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, November 06, 2006

The Basic Deal

A Poet In A Coffin
Ashes Tests Australia 23rd November 2006 – 6th January 2007

Coffin n. …Long sturdy box-like bag with canvas carrying handles and lengthways opening specifically designed for cricket players to carry their equipment and hopes.

This isn't really a coffin; you couldn't quite fit yourself into it, never mind your hopes, dreams and fears. It's a cricket bag which could be at least a hundred years old, owned by Peter Richards, one of the oldest players at Stafford Cricket Club. As a young boy he remembered his father using it before him. The Ashes go back even longer ...

“Sing, goddess, the games of young men, who are fighting
With willow bats and balls and stumps
On the levelled pitch, as before, in the Antipodes.”

(translation and transmutation from the original ancient greek Odysessy and Iliad by David Steadman)


To dispatch a poet, David Fine, to the Antipodes for the next five test matches between England and Australia in order to describe and explain the series in poetry, and explore the relationship between the two sides, supporters and countries as a poetical anthropologist.


· Twenty five poems, one for each day’s play in the five tests between 23rd November 2006 – 6th January 2007. This would be the key outcome. An example, Gardening With Afridi, from last season’s overseas’ tours, is included below:-
· Working with The Barmy Army and others to review literary horizons and appeal of poetry…
· A poetical-anthropological series of essays; style between Bill Bryson & C L R James
· A regular end-of-play radio programme reflecting the atmosphere and feel around the game itself – a radio essay for Radio Derby after the end of play each day and Peak Support will provide all equipment and training for me to do this.
· report back to National Association of Literature Development on Australian literature development

Here's the poem which gave me the idea last January:-

Gardening With Afridi

With a wave
of the hand the umpire signals four
to move the scorers’ score behind their boundary edge
while commentators caw at the kites’ wait
to escalate up and down a local thermal’s ledge
which sentinels the parched dry sky above the city.

Waves of air bowlers seek to bend off straight,
sun beats shadows, police beat stands, heart beats still,
ball beats bat, audible snick, the crowd’s roar
a signal beyond the ionosphere
lobbed back by the keeper of the BBC
through a field of critically stationed orbiting
acolytes:close-in astral catchers pouch each chance
to sledge the sound thousands of miles back to me

alone admid mid-November scruffiness;
the undug plot a leafless scoresheet, unweeded,
ready to be broken by spade and forked
over to break again, frost opening a perennial innings
near the start and heart of earth’s eventual disintegration
to nothing. Long waves halfway around the world.

A bombscare. The entire ground stops to stare
and Shahid Afridi plants his boot on the length
of the pitch to turn over earth like me - no one else watching.
Given the intent of the marks he made,
could he not do with my fork and spade?
Word are spoken, a shrug and a glare mid-wicket,
“This isn’t cricket,” they say on the air,
“He’s sure to cop it.” Rogation to follow his boots’ rotation,
a worm at my feet tries to wriggle away.

Close of play at the start of my day,
shadows stretch across the ground
as the same sun sneaks up the hill of wind-stripped beeches
behind my back. In Faisalabad, Derbyshire, I hear
the mullahs call the faithful to prayer.
Minaret horns blare from the wireless world
before they go off air. Alone Shahid slips
the field to face his maker’s mark and means.
Together we stop to flick sweat from our
brow at the wonder of it all. I’m gardening with Afridi.

Shahid Afridi, a Pathan and Pakistan’s equivalent of Freddie Flintoff (except he’s an even more ferocious hitter) was caught illegally scuffing up the wicket in the Second Test at Faisalabad last November I was digging the allotment at the time, just before succumbing to viral/rheumatoid arthritis which prevented me doing most things except think for four months.