her and couldn't keep up however hard he tried. I guess they had their tiff back in the hotel, and whatever the right and wrongs of it, she intends to wreak revenge. Maybe he lorded over her (the MCC pun is intentional) for most of their marriage, rather like as a kid our dog Bob and cat Pap before Bob bust his leg and Pap taunted him. So what. These are people who've travelled halfway round the world to be together, and she behaves like a spoilt child and bully.

I'm angry. Not just at her behaviour, but their relationship. Why couldn't they talk to each other to sort it out, rather than extend and deepen the difficulties in their relationship through lack of acknowledgement. Too often the English only express emotions through their denial.

Australians don't really mind. You can more or less sit where you like in a ground provided you don't try to sit on top of someone else. Even at the Gabba where the police would eject you for standing up and yelling, you could move around more or less where you fancied. It makes a lot of sense. Do you want to sit in the sun or the shade all day? You can socialise, take different angles on and off the paddock. In England, even if you know the person sitting next to you for more than a generation, if you're sitting in the 'wrong' seat, you both have to get up, shuffle across blankets, mustard pots, hot-water bottles, feet-warmers and dyhydrated Wisdens, so you're sitting in the 'right' seat. Social order isn't threatened, and Britain is great again. I imagine the MCC couple have this argument in bed as well as at the ground, assuming they share the same bed.

The cricket is slow and absorbing. For the first hour England seek a breakthorough to the tail end of Australia, while Clarke and Gilchrist, playing for place and form, survive and score with luck and skill in equal measure. After the interval the Barmy Army start up for the first time in earnest, but it's too late. Australia have saved the follow-on with Gilchrist depositing a long-handled fifty in the bank. The long-handle (holding the bat at the top rather than the bottom for greater leverage) the urge to get forward and fearlessly going arial, makes me think this is a latter-day left-handed Gilbert Jessop, aka The Croucher, aka The Office Emptier. Once too often Gillie smacks Gilo down Bellie's throat (if Bellies can have throats) - Gilchrist ct Bell b Giles 64.

After lunch Clarke and Warne kill off the game. The pitch is the only winner. Australia pass five hundred and England’s second innings starts at the end of the fourth day, more or less even stephens. Matthew Hoggard is a Hercules from Yorkshire taking 7 for 109, the second best ever by an Englishman at Adelaide. (The best is Farmer White of Hampshire in the 1929 Test described in yesterday’s poem.)


At times it must be like climbing onto the moors,
dog tugging the lead when mists and ran come down.
Hard to see, know where you are,
stumbling into rocks, bogs, uncertain of paths
that could lead to nowhere or circles,
worried you'll be out here beyond nightfall.

Whatever you do the elements take their toll,
sap the spirit till it seems easier to give up
than go on. The familiar world twists cruelly strange.
You climb each hill, break its back before
it breaks yours, seven times
for one hundred and nine long runs, dogged
against these hounds you never let off the leash.

Was this what to be anticipated before the start of play?

River Crossing

From the Torrens I see thousands teem across Adelaide Bridge
All on their way to the Oval for cricket.
In other times it might be a rock concert
Or refugees fleeing a heartless enemy.

But this is cricket, two sides joining together
to cros a river, its waters placid
to the burbling viaduct of soles above.

I shall join them soon, become one of many,
Another anonymous ticketed ripple
Pouring into the Oval, filling it to the brim
Around about the start of play.

Lock-keepers inspect our holds for proscribed cargoes
Against clearly marked manifests.
We pass through, jostling gates
For the bridge to fall quiet as the river it spans.

At the far end of the day, bails lifted
Pulls the plug on our seats and we stream out,
No locks or gates to bar our progress.

Were the hopes and fears ferried inside our holds
Ever realised? Why else teem across the Adelaide Bridge.