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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Friday, December 29, 2006

Melbourne Day Three – Capitulation

Sorry about late arrival of this piece. This was due to England’s performance yesterday, which means there will no further service on days four and five.

Just before setting off rung by Peter Baxter to appear on Test Match Special at lunchtime. Arrive at the MCG early enough to talk to staff about arranging clearance. Gwenne who takes me to the media centre mentions how she studied Dante at university. The Divine Comedies should be read by more, I say. Maybe the Inferno would make a better bet to describe England's plight.

Get to my seat just in time to see Symond's inning end with a waft to Harmison, caught Read. Interesting to compare Mahmood with Harmison, especially side-on. Stevo is like Meccano, an action all bolted together, angles and straight bits, which constantly needs nuts and bolts tightening up, tweaking, gears putting into mesh. Mahmood is slow springy silk drawn along a draper's counter, ruffled then smooth again in the final delivery. Worth perserving with, even if Warnie gives him some tonk.

The MCG is gladitorial. A third umpire decision really would be a hundred thousand thumbs or down to decide the batsman's fate. Warne makes merry, takes Australia to 419, England second dig 260 behind. ABC call for an interview at the ground before start of play tomorrow. It could be all over by then.

Over lunch I'm in the Test Match Special box with Jonathan Agnew. It's unnerving as it is an honour. Henry Blofeld says 'Cook comes forward and plays no stroke,' and instaneously I'm tucked safely away in bed in Bakewell tuned in earphone in ear.

Test Match Special

I met him at a match. Daddy played,
one of his last, mummy in charge of teas,
we both agreed he was quite a catch
to bowl out dad and make the winning hit.
Egg and cress with cuppa held with no delicacy;
gloved paws crushed the bone-china twixt my knees.

Asleep now, or maybe awake, ear-piece to ear,
(my Christmas present to him last year)
tows him from my side to Australia
so far away, his flannellette hirsuite back
brushes my nose, the texture of bat-pad or strange
marsupial. Was it so different at our nuptials?
The raised colonade of bats from church door
in the mirror-polish of the chauffeured car
didn’t quite put me at the top of the order.
Nets, committees, summer and winter tours,
coaching the juniors. At least, mum said,
you know what he’s up to – don’t you?

Where’s his head now? Next week in Sherbourne,
unjambing the utility door, on the list since the year before,
countless club accounts and planning applications
(on the cards since the year before,) grandsons’ birthdays,
(left or right handers; bats or bowlers.) Ungainly huddled,
drowsy he mumbles, sighs, then turns his head
to shadow the clock-radio’s score; three in the morning,
without warning he’ll yell ‘Shot! Stupid Fool! O no, not again’

- As if they’re listening to him down under, or me.
It’s only when it’s done, another Ashes series gone,
he rolls over, asking to be held like a small boy
lost in his mother’s arms.

Talking of ears, Glenn McGrath gives Strauss's a right mouthful as they walk off for their lunch. 'Might be a poem there' I say to Peter Baxter, the TMS producer, 'McGrath has this miserable demeanour.'

Grump, grump, grump I'm Glen McGrath,
Grump, grump, galumph, galgrumpalumph, I'm Glen McGrath,
I'll bend your ear from here to the dressing room
And back again, over after over till you edge or miss
The point of my delivery

Around me are some of the greats of the game.

Not just Jonathan Agnew, but summarising with Blowers is Ian Chappell, in whose stand I sat in at Adelaide, perhaps one of the shrewdest and rudest Australian cricketers ever. Geoff Boycott walks in and out and in the foyer Ian Botham is grabbing some lunch. Ahead of me Blowers interviews Dennis Amiss, who I last saw in the flesh score a double hundred thirty years ago against the West Indies at the Oval, and stiill finish on a losing side (

Dennis's deft footwork nearly takes all the leads with him, and I take his seat, a right-hander with two left feet. Agnew is an excellent and perceptive interviewer. 'I know nothing about poetry,' he asks 'but why are in one poem some lines in pairs and in another they're not.' I explain about techniques such as internal rhymes in V-8 batting

aussie cars come with muscle for extra hustle

From V-8 batting back to my seat above the Barmy Army Heavy Division. We're 72 for 3. Cook played on to Clark, Bell lb to McGrath, not quite getting far enough forward, and Pietersen promoted up the order so he doesn't run out of partners, drives round a straight one from Clark. Both Bell and Pietersen tuck their bats under their arms in similar fashion as they return to the dressing rooms. The Army still make enough noise for Brett Lee to pause and acknowledge the Oooooo! as he starts his run-up. As each wicket falls, the Aussie Fanatics prepare their come-back anthem 'Four-nil' to the tune of Auld Lang Syne.

In the commentary box they wonder why the BA start singing when they do. One aspect is them noticing the tv cameras coming their way, the media leading the march. Another is perhaps why the mad thrash outside off-stump. Like English batsmen, they just have to, just a matter of when.

Does the Barmy Army help or hinder those in the middle? If England's fielding then probably yes. I remember standing with the Barmy Army during the last session of the last Ashes Test at Old Trafford. Everyone was on their feet cheering England on to take the last Australian wickets. Pietersen fielding in the deep urged us to make more noise, to help the team toward the extra effort of victory. Batting, not nearly so sure. You're so focused, concentrating on the task at hand, it's like every ball is a penalty kick; you divorce the crowd from your mind. Collingwood drives Lee to short-midoff. 75 for 4. So much for my TMS prediction 217 for 3 at stumps. Brett Lee extravagently bows towards the jeers from the Barmy Army.

Next to me is a cut-out Freddie Flintoff, while the real thing clouts Warnie for a two bounce four over square. Nick Whitlock, a poet from Cordite Poetry rings and we arrange to meet at tea.

We agree to set the series into 11 line stanzas, one for each innings batting line up, he taking the Aussies, me the Poms. 'If you don't have to bat again, we've saved you some work.' I say.

England all out 161, two more than their first knock, knockers please note, an innings and ninety-nine runs defeat.


Ghosts of ghosts of ghosts. The moving hand
Having writ will move on. Each stroke of the pen
Is a mark to be recorded but not taken back.
It is edgier than the blade.

The English batsmen, nothing to lose
Having lost the greatest prize, play at playing.
Their strokes not worthy of themselves
nor their imagination. Out.

Bat under arm, an envelope sealed of a letter
They never wished to write:
An imposition in detention,
It is signed, sealed and delivered.
The long slow empty walk to a lost pavilion.

Ghosts of ghosts of ghosts,
The originals swear under their breaths
To weep real enough tears.