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 01, 2006

Adelaide Day One Disneyland

If The Gabba was the Strineship Enterprise, then the Adelaide Oval is The Way We Used to Be. Never saw a drop of paint (or rain) at The Gabba. Adelaide is an all pastel colour card from Dulux. George Giffin Umbra, for those who prefer a richer shade of terra cotta. Colonade cream, deeper than mimosa, more subtle than primose, and Clem Hill pagoda pink, far better than a busted flush dodgy prawn. The SACA Adelaide Range, ideal décor for house and home.

It's a fairy-land ground:-

The Adelaide Oval
- 1st December 2006
If you've not seen it for yourself
think Worcester New Road, the view
across the River Severn, Torrens,
sun catching the water in its safe
hands, cathedral behind, an inspiring
article of sporting faith,
then add some. Disneyland
which folk round here rate England's chances
between slim and Buckley's

We shall see, shan't we?
England start well. Freddie Flintoff wins the toss and elects to bat. Which means England can't follow on, or kick off with a wide.

The morning session goes into a time-warp. 1950s, rationing just over, runs scored at marginally above two runs an over. Strauss and Clarke aren't quite Noddy Pullar and Bob Barber, Brett Lee not quite Ray Lindwall but Glen McGrath is Glen McGrath. England should have picked two spinners, even if a 1950s MCC touring side would never have selected a turban-wearing Sikh from Luton called Panasar. How many more wickets would Warne have taken in Australia had he started in the 50s, with eight ball overs all the harder to escape from?

Stuart Clark hauls us all back to reality with two quick wickets. Ian Bell faces his Jeremiah Nemesis, aka Shane Warne. You feel sorry for him. He tries to do everything so correctly yet Warnie makes him look a complete mug.

The Wizard of Warne

We're off to see the wizard,
a wonderful wizard called Warne.
A spell-binding trickster of wrong-uns,
never one better for hair-loss in Oz.
He'll pluck England's Bell
like a rabbit from a hat;
sooner or later it's ring-a-ding-ding,
stumped, bowled, lb, caught HowZat!

The Adelaide Oval is made for Quidditch, and Warne would wipe the floor with Harry Potter. If Bell survives, will we feel sorry for Shaney?

A very English thing to feel, amidst very English conditions: clouds, a hint of rain just after lunch, 'That's early,' says the Australian, who's next to me, with his stone-deaf dad which makes me think how important websites are to those who can't hear. England still play a very English game of gradually placing themselves on top, recovering honour, dignity and position, like Wellington at Waterloo in the face of the Old Guard.

From Barmy HQ, mentioned in dispatches

Mr Collingwood and Mr Bell
We think you've done rather well.
Two fifties on the stroke of tea
Suffices to retard their victory
March to the Promised Land
Of Ashes Regained,
While they may well be in retreat
Once Mr Pietersen takes a hand.

Sure enough, by end of play Pietersen is past sixty and Collingwood two shy of a century
Paul Collingwood -
98 not out overnight

I shan't get out to this man,
It's not just I'm English and he's Australian,
I shan't get out to this man.
It's not just he's done me too often before,
(last match a century in reach, just needing a four)
It's hard enough to hit the ball, never mind score,
I shan't get out to this man.

Earplug his incessant chatter,
concentrate on being a batter.
But don't get too clever, over after over
I shan't get out to this man.

Even if I reach fifty or more,
will I ever feel secure?
Australia's most venomous creature
spits and coils with every ball,
I shan't get out to this man.

Bones soak under a long hot shower,
having defended hour after hour.
The splash of water reechoes the mantra,
I shan't get out to this man.

Just in case you think I'm going all sepia-tinted, I entered through the Victor Richardson gates, one of South Australia's favourite sons, and grand-dad to Ian and Greg Chappell, two chips off the old block.

At the boiling point of the 1932-3 bodyline series, it is said when Douglas Jardine complained to the Australian dressing room about one of the Green Baggies using distinctly uncricketing language to his arch fast bowler Harold Larwood, dear old Vic replied

'Right you bastards, this bastard wants to know which of you bastards called their bastard a bastard.'

It is hard to find anything more effectively and poetically put in cricket or the greater world.

Adelaide Day One - work in progress

At stumps 367 for seven, regardless of the toss they're just about to make

Walking on the other side of the river this morning brought first site of the Adelaide Oval:-

If you've not seen it for yourself
think Worcester New Road, the view
across the River Severn, Torrens,
sun catching the water in its safe hands,
cathedral behind, an inspiring
article of sporting faith,
then add some. Disneyland
which folk round here rate England
's chances between slim and Buckley's

We shall see, shan't we.

Freddie's just won the toss, and surprise, surprise, elected to bat.

O Captain Ricky Ponting

tune The Grand Old Duke f York (traditional)

O Captain Ricky Ponting
Went out and bought a box
To see eye-to-eye with Captain Freddie
When they strolled out to toss.

And when he was up, he was up,
And when he was down, he was down,
And when he was neither up nor down
With each toss he was still lost.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Brisbane Day 5 Losing It

The rain never came. Instead it was all over before lunch, defeated by nearly three hundred runs. That is a heavy loss, and it will be hard to pick up and go on from there. (But not nearly so hard as a three day massacre, the likely outcome had Ponting enforced the follow-on.)

For me the day started so well, a seat high up and straight behind the bowler’s arm. This is how I like to watch cricket, down the wicket, tracking the slightest deviation of line, length, angle and seam. Truth be told I’m not much of a shouter; when the opposition chant at Coventry ‘You’re not singing anymore,’ it’s true of me at least, because I wasn’t singing in the first place. As a founder member of the Serious Cricket Watchers’ Association the only sound you’ll ever get from me is polite applause, sssshhhh of vacuum flask or tupperwear sandwich box opening or head nodding asleep in the late afternoon.

England’s day starts well too. The Barmy Army, the legendary legion of English fans, so far split up by the ticketing arrangements, are in one cohort, a phalanx of support for their beleagured team. Four days of dispersal, unable to give clarion voice to their desire, is now over. They are one and make the most of it.

“We are the Army, the Barmy Army,
We are mental, and we are mad”

A new song, to the tune of You Are My Sunshine, and it fills every corner of the Gabba. You would think this was England, and England about to win. Had they been able to sit as one throughout the game it would have provided a tremendous psychological advantage. You don’t outdo the home support, do you?

For half-an-hour, never mind some corner of some foreign field being forever England, all Australia seems to be. Instead of being thrown out for standing up for their country, as may well have happened on the previous four days, they fill the replay screen at the ground and doubtless tvs throughout the continent, not to mention back home in England. It’s terrific. The Aussies love it. Even Brett Lee their fastest fast bowler, fielding at the boundary’s edge in front of them, shakes his hips to the rhythm.

It brings to mind Siegfried Sasssoon’s famous poem, of men marching to war and death. Everyone Sang – set by the late lamented jazz composer Neil Ardley a couple of years ago to be sung by the Bakewell Choral Society.

Everyone Sang

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on - on - and out of sight.
Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away . . . O, but EveryoneWas a bird; and
the song was wordless; the singing will never be done

The silence in the Gabba as the Barmy Army drew breath was sepulchral.

On the pitch it was pretty well over before the singing begun. Fourth ball of the day Pietersen hit Lee down Martyn’s throat at midwicket. The Fat Lady might have started to think about singing but she was drowned out by The Barmy Army.

Where do we go from here? The obvious answer is Adelaide, and I leave Brisbane behind hardly feeling I know the place.

Friendly but sharp, I’d call it. For me the contest started last Tuesday at Brisbane International Airport. Feet poised to tread on Australian soil, the customs officer asked

‘Come for the cricket? Packed plenty of tissues?’
‘Why no,’
I replied. ‘Sorry, but didn’t have you lot down as cry-babies.’

I’m lucky. As a poet I can take a dispassionate view, be detached from the hurt of losing that other English supporters inevitably feel beneath the shadow of Mount Gabba, their team falling 277 short of its summit. Of course the Australians lost last year, and maybe the impact of that had been forgotten in the lauding of the English team since then.

The Final Ball

five days hard cricket
pretty well going to plan
every run and every wicket
charts our course set on victory

no thought of commiseration
just a job well done
the emptiness of loss
is all too hard to bear
winning hard enough
but losing’s just begun

Monday, November 27, 2006

Brisbane Estimates

At no little effort Ashes Poetry has installed the highly expensive and wonderously temperamental but surprisingly semi-accurate End of Play Guesstimator. On the first day it got within two runs of the final score, without knowing who was to bat, and the overestimation of wickets was probably due to inbuilt Pommerisation bias as was the over-estimation of runs on the second day. The third day estimate did not factor in green baggie dust-grinding. Disciplinary recalibration has now been completed by Professor Fiffle-faffle of the University of Bent, which gave a fairly close estimate for the end of Day 4.

These results are tabulated below, and have been used by the University of Bent's Department of Sporting Clairvoyance to add additionality to the additions:-

Day One Stumps 7 for 348 - not sure who to - actually 3 for 346, close with the runs at least
Day Two Stumps 174 for 3 - am sure who to, needing around 300 to avoid the follow-on - actually 53 for 3 a 'slight' overestimation of runs scored and required

Day Three Stumps 84 for 2 - still in with a chance in the dog-house actually 181 for 1 but 84 for 2 would've have been slow yet not too bad had England followed on

Day Four Stumps 242 for 3 - the Greatest Escape since Moses split the sea and led the chosen people from Egypt still on. Actually 293 f0r 5, England would prefer my estimate but may still do it with a spot of rain.

Professor Fiffle-Faffle has finished fiddling with his knobs to include cultural and climatic conditions in search of unerring accuracy - the End of Play Guestimator, the Hawkeye of Crystal Balls.

Day Five Estimates

End of Play Guestimator set at maximum Strine 310 all out before first drinks break.
End of Play Guestimator set at maximum Pom 648 for nine winning by one run and no balls to spare.
End of Play Guestimator set at maximum romance 647 all out on last ball match tied.
End of Play Guestimator set at maximum realism 404 all out 37 minutes after lunch.
England fell 37 runs short of being realistic
End of Play Guestimator set at maximum precipitation - rain stops play for the day with England nine down and still needing at least a session or two hundred to save the match.

Invited to discuss following on about invitations to follow on, the learned and august Professor does not believe that the Ponting Factor - batting way past your bedtime and the point of reason - can be mathematically modelled, but like Fermat's Final Theorem it has yet to be proven it can't be.

Oh yes, the poetry. I'm still saving Mr Bowden regrets to say he won't be raising his finger today for the great England fightback as told in The Ascent of Mount Gabba 1 & 2


Brisbane Day 4 Fight Back

Each day I aim to get here early to soak up the atmosphere and sun block, and each day for a variety of reasons I arrive a little later. Tomorrow will be different. I aim to have breakfast in the City Park café which beats grabbing a latte from the ground. There's a bit of confusion as someone takes the latte I've paid for. 'It's going to be a long old day,' I say. 'Yes, and it's only just beginning.' All England hopes exactly that, the longest day they'll remember.

Pointing has just made it shorter, by batting on. Conspiracy theorists would have it that the decision not to invite the follow-on wasn't made by the captain, nor indeed the manager, John 'Chinese Lessons of War' Buchanan, but by Cricket Australia itself. "Punter, thrash the bastards, but don't do it in three days, it'll cost us millions."

Maybe not. For some strange reason, possibly due to some obscure interpretation of an obscure Chinese lesson of war, or possibly fear of Indians, Red or Asian, the Punter bats on, running the risk that in burying the Poms so far underground, that they might be able to bat their way through the centre of the earth to safety back to England. Talking of which this could Ponting's worst decision since inserting England at Edgbaston to lose by two runs four innings later.

Last night the film The Hill came to mind. Sidney Lumet’s great black and white 1965 movie about a British Army punishment camp. Soldiers have to dig up earth from one side of the hill run up and down it carrying what they’ve dug up, to deposit it on the other side. Then reverse the process. The hill never gets bigger or smaller, just moves about a bit as the soldiers wear themselves out. This is what England had done yesterday. They started about six hundred behind and finished about six hundred behind but with one innings less. Mount Gabba intimidates from all angles, camera or otherwise.

Not when Ricky bats on. You sense a different feel in the England team. Hoggard starts with a maiden. They stand more proud. They feel insulted. Being asked to make six hundred odd is bad enough, to see the Australians’ bat on goes against their pride. ‘You’re having a laugh, aren’t you?’ they must be thinking. Yet at the same time, it makes their task half-an-hour easier. And there is rain.

Andy and I met up on the first day. ‘You’re a Coventry City fan,’ I said, clocking the small Coventry elephant on his top. ‘So am I.’ We don’t talk too much soccer, just as City don’t play that much either. I mention the chap who came to sit by me at the hotel computers before breakfast while I was printing out some drafts (I do plan and check this stuff)
‘Oh hell,’ he says.
‘What’s wrong.’
‘QPR lost.’
‘Sorry to hear it. I support Coventry.’

Who beat QPR. Andy and I agree that as omens go this takes some beating. If only we had Iron Man George Curtis going in ahead of the tail. Andy figures it could pour down and his wife knows a rain doctor in Jakata. ‘Text her to tell him to hurry it up. No use on Tuesday, when the game’s finished.’ I text the Klingon battle fleet to holds fire. We’re not putting all our eggs in one basket.

Twenty minutes later Langer has a century and Ponting declares.

Mount Gabba now officially stands at 654 runs or 690 minutes above sea-level If Ponting hadn’t batted on, it’d have been half-an-hour more daunting, possibly the difference between rescue and dying of frost-bite.

England bat well. Alistair Cook looks especially assured. People say he’s not a stylist, but you can see his elbow is always over the ball at point of contact which is a pleasure to watch. Warne gets him bat and pad. He probably does Collingwood with his Chatter. Warne of a thousand deliveries; leg–break, googly, top-spinner, zipper, zooter, flipper and now the Chatter, where he talks himself into a wicket. This time suggesting to Collingwood that he’s just four to his century, and not yet gone down the track to Shane. Collingwood does and is stumped by a country mile. If you’re looking for literary precedents for Warne go to Baccus and the Artful Dodger.

Till then England almost feel like they could do it. They’ve quietened the crowd, far less aggro than yesterday. Their task now becomes similar to crowd volley ball. The aim is to get into the top tier of a stand, where not only is gravity against you, but also that each tier is more raked than the one below. England need to reach the top tier, they are nudging second, but each time a wicket falls, or the blow up ball confiscated by the police, they start again at the bottom. They have ten to begin with and Collingwood’s dismissal leaves Six ‘Balls’ or wickets left.

Pietersen holds back. No trying to smash the ball into the top tiers. My jig

Warnie’s balls turn square, KP hits ’em in the air.
A six or out, there is no doubt.
You get a funny feeling one side’ll be reeling
Ev’ry time Warnie’s balls turn square.

fails to work. Warnie’s balls don’t turn square, and KP doesn’t hit them in the air. Hard to when they’re speared defensively down leg-side. ‘Hey, Warnie, bowl him something he can hit - you’re not Ashley Giles,’ someone should shout out. So I do.

Flintoff disobeys our prayers. Holes out going for the big one against Shane

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:

He hangs his head as soon as it goes up. He should have read the message on the scoreboard from Griffiths University. ‘Get smarter’

With the last two recognised batsmen at the crease, (no disrespect, Ashley) we need rain.

The Lap Of The Gods

Andy’s on the blower to his missus in Jakata
To accelerate the thunder due tomorrow afternoon.
She knows a rain doctor who dries out golf courses
To pilot this bad weather which can’t come too soon.

The Barmy Army take the Gabba with gamps and umbrellas
To make the most of Ricky Ponting batting way past his bedtime.
Queensland and England desperately need precipitation,
State and nation rest all on the imminent arrival of their Cloud Nine.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Brisbane Day 3 Getting away with it

English might feel agrieved. According to Hawkeye, Pietersen wasn' t lbw, and Flintoff was caught off a no-ball. Australia is a place where you can't get away with anything. Not even if you are Hawkeye Pietersen, the svelte scout from the velt. (Hawkeye is the name for a laser interpolation system that predicts if a batsman was LBW as well as offside.)

Yesterday I was on tv twice. Already mentioned the ITN Lords Prayer for Flintoff and England, and by God, how they need it. Just beforehand a steward kindly asked me to move a small bottle of water from the edge of the aisle. It had been caught on security camera, and they'd asked him to ask me to move it. You can't get away with anything in Australia.

Maybe that's why they love their Warnie. The mythological larrakin lad following in the line from Ned Kelly onwards. Those who have broken the rules and got away with it. Even the jolly swagman of Waltzing Matilda shot three state troopers. Shane's different. Not just the sheer range of proscribed behaviours – drugs, infidility, and the ultimate male omerta, baldness. Shane's still alive. Ned Kelly was a good-for-nothing, ne'er do well, robbing, thieving murdering swine till they shot him. So he didn't get away with it. Australia recreated him as a means to rebel safely against itself - an essential sub-text to Peter Carey's novel about Kelly.

Only this time Shane isn't going to get away with it. 'He likes this ground,' an Aussie tells me as Strauss and Clarke come proudly out to bat for the first time. 'Never taken less than six wickets in a Gabba test.'

Don't bet on it. Warnie may not be called upon. McGrath 6, Clark 3 and Lee 1, did the necessaries as England undid themselves to reach 157 all out. With Giles ending it all with a distress flare of a skier they’d barely clambered quarter the way up Mount Gabba. Only Ian Bell stood firm, resolute and skilled against the numbing accuracy of Old Glenda.

Glen McGrath
Can’t quite reach ninety miles an hour
No worries. Where he puts it is
Their top order’s nemesis

Ian Bell
What the hell
Has long lost the habit
Of being a baby-faced rabbit

If Aussies can't get away with it, foreigners certainly can't. Instead of inviting – such coyly false politeness in the term - “Excuse me, Frederick, old chap, would you mind awfully”- to go back to Mount Gabba 445 runs still to climb, the Punter chooses to bat on. Mount Gabba is about to grow even higher before our eyes.

You can see why.

Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust. This is something else. It grinds the dust into dust till there is nothing left, not even dust. Nothing for England to cling on to. You can’t get away with it in Australia; you can’t break the rules. And rule one is the Ashes are Australia’s. The Green Baggies set about squeezing Freddie’s men back into the 4¼inch high urn. Each additional run doesn’t just screw down the nails already banged in on the coffin lid, but bury it so far underground, deep beneath the mantel of the earth crust. Teams can come back from the dead, but only after banging on the coffin lid and tunnelling their way back through miles of rock to reach the surface.

It could just back-fire. Not through rain – something England and Queensland both pray for, since the State is in one of the worst droughts ever, now up to Level Four water restrictions, the fountains in Brisbane long since dried up and the fruit crops decimated. No, just when the three English lion’s claws have been so worn they couldn’t cling onto anything, hope is in the main. I can reveal exclusively, dear readers, the secret treaty signed between perfidious Albion and the Klingon Nation, that in deep in the stars above where Captain Kirk boldly went to split infinitives where no infinitives had been split before, the Klingon Battlefleet is warp-factor hyperdriving its way to Mount Gabba, the Strineship Enterprise a sacrificial lamb to imperial domination.

Don’t think even that will save this game, if not the Ashes. The cricket becomes, to put it in one word, boring. The lack of contest as Australia set about earth-moving Mount Gabba back to its former height and beyond does not enthrall. There is one moment of competitive interest. England give away four overthrows. Ponting looks at the ball hurtled by English hand to the boundary in a way their bats singularly failed to do earlier, and claps his glove against his bat in harsh public irony. It’s rare a bat sledges a whole nation so eloquently and effectively.

Even the crowd get restless. The Aussies love their inflatables. Perhaps even more than stuffing the Poms, since it’s something everyone can join in on, even the police. We’ve already had the Gatorade reject sperm donator drinks trolley from Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Too Afraid To Ask, today being Saturday, we see the Giant Milo Tin in support of kids’ Kwik Cricket (Milo is a popular milk shake, not Milo Mindbender from Catch-22) and two twenty foot high cricket balls race each other on the outfield during the tea interval, one called Beefy and the other Boony, in support of Victoria Breweries – no one in Australia drinks tea in the tea interval of a cricket match. (Someone is said to have tried it in a more genteel part of Melbourne last century, but it didn’t catch on.)

In response the crowd bounce giant beach balls between themselves – this is also the nation which bought you beach volley ball as an Olympic Sport. The rules of cricket volley ball are simple, keep the ball in the air but if it goes out of the seating area the police get to keep it. Near us a group go too far. Instead of a ball, they have a ball with an inflatable woman. For some reason this is also against the rules, even though Cricket Australia publicised this series with a thirty foot high Giant Warnie they pumped up and took to England just in case anyone in Australia didn’t happen to know the Ashes were back. (Imagine the FA commissioning a Giant Rooney to take to the Reichstag in Berlin ahead of the World Cup with shops selling out of St George flags and you’ve got the picture.) The police move in. They arrest the inflatable woman who by all accounts refused to give her name, address or any other details and kept her integrity intact under intense scrutiny till one prick too many. She may well return tomorrow disguised as a blow-up policeman.

What do you think? Should Inflatable Sheilas be allowed to watch cricket?
have your say on

O yes, the cricket. The Aussies missed one chance. To shout ‘Oi, Flintoff, give the inflatable Sheila a bowl. She’d do better than the lot you’ve got on the park.’ It’s worse than the task of Sisyphus, carrying stones up Mount Gabba only to see them hurled back down again, yet through their efforts to reduce the task the hill gets higher, the climb becomes steeper. At the start of their first innings Mount Gabba was 602 high. It now stands at 629, and England have one innings less to reach safety.

Read all about it in the Ascent of Mount Gabba at the end of the game.

In the meantime in homage to the sixty foot Christmas Tree sweltering in the centre of Brisbane (artificial but curiously not yet inflatable)

On The Third Day of Play (to The Twelve Days of Christmas)

On the third day of play the Gabba gave to me
A blow up babe in custody.

On the third day of play the Gabba gave to me
Two big balls
And a blow up babe in custody.

And so on, till

Twelve crowd ejections
Eleven top selections
Tending to win
Nine tired bowlers
Eight ways in
Seven poms out
Six hundred lead
Five for McGrath
Four tall pylons
Three English Ducks
Two big balls
And a blow up babe in custody