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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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Brisbane Day 2 Didn't quite make it

New day more pride
But Harmie's started
With another wide

Not me but Paul Herrick - all will be explained. Just let’s say for now, Harmison again put his first ball on a sixpence, the one he left off the cut square yesterday. In relation to the mud of Flanders mentioned previously, he remains consistent, and consistency is all, especially with regards custard.

Entry into the ground was much easier this time. So easy I did it twice in search of Section 49 where I was due to meet Ian Payne and Paul Herrick to do something for ITV viewers. The guy who took my ticket pointed me in the wrong direction which meant going out of the ground again to get it right. We decided to film at lunch, and missed nothing significant as Australia made England toil

Up Against It Australia 4-407 Hussey bowled Flintoff

Each wicket a point on an English chart
Of hopes on a voyage round Australia.
No reefs, storms, rip-tides, sand-bars and currents,
Just a long lonely barren ocean of sweat
In the sun before the next wicket’s fall.

Cool, below decks, thieves plot their destiny

Come lunch England are without a prayer. Ian and Paul gathered a multitude to film while I lead them in worship....

The Lords’ Prayer

Our Freddie, the heart of our eleven,
willowed be thy name.
Thy Century come, thy will be done,
from Perth unto the Gabba.
Bowl each day your daily jaffas
and smite Warne mightily all your slog-swept sixes
as Warnie smites those who trespass against him.
But heed us when close to temptation
and shield the Ashes from evil:
for thine is the century, the fivefor and the glory
for ever and ever.

It sort of works. In the next session four wickets go down including the avaricious mephistopheles Ponting, 196, lbw Hoggard, when it looked to all intents and purposes that we’d need the frigate, Diamantina shored up on the Brisbane river, to fire out the blighter, but England eventually face six hundred, each four umpire Bowden signals like a farmer attempting to scythe the final daisy which is not quite within reach. The Grim Reaper.

I can imagine Christopher Martin-Jenkins in the Test Match Special Radio commentary box saying ‘England have a real mountain to climb.’

The Ascent of Mount Gabba

Six hundred and two is far more than a stiff climb.
Inside the poms’ dressing room it’s squidgy bum time;
Advance party leave base-camp, equipment checked
Against endless fury they’ll face beyond tent flaps;
Those inside hope against hope they will be some time.
Just out of sight, twenty eight steps taken well in hand,
One falls, hooked off a precipice overhung with risk.
Rescue party sent, immediate slip to slip
Second to second, rescuers can but observe.
Elements ancient magnificent accuracy
Of dispatch. Furies howl and yell, scenting more blood
Not much further on, base camp abandoned, useless
They hold onto each other, forced alone, a fall.
In the coldness of heat they find purchase enough
To sleep the night amid dreams of their dead.

To be continued on the second day of the Ascent if not beyond.

Chastened we wend our way home back across the Brisbane River, the frigate Diamantina at the Queensland Maritime Museum surrounded by smugly grinning Australians, including the funnels and ventilators of the HMAS Diamantina, in anticipation of unexpected English visitors on the last two days of the test match, having failed to get half-way up Mount Gabba.

But I strike gold on my way home. Never mind Flintoff blowing Jaffas, none of the cafes and convenience stores sell fruit. Woolworths does, by the bucket load. I stock up for my lunches. And if England were to reach the summit of Mount Gabba, these fine Australian products will taste especially sweet.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Brisbane Day 1 Nearly Didn’t Get In

Wandered out of the hotel just after eight to catch one of the free buses to the ground. Queues the length of Brisbane. Our luck’s in; being with a spread-betting magnate, we find the only vacant cab in town, and rush the rush hour traffic to the ground. Plenty of time to find my seat to soak in the atmosphere and sun-block. No worries.

No such luck. Waiting to go through the turnstiles, a friendly Aussie who knows more than me about Brisbane poetry says ‘Heard of Ross Clark?’ only to spring from Mark Waugh’s poetic qualities to the prosaic and immutable fact they won’t let me into the ground.

News to me, and thousands of others, since they only changed the rules just ahead of the game. Very carefully back in Blighty I had planned and packed a day bag, to the point of negotiating with Loz, our eleven year old daughter, to take her school bag in exchange for a new one ‘Mine’s too small for all the stuff we have to carry to Lady Manners,’ she says.

Clearly too big for The Gabba, capacity 45,000, and conforming to Cricket Australia The Ashes Down Under Official Travel Guide of Cricket Australia “Coolers, eskies and other belongings must be stored under your seat.” I join another queue to find I have to pay $5 (about two quid) for the privilege of disobeying rules I didn’t know about, or obeying rules I did know about. I wasn’t about to argue; sports fans the world over know you can’t win with sports authorities and there was a queue as long as Brisbane behind me. ‘You wouldn’t happen to have a plastic bag I can take my belongings in with.’
‘No, sorry.’

I’m missing something here which Bill Bryson would have nailed into the bleachers. The reason people carry bags is to carry things inside them. If you take away their bags, that still leaves the things they were carrying – like water, sun-block, not to mention a copy of Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, Man Booker short list from Australia. In other words, the stuff to keep humanity fit and well watching a game. You’d probably probably think ‘Won’t they need a plastic bag to keep those things in, especially as we’re charging them $5 to change the rules without their knowing.’

No, sorry. I look wistfully at the 7-11 across the road with trillions of plastic bags with the queue of Brisbane between them and me. Only connect, as E M Forster said (and Ricky Ponting did.)

Two fans in England shirts decide to get shirty with a whiteshirt bloke with raybans, blue-tooth in one ear, walkie talkie to the other, and The Great Australia Desert in between. ‘It’s in the papers,’ he snarls. True. One line in a copy of The Courier Mail ‘Serving Queensland since 1846’ left in the ground “Spectators also have been warned to arrive at the ground early to clear security and not to take large handbags, backpacks and coolers” Liam Plunkett’s drink-drive incident receives four column inches below another ten about Queensland public servants attending the game, doubtless at the expense of their public.

You can’t win. Sports fans the whole world over are victims, ultimately of themselves. At the end of the day, I retrieved Loz’s old bag and asked how I might complain. ‘Cricket Australia.’ I shall, and advise them to get in touch with The Bakewell Show Committee who are one of the best organisations in the world at running large crowd events over several days.

The Gabba is the future. No pavilion, no ends, an oval with a stretched steel roof, it looks like the Starship Enterprise has landed. ‘It is a cricket ground, Jim, but not as we know it.’ Actually it’s not a cricket ground. It’s a sports arena where they play cricket, football – league and Aussie rules, but not soccer – and what’s more in the middle of the night, when no one’s watching it takes off on stupendous missions throughout the universe…

Stardate 346 for 3. Skipper’s Log Of The StrineShip Enterprise. Our mission? To boldly be more Australian than no Australian’s ever been before.

The real action of the day was before play started. Australia won the toss and Punter Ponting decided to bat, both as a team and for himself.

This is a shirt-front pitch. Not that the first ball of the series hits it. A wide from Harmison which 2nd slip takes. Rueful grins all round.

One ball hits the pads in the first hour, pretty well none for the rest of the day. Still Langer edges just wide so many times, if he were a cat he’d be dead by now.

The swifts swoop down just before each drinks interval, where a gigantic yellow and green plastic monstrosity wheels itself onto the pitch. It’s from America, the Gatorade Carrier. It looks like a cross between a Sino-Soviet Cold War May Day Parade unknown missile device and a prop from Woody Allen’s Every Thing You Want To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask – the scene where Woody plays a reluctant sperm. You don’t get this at Lords, where the members might well have forgotten what sperm were and were for, even if a horde of them (sperm not members) rushed the Long Room and willowed everyone over the heads with Sloghard Thugbusters.

Ponting’s bat is more a magic wand that takes the game from England to Australia.

Just before lunch Ashley Giles comes on for an over.

From Our Parliamentary Correspondent

After a season’s recess
The International House resumed sitting.
Across the dispatch box
Mr A F Giles, member for Warwickshire and England, faced
Captain R T Ponting, Tasmania and Australia,
who immediately lept from his place at the dispatch box
and smote the member for Warwickshire and England’s
very first question high into the opposition’s back benches.
The member for Warwickshire and England
returned to his mark to resume questioning.

Mid session between lunch and tea the game changes. Australia know they shouldn’t lose, and England are looking more at a draw. Ian Bell comes on after tea to bowl in tandem with Giles. Here’s one for the Frindaliser Drive which powers the Strineship Enterprise, and all you cricket stattos. When was the last time two Warwickshire players bowled in tandem for England?

Ponting isn’t about statistics, although his century equals Steve Waugh’s record and tomorrow he might go past 226, the highest score at the Gabba, posted by Don Bradman.

Viewing the game side on just behind square you appreciate the quickness and class of Ponting. Feet move early, bat plays late. Fantastic. Ponting doesn’t get the adulation I think he deserves for style. Australian teams are meant to be efficient more than stylish. Ponting is both. Flintoff does his all to try and get his man.

Brisbane End of Day One Australia 346 for 3 A Flintoff 2 for 42 R T Ponting 137 no

The Blacksmith and The Dancer

Down they come, twenty-four hammering blows
Run up against the anvil of the crease,
England’s finest, leader of tall strong men
Pounds a flat pitch to make something from nothing.

Red-hot ignots bounce and spit from the anvil
Of Thor from the north to thud pain and fury
Even into the gloves of his own keeper
Three pitches distant from the beginning.

Those in the middle dodge hurtling force,
The smell of singed leather beneath noses
Sears their minds long after danger passes
Till an opener edges heat and is gone.

The dancer comes. Small, slick-quick tip-toe feet
A ballet pump or conductor’s baton
In his hands against Thor’s redoubled thunder
Strong enough to break his own braw bones
In the pursuit of forging victories.

The dancer banishes other tradesmen.
No interest but the blacksmith’s anvil,
Each hammerblow a pirouette, paso
Doble, cock a snook at the once red-hot ignot

Now dulled with dancers’ taps as the floor
For clubbing when clubbing has been done,
Small feet and hours from Hobart unto Accrington,
The dancer and the blacksmith each know the score.

The dancer needs the smith to play
As the smith the dancer’s touch
To end the dancer’s say.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Preparing for the Worst - Brisbane Day Zero

One thing I won't miss leaving England is the next series of "I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here."

Andy Warhol stated everyone's famous for fifteen minutes, but this is taking has-beens-who-never-were into an eternity of tv purgatory – for all of us. The ex-husband of Lisa Minelli is scarcely omega list.

Kay and Laurel swear they hardly ever watch it, yet they discuss all the nonentities that do nonsensical things. I share the house with psychics. In my worst nightmares I find Don and Dec encouraging me on a Bushtucker Trial. (What aborigines make of these is anyone's guess) I bite off everyone's heads, finishing the ordeal by chewing out Don and Dec in the search for brains. Look on the positive side; at least it would be the end of my and all their tv careers and I'm not a Celebrity, Get me into Here.

It's probably harder now to get into The Gabba, where the first test starts tomorrow. Sell-out months ago, days after they went on sale.

Pundits reckon England are in for a caning. Maybe not the 5-0 prediction the environmentally aware Glen McGrath's recycling from last year. A forecast almost as boring as its actuality, but infinity better than “I'm Really Desperate, I'll Eat My Own Toe-Nail Clippings” in front of Don and Dec, my family and other animals. That’s a point; if Kay and Loz are psychic, why do they need to watch it?

People ask me my view about how the series will go – the real series, the big one, in Brisbane, Queensland not “I’m A Mobile Phone Number In Search Of An Identity”. I play cute, offering no shot to a wide one outside off-stump. "Two-one," I reply, "Not sure which side." In the last couple of weeks as tension heightens, I'm told to bring back the Ashes, which may demonstrate the value of poetry, but seems a pretty tall order, especially as I'm a short-arse who hasn't played cricket seriously for nearly forty years.

Worse, they're starting to say "Don't come back without them." And when I protest, I get "We know who to blame if we lose." In one breath they tell me it’s their taxes that’s paying for my odyssey, the next make sure we win. Poet’s can’t – either make sure, or win.

England did last summer, which is why I'm in Brisbane writing this. Just remember that, dear Australian readers. If you’d not lost the Ashes last summer, you wouldn’t be blessed with a pom poet in your midst. Every cloud has a silver, or green baggie lining.

Had Old McGrath's Almanac proved right, 5-0 the Gabba would probably be close to empty, and I don't think there'd be an iota of interest in an English poet going to Australia to record another pom drubbing.

Cricket Walkabout is a book about the first Australian cricket tour to England in 1867-68 by John Mulvaney and Rex Harcourt. The team were aborigines and sailed instead of flew. The Gabba is an aboriginal name, the back-end of Woolloongabba, the surburb of the ground. “There are two theories about its meaning, some believing it means ‘whirling waters’ while others say it represents ‘fight talk place’” according to Cricket Australia’s The Ashes Down Under – official travel guide of Cricket Australia. Could be a poem in there somewhere - Woolloongabba, not the official travel guide bit - even if only the beer spilled between aboriginal lexicographical disputees.

At the moment the Barmy Army are playing the Fanatics as a pipe-opener for tomorrow’s contest. At the same time players and umpires, ground-staff, hospitality, security, media technicians and reporters (800 press passes according to The Australian – I’m sitting in the stands in case you’re wondering) are all getting ready; ready for the big one. Barmy Army vs Fanatics must be closer to the first tour of 1866-67. Not too many to watch, keen and fairly contested, just one or two people from the media. The strange and lovely thing is that they’re each recognisably the same game. Lose that and the spirit of cricket’s lost too.

We’ll be keen to see what happens:-

First Ball 10.00am local time, The Gabba, Brisbane

The toss, decision to bat or bowl, team selection
and media games, noises off the field.

Set and survey, bat makes mark, bowler back to his


admidst the hush, arm comes over, bat into line,
each grooved, almost automatic. Whatever its outcome

wicket, boundary boards, full face or edge, play
and miss, a middled middling dot in the scorebook

the glance between bat and ball as the field resumes
its mark for five more balls and many more
over five five day matches will tell all

they’ll know before sledge or smile
who has won the very first ball


Woolloongabba they come from far
they come from far to play to play
Woolloongabba Woolloongabba

Waters whirling winds in our hearts
Wind still whirling whirling waters
Whirling fight talk place noisome boys
Warriors outdo warriors

place to talk fight die and share
drowning placentas whirling waters
Woolloongabba Woolloongabba

Balance The World On The Edge Of A Blade

We're 33,000 feet above a globe flying from one point to its antipode. Do the Australians refer to the British Isles as the Antipodes? In terms of relative size the antipodean equivalent of Australia is Europe, including Russia to the Urals. It's all a question of geography, distance and time. It'll take us about 24 hours elapsed time to reach Australia - a killer of journey, seasoned travellers say, but a moment compared to half a year or more it took for Van Diemen, Tasman and Cook to navigate the seas below us. Cook landed about the same time as Thomas Lord opened his first cricket ground - near Baker Street Tube, later sold to Regency developers to fund a move to St John's Wood, and doubtless line Lord's pockets. In those days it was sail, and the environmental impact was miniscule. The first Australian touring team, Aborigines, sailed in 1866. Top speed, at best Glen McGrath approaching the wicket, at worst a stalled walk back having been dispatched to the boards.

Snooze, film, sleep, airline food, small talk, and a poem 'Courage of Convictions’ written over the Balkans, and we're coming into Kuala Lumpur, a place so unknown to me I need to check its spelling. The clouds below the window drift away. Spelling apart, what other damage have I done to the world?

You can't see global warming. Its effects may be catastrophic, long-term and irreversible - like radioactivity. If you could see or smell either, like smoke and sulphur from an industrial plant, we might be more appreciative of its dangers, and willing to do something about it.

It's been on the radar for decades. First mention in the mid-seventies, when oxygen-isotope measures from glacial ice cores were used to reckon climatic conditions tens of thousands of years ago to the last ice age. A positive use of radioactivity which I came across studying prehistory at Sheffield University while the other side of Steel City was still belting out smoke and sulphur. A learned article suggested these oxygen isotope
cores were indicating global warming from about 1900 onwards....

Where are we now? All but George W Bush agree it's happening, and all too few are doing all too little to stop it.

You can.

I'm going to carbon-balance Ashes Poetry. Carbon balance works like this. The chief agent of global warming is carbon-dioxide. Plant life takes in CO2, so if you pay for plantings - to afforest deforested rain forests, say - it balances the CO2 your plane exhales taking you to where you want to go. Simple. Go to credit/debit card or cheque book in hand.

Some like George Monbiot reckon carbon balancing doesn't work. Hard to say, just as it's hard to say how weather and climate works too. The basic physics is simple, just a global heat engine, but its mechanics are extremely complex and tricky to measure. Rather like watching a kettle boil - except once it's boiling not even God can take the earth out of the heavens to stop it boiling.

We're now two hours from Brisbane, on a different plane if not dimension. Kuala Lumpur airport is magnificent - beautiful design, clean, quiet and uncluttered. I'm an old-fashioned beer-powered steam train man, where airports as points of departure have the same conceptual cachet as a bus or filling station. To impress me it has to be something, and it is.

It still doesn't reduce global warming, just as glitzy cigarette packaging won't stop you getting cancer. There is a difference. I can choose to smoke myself to death; I've no real say in the climate that Loz, my eleven year old daughter, will inherit. It makes my jam-kettle blood boil that the President of the United States of America can choose to jeopardise the life of our and everyone's else's children. Not because it's a cretinous decision, which is an insult to cretins who have no control over their unfortunate condition, but because Bush has a global choice where he's stuffing the whole wide world and its future.

It's not cricket. It's an environmental tyranny and dictatorship. By carbon balancing my Ashes Odyssey, I aim to achieve:-

reduction in global warming
greater awareness of the problem
others doing the same

If you want to reduce global warming by carbon balancing, click the carbon trust, who may well be planting countless stands of willow, since one of their patrons is David Gower, classic left-handed elegance at the crease and now the Sky commentary box.

If like me you're short of the readies - hardly surprising, given it could be a trip of a lifetime and you don't want a lack of cash to take anything away - then why not carbon balance after you return? Global warming isn’t going to go away by your or the world’s bank balance improving.

The devastion of New Orleans may just be the tip of a melted ice-cap. If something isn't done soon about global warming we better start thinking playing the Ashes under water because all the test match grounds at each end of the Antipodes will be flooded.

Glug, glug, glug. Sticky wicket. Glug, glug, glug.

Go on, credit Play and pay with the full face of the bat. No point trying to balance our future on its edge. Unlike even a David Gower, the world doesn’t get a second knock.

Talking of the right stuff...

Courage Of Convictions

Some good, some bad, and some ordinary
people the wrong side of the law to hold
their breath against the creak of deck, rope and
canvas; fixed blank stars slowly alter course

Of lives, destiny and political
aspirations. Now history. Not then.
No going back. No return to the old
Till the end of each testing sentence

Whose surf, shore and hinterland are unknown,
prime and aboriginal. Imprisoned
by nothing but the land’s fresh horizons
how could all survive, endure and flourish?

Today twenty-two flannelled fools replay
Australia, set to court failure
on no other grounds.

Chance To Rhyme

A Kwik Guide How to Write A Half-Way Decent Ashes Song

The Barmy Army don't just support England at Test Matches. They play cricket - including thrashing their Aussie equivalents The Fanatics on the eve of the First Test at Brisbane - support Chance To Shine to enable more youngsters to join in and learn the game, charities, and now the opportunity of a lifetime ...

Do you want to win a trip of a lifetime for two, all flights and acccomodation thrown in with tickets for the last two Tests? Smack for details of this fantastic opportunity sponsored by Phones4U - closing date 30 November

Do Some Research

Before you start singing in the bath or scribbling on back of envelopes, look at the Barmy Harmonies on , and search under appropriate key words for Australian retorts to see how others do it.


Apart from those you sing in, there are four keys:-


WIT is what makes it stand out - like 'Let's Twist Again, Like Shahid Afridi' a wry reference to Shahid's illegal pitch scuffing in Faisalabad.

REPEATABILITY covers two things. Firstly, no offence but it must not be offensive. Rude, vulgar, if you want, but nothing racist, homophoebic or otherwise offensive. It'll be binned. Second, it has to be sung on the terraces. This means it needs a relatively simple and strong structure, if not words, with a degree of repeated lines or choruses so it's easy to remember without looking at a hymn sheet, and still join in if the memory fails – as it does with plenty of beer and sun

ACCESSIBILITY Repeatability means almost all terrace anthems are adaptations of earlier songs. You can try to write your own tune too but it's easier to use someone else's. This is because if people already know the tune, it's easier for them too - they just have to remember your words. It's easier all round. Choosing the tune is where the je ne sais quoi comes in. It needs to be memorable - from hymns to charts, catchy classics is the best catch-all. And it needs to be easily singable - a reworking of Mozart's Requiem Mass, still in Latin, however witty, is unlikely to succeed. As Gary Taylor, who wrote ‘Show Me The Way To Shane Warne's villa?', put it, the tune comes first. It might arise from a phrase which brings to mind the melody but you then need to fit the words to the music, not vice-versa.

PATHOS - could be a clincher. This is the tingle-factor. Anfield's 'Walk On.' Wales' 'Bread of Heaven' - it's respecting something other than your team, even the opposition....

Here’s one based on the modification of the lyrics of When This Lousy War is Over, from “Oh What A Lovely War”; Joan Littlewood, based on the original hymn 'What a Friend we have in Jesus'; Joseph Scriven.

When this Ashes Tour is Over

When this Ashes tour is over
No more cricketing for me,
I shall put my commentator’s mike on
To give expert summary on tv.

No more gloving Stevie Harmison,
No more edging Hoggie to the slips,
I shall kiss the gold of my green baggie,
God, I'll miss this whence it leaves my lips.

This has elements of all four keys - not much repeatability except the rhyme. Might be outside the singing range of the Barmy Army, still less the Fanatics (the Aussie’s equivalent) but the BA belt out Jerusalem…….

Other hints:-

• Make sure your words fit.
• Know the tune inside out - hum it, whistle it, eat it, and then check your words fit the tune. The tune is all, so again, don't try to scrunch or stretch the tune to the words.
• Too often people, including me, try to fit too many words in.
• Work with a pal, partner, pet or other animate object – most songs are written by pairs from Gilbert & Sullivan “I am the model of a Pom watching cricket in Australia…”
• Finally, sing it out loud before sending it anywhere else.

How else can you make sure it works?

Here are a three starters for ten

Hoggard, Hoggard, Hoggard,
Keep it up and swinging, Hoggard

to the tune of Rawhide (Remember The Blues Brothers Good Ol' Boys club scene?)

Flintoff, Flintoff, Freddie Flintoff
to the tune of Noel, (the carol, not Edmonds)

And for you Aussie Blokes

Grimmett, Mailey, O’Reilly, Ring and Benaud
Fine leggies all, outshone by Shane Warne

to the tune of Waltzing Matilda