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 18, 2006

Perth Day Five - final lights

England needs some English rain to keep the embers of the Ashes alive. The skies are overcast but not as overcast as England’s hopes.

First few overs Pietersen and Flintoff play and miss, then suddenly just before the half-hour Freddie goes beserk. Hitting straight and hard, no meaningless wafts. Thirteen off Lee’s first over, thirty-odd in two dozen or so balls, three hundred up. Enter Warne. As Trundler Selvey says in The Grauniad. "It isn't over till the Fat Boy spins."

Freddie hooks Lee over Hussey for six to raise the fifty partnership. KP has scored nine of them. Kerry O'Keefe burbles on about Perth's beautiful sunsets over the Indian Ocean. Sod that. Time to retune to Aggers. Drinks without a wicket loss

Sharp piece of work by Hussey at short-leg nearly runs out Pietersen. The third umpire takes the time I need to write half-a-dozen paras to come to a decision. Pure theatre. The agony is agony, not least for Pietersen; what will be the verdict, are you ready, stare at the replay screen with all the spectators, umpires, players, Pietersen and Hussey.

'3rd Umpires Decision'


'Don't turn away, it's getting X-rated' says Mark Nicholas before the ads break. Pietersen on-drives Warne to the ropes for his fifty. Flintoff chinese-cuts McGrath for his. 335 for 5. Just over two hundred to get. A mere bagatelle.

Warne contines to yell, query and plead for everything. When and if he retires, a career as a barrister for the defence should appeal to the Clarence Darrow of the crease. The umpire is unmoved. Like the Little Britain "Computer says no." "Rudi Koertzen says no."

Two balls later Selvey's Fat Boy does Freddy with a drifting slider, cleaned bowled 51. The candle's half-guttering glow dims more weakly. Enter keeper Jones on a pair. Run-out à la Hussey by Ponting for, that’s right, a pair. Warnie thinks it's another lbw notch to his seven hundred target; he needs another two, otherwise Melbourne and home territory of the MCG. Geraint Jones’s slight figure returns to the pavilion still smaller, virtually no wax left in the candle’s tank as English fortunes contine to wane.

It's Parfitt time. Back in the sixties when I learned to play, watch and listen to cricket, I remember England in a hopeless jam and thinking 'Never mind, Parfitt's in at number seven." About the same time as Parfitt was out for crumbs, I realised my brain had gone throuigh exactly the same thought processes with Parfitt in the Test before. All due respect to the Middlesex left-handed batting all-rounder, there is no cure. To misquote Robert Palmer 'You might as well face it, you're addicted to loss.'

Sajid Mahmood's worth a few, I reckon, like Parfitt, could get through to tea. Lbw for four to a Stuart Clark yorker you could see swing in but were as near powerless as Mahmood to stop its inevitable progress. 8 for 345, score written the Australian way because this is Australia Day.

Warne's first ball to Harmison thuds the pad. Yell, query, plead. Rudi Koertzen says yes.

Enter The Monty. Mobile throbs in my shorts pocket. Channel Four Radio.

‘How’s it going?’
‘Not too bad. Monty’s in. If he can shield the strike from Pietersen we should be alright.’

We agree to do an interview some time after lunch. Won’t be more than half-an-hour I tell them.

Ever the optimist. It’s done with two balls after lunch. Monty cleaned bowled Warne, 699 test wickets since debut. The crowd go bonkers.

YAHOO, says the replay screen AUSTRALIA WIN BACK THE ASHES.

One of their players shouts into the microphone ‘You bloody beauty.’

Doesn’t matter that Yahoos in Swift’s Gulliver's Travels were ‘vile and savage creatures, filthy and with unpleasant habits, resembling human beings far too closely for the liking of Lemuel Gulliver’ (Wikipedia) The Aussies have won back the Ashes

- As they’d delight telling the Dean of Dublin in no uncertain terms. I can’t quite share their enthusiasm and joy, never mind the ear-to-ear grins, but do appreciate their jubilation. A dad with his two boys in the row ahead will be able to talk long into their futures about the Monday before Christmas when they watched Australia regain the Ashes. I’m reminded of the time when Coventry won the FA Cup in 1987. I turned to my eldest brother Daniel, both of us close to tears in our eyes to match our ear-to-ear grins. ‘Nothing else to live for,’ he said.

What of the English fans? The Barmy Army, and the millions listening or watching at about four in the morning, cold, bleak, damp, miserable, needing about four layers just to get out of bed? Hard to say. A numbness. Acceptance of inevitability. The loss of all hope, as well as the Ashes. The Barmy Army stay mass-ranked, singing their best in the face of cataclysmic disaster. If the pubs run out of beer it’ll be a tragedy.

On the way home there is one of those strange moments that come to pass in unfamiliar lands. In the park west of the Waca is a model of the ground, flower-beds, petunias in the main, as the stands, players awning-pegs painted white and the six floodlight towers adaptation of plastic rakes, each ‘Made in Australia.’ I can just hear the Barmy Army, the last to leave, chant Engerland, Engerland, Engerland.

The English players must now feel about as small as the models in the park. I take the Channel Four call, and as we talk the park staff come and remove all the players and floodlights to leave nothing but a bare stage.

Shakespeare had it about right.

“It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Ode To Contest – Third Test, Perth, England lose, and lose hold of the Ashes

Behind the bowler’s arm, scoreboard obscured,
Cloudy day, rain forecast but unlikely,
England’s prayers rest with God Almighty.
Two tall hopes nearly out before they’ve scored,
Fred survives, a tide of drives floods the boards,
Stupendous risk for six hooked off Brett Lee,
None down at drinks, game on, yet unlikely.
Braced danger-laced half-centuries yield applause
That courts the final strike. Five quick blows
Ends it all. All Australia rejoices;
Reclaims their men who reclaimed the Ashes
Against time and England’s proudest voices
Stilled. Half by half by half each candle’s ghost
Bleakens the dark hearth burnt out by your host.