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, December 03, 2006

Adelaide Day Three - Reassertion

Day Three - reassertion

Just as I fire up my palm-top Hoggard fires out Hayden caught behind 2 for 35, or 35 for 2. Whichever way you look at it, needing 352 just to avoid the follow-on, Australia are starting to stare down the barrel.

Last session Hoggard wore a black armband, in memory of the first person he got out, who died this week. This morning I received an e-mail from my twin-brother to say our last surviving aunt has passed away - doubt if she ever watched a cricket game in her life, but there is a sense of the eternal in cricket which in some strange way helps the living come to terms with the mortal loss of those we love.

Adelaide is also like an England ground in that the crowd fall quiet with each ball. At the Gabba, however taut the state of play (admittedly England were bandjaxed) there was always a burble of chatter, like the cicadas in the park, almost regardless of the passage of play or people.

Sandwiches. I'm staying at My Place, a backpacker's hostel on Waymouth Street. I'm about twice as old as anyone else there, and I'm not sure what they make of me. One lad came in late last night well oiled and asked about poetry. I think the English have to be drunk to talk literature with writers. He was impressed by the Collingwood poem of two days ago, but wanted some rhymes with a vulgar term to apply to Shane Warne. 'Front,' I thought, 'which he has and you haven't.'

Sandwiches. The Aussies just bring themselves to a match. The English always bring sandwiches to the cricket. The packed lunch, thermos flask of tea or coffee, possibly both, umbrellas, plastic mackintoshes, blankets, newspapers and books to read, and when they finally sit themselves down, get comfortable to start to watch the rain fall on the covers, they say 'Oh dash it, dear, we forgot to pack the English mustard to go with the pork pies. We will have to make do with the French.' This morning I was making my sarnies along with another English bloke (we're outnumbered about two to one by Germans, no idea why) It took me back forty-five years.

My twin-brother and I used to go and watch county cricket at Cheltenham College. The Cheltenham Festival, years before the term was borrowed then usurped by the arty-farty literarti. In the morning we'd go to one of the first supermarket chains in England, suitably named Finefare, buy the makings for lunch, prepare sandwiches - egg and tomato my favourite, luncheon meat a very poor second, and set off again. In a way I'm still doing much the same - it's just 12,000 rather than a mile to the grounds. Learning something new, asserting the right to experience other worlds.

Martyn won't be doing that for a while after edging Hoggard to Bell. The rifling inside the barrel is visible in the whites of the Australian eyes when Giles drops a Ponting hook at deep square leg.....

Catches Win Matches

I swear I saw it come straight off the bat
A small red dot growing to fill the sky
and ready myself to hold its descent,
feet well apart, steady, hand-eye practiced
co-ordination triggered to make the catch.

Arms above my head, a high-board
diver sure to end the ball's spin, tuck
and revolutions with a perfect re-entry
to soft sweatless cushioned plams. Welcome
a mob of celebration. Mates stare. I dropped it.

I don't see how. A safe pair of hands,
maybe I lost it coming out of the stands,
the red and white flags of Saint George
a dragon of distraction that swallowed
opportunity in a fiery display of Engerland.

Profit from your opponents errors is a basic tenet of playing cricket. Ponting and Hussey do just that. From 65 for 3 to the Poms to 3 for 185 at tea is steering the game to a draw. Mount Adelaide at 551 seems an easier climb than Mount Gabba.

Australia even win the tea-break.

The Real Thing

At tea Team Boony and Team Beefy
contest the Battle of The ´Tasches.
A relay race to pad up, run away
and back again. As close to reality
as a rhyme is to fidelity.
None watch curatorial staff
re-line the crease, tend the pitch;
nor they us, the throng critical of players
once they resume the damning area.

After tea Ponting and Hussey continue their reprise of Collingwood and Pietersen. Score just gone to 236, the nearest to a wicket a run-out which takes the length of a spinners over for the third umpire to adjudicate. Juries can make decisions quicker, and it all adds to the suspense, the entire world inside the ground glued to the replay screen. Nine wickets and 789 runs in nearly two days play indicates the pitch might slightly over-favour the batsman, even if Ponting normally doesn't need luck. The writing on the wall is a draw, and another wicket doesn't fall before stumps, (new ball almost due) you can start to chiesel D R A W in stone.

With the new ball Hoggard knocks the mawl from the mason’s hands. Two quick wickets, Ponting and Hussey, and the day ends Australia 312-5. Both sides would have accepted that at start of play. I think Australia have done better than England, Australians vice-versa. Hoggard’s done well. Four wickets out of five. He started in mourning. Perhaps we should commemorate the dead by celebrating their lives. The 1928-9 Ashes series was timeless, in both senses of the word...

Day of The Dead

on the occasion of the 8th Baggy Green Dinner, Saturday 2nd December, 2007 Adelaide and in commemoration of the Fourth Test 1929

Seven days hard yakka, they rise from the Ashes,
individual heroes all in teams to test their
undivided mettle. Close finish at the close,
seven days hard yakka, still they rise for the occasion.

We worship the memory, the more their breaths are done
short or long in the field, Jackson to Bradman,
White to Hammond, all eleven of each side
split by just a dozen runs after seven days hard yakka

in a field near a river watched by many,
attended by empire from a different era,
depression and bodyline still to come,
Adelaide will always welcome its heroes

whose ghostly boot-sprigs clatter down
and up pavilion steps. Some quick, some slow,
some two at a time, some quiet, near funereal,
a tattoo as sure as any scorecard of exploits

to become players of today. You may say
they do not bear compare with yesteryears’
titans, god-bestowed elegance of performance
to mist over the grind of seven days hard yakka.

Turn for confirmation and you shall hear nothing.
Nothing from them, for other matters call
at the end of their days, boots, bats, pads,
sweated armoury, undone yet not yet stowed away,

half-abandoned, stranded in an unwashed canvas
of labour against dressing room tiers
bear witness to these invisible spectres
off to share a few cool ones with posterity they created.