Ashes Poetry - cricket

PLEASE GO TO for all content here, and Ashes Poetry 2009 in England. Ta

David Fine, Ashes poet in residence in Australia 2006-7

England vs Australia.
Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne, Sydney 2006-2007

To comment and find out more, especially about npower Ashes Poetry 2009, please e-mail - G'day!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Adelaide Post Mortem

The analysis of a body in order to establish cause of death, and thereby prevent similar recurrences

“Like medieval royals with syphilis, they went suddenly mad… But the real crumbling was in the English minds.”

So wrote Greg Baum in Wednesday's Sydney Morning Herald

I took this to start my sonnet The English Disease in Requiem for Duff Batting.

Four days on from Tuesday 5th December, Adelaide is pretty well free of English smarting and Aussies smiling under the halo and yoke of victory and defeat. The world moves on. So must I.

Unlike the other entries I’ve separated the poems from the talk. The enormity of England’s self-inflicted failure means the poems speak for themselves.

This talk is about context. It’s close to three thousand words long, a detailed exposé of cause and effect that stretch far beyond the bounds of cricket. Pour yourself a long cool one if in Australia (Adelaide’s 42 degrees – about 110 in old money) or a good cuppa tea if in the ‘old country.’ (just above zero, 42 degrees old money.)

Of course it’s only a game. As I write people in Victoria are about to flee their homes in face of bush-fires. Beyond these shores the Bush/Blair Alliance is under fire for the troops under fire in Iraq. This is the breaking news, life and death stuff, and cricket is only a game.
Nonetheless it’s in our psyche. Just received a round-robin e-mail from

“If, like England's defence of The Ashes, your weekend is in danger of going up in smoke…”

The reason we invest emotionally in supporting sport is because it is the imaginary beloved. I’ve borrowed the phrase from Michael Ignatieff:-

‘Great writing is private: it issues from an intensely inner dialogue with the imaginary beloved. And the imaginary beloved is language itself. A true writer is fundamentally in love with language, ultimately for the sake of language itself.’
Michael Ignatieff London Review of Books 6 February 1997, page 14

A true sports fan is in love with sport, ultimately for the sake of sport itself, the imaginary beloved.... They may well ignore any connection to a greater world outside the game – hence the critical importance of C L R James’ Beyond The Boundary, which did the exact opposite by relating caribbean cricket to their islands and colonial past.

For true sports fans, sport is an extraordinary fantasy that is reality that is safe, so it can be overloaded with emotional investment inappropriate to ordinary life. No different to a novel or film, which helps create a fantasy from marks on the page or screen, again invoking emotions outside everyday ranges – from Lord of the Rings to Silence of The Lambs. Talking of novels, Nick Hornby captures the sporting beloved in Fever Pitch, where the hero, an Arsenal supporter and a bit of prat, (not just because he’s a Gooner) has to decide between Highbury and his girlfriend. Most sports fiends find the novel tedious, because they already know what is it to be a fan, and made countless similar decisions. Fever Pitch isn’t for them, the converted and the damned. It’s for those of us who aren’t sports nuts. We become engrossed, a novel’s primary duty; to live vicariously the life of another, even if a Gooner. To know what it is to be sports mad without being so insane.

This is why all sports fans are victims, most of all of themselves, but we’ll come to that another time.

Occasionally the imaginary beloved gets out of hand…..

Old Trafford Triptych 1st Day 2nd Test England vs Pakistan 2006


from 90 for 2 to 119 all out
is disaster or elation depending
where you’re sitting

four Pakistani lads hold the row ahead
their silver starred moon
marks hats, shirts and faces
against the rub of the green

You’re taking it well, I say
You’re playing well,
they reply

morsels of solace exchanged,
they offer fruit, cakes, pringles

We should share food, they say

i think of fatwah, al Qaeda,
Iraq, Lebanon and five hundred arrests
in Bolton after Engerland
lose on penalties in Germany

food and sorrows, i reply

Two things. England did play well. Harmison with bounce and lift was lethal.

More relevant I was able to relate the game to the wider world. I also wrote a poem about England’s World Cup this English summer…..

The Red Flag of Courage

not waving but drowning
in the sea of expectation,
countless pennants woven
from synthetic yarns of hope
bound taut by ligaments of owen
to the polar bones in rooney’s foot.

the longer the journey,
the more they fray
and flag against
Is this too much to bear for a nation
’s daily trips from here to basra
and a christmas kickabout
between trenches on the western front?

the lads did their best.

Clearly not true for England in the morning at the Adelaide Oval Tuesday 7 December, where the lads failed even to perform. Why?

Though Greg Baum’s dead-on that the real crumbling was in the English minds, as is Duncan Fletcher that the batting was the let-down, it has nothing to do with cricket.

Forget dodgy lbw decisions, queried selections, long injury list, dropped catches…England weren’t there on Tuesday.

Marv Levy, a great American Football coach, and a great American, coined the phrase ‘Where would you rather be, than right here, right now?’

This is generally taken to refer to fans, to come to the shrine of their imaginary beloved. It applies equally to players. You have to be there, want to be there in order to be focused, never mind in the zone. Last Tuesday England weren’t.

They had assumed the draw. They were already on their way to West Australia. It isn’t all over until the fat lady sings, but psychologically they had packed their bags, upped sticks and left even before she gargled ahead of breakfast. All their bodies had to do was turn up and bat a bit. Go through the motions. Even the Barmy Army didn’t show before lunch. Why?

You must remember that England hadn’t just batted well in the first innings. They had continued the form shown in the second innings at Brisbane. The answer isn’t because we aren’t any good, nor we don’t mind losing, even against Australians. It goes deeper.

Francis Wheen in The Adelaide Review 25 November suggests we’re "more accustomed to honorable failure, and last year’s Ashes win was a shock to the English psyche" – and to the Australians’. Francis is half-right. It goes way deeper.

We Brits prefer anticipated outcomes. We don’t complain to the source of the complaint, because ‘it won’t do any good’ or as my mother-in-law says ‘it’ll get us into trouble.’ Instead we moan about poor railways, restaurants, service, weather and anything else substandard amongst ourselves rather than go back to the cause. The epithet whinging poms becomes deserved.

Likewise success. Every four years we anticipate winning the World Cup. This summer England was awash with the flags of Saint George. 10,000,000 were bought in June to stick on cars. One for every fifth person or about two per car. In June we holidayed on the French/Italian riviera. Saw no flags and just one shirt – Italia 90 on an old tractor driver in the hills probably unaware of what he was wearing. France and Italy played out the World Cup Final

The weight of anticipation helps lead to failure. Which means of course you don’t lose when you do. ‘I knew we weren’t going to make it.’ More generally it leads to inherent conservatism, because if the anticipated outcome is potential change, no one’s too worried if it doesn’t happen. It isn’t just complacency, which is laziness with an extra syllable. Complacency is a symptom of this curious Anglo-Saxon amalgam of arrogance, apathy, obedience and unquestioning same-old, same-old. It drives me, or anyone interested in radical achievement, nuts.

When we do win, when something changes, the anticipated outcome switch means that we assume we always will win what we’ve just won. The World Cup, the Rugby World Cup, the Ashes…..the Olympic Games….

Here are some examples of anticipated successes turned failures –

• British Expeditionary Force in France 1940 – thought they’d wipe the floor with the Wermacht, with or without the French. Failed, but interestingly Dunkirk became an excuse to label the worst-ever British Army campaign in Europe as a noble triumph against the odds.

Tory party election loss in 1945. Churchill thought it was in the bag.

British Motor Industry collapse from 1960s. Anticipated orders would remain the same whatever product quality compared to competitors.

• 1990s home ownership boom-crash. Anticipated investment returns led to unsustainable property price rises – Proudan said ‘Property is theft.’ Mortagees robbed themselves blind.

Examples of less anticipated successes not capitalised upon are harder to find. Within sporting fields

• The Olympic hockey team Gold Seoul 1988

• Redgrave et al’s rowing triumphs has led to few new clubs or widening of rowing as a sport

• relative decline of elite athletic performance from 1980-1992 despite, or maybe because of lottery funding (“I’m a lottery-funded elite athlete, therefore I’m special, therefore I can win, therefore I’ve won.”) After winning gold in Athens after a USA fumble the men’s relay team’s subsequent ability to drop it may well be because they’ve already made the change and won the race in their heads before it finishes in fact.

As a counter example ('counter' in both senses of the word) the Campaign For Real Ale in Britain is a capital unanticipated success Australia would do well to emulate given the quality of what they call beer.

Outside the sports and drinks arena, the most damning example is the stalled White Hot Technological Revolution, part of Harold Wilson’s 1964 Labour Party manifesto.

At the time Britain led the world in computing and information technology. The new administration was prepared to invest heavily to capitalise on this. Tony Benn was the Minister responsible. His diaries of the time are illuminating. Calls in the Permanent Secretary to make it crystal clear his first priority is to take the Queen’s head from the postage stamps. The diary entry ends something like ‘At first they failed to understand, but I’ve no doubt they appreciate I mean business.’ Reading between the lines you can hear the Sir Humphrey ‘Yes, Minister’ chuckles behind the other side of the door.

Don’t get me wrong, I like and admire Tony Benn. My sort of political stance; clear and cogent analyst and speaker, but don’t ever ask him to get anything done. He couldn’t even manage a press-up in a multigym. An intellectual, in other words.

Have you spotted both Benn and the Permanent Secretary playing the Anticipated Outcomes game? Benn anticipates beheading the Queen from the stamps, the Permanent Secretary counter-anticipates its retention. Neither of them tackle the quintessential matter at hand, the white-hot technological revolution, because that too is an anticipated outcome, dealt with in less than a paragraph beforehand, and then failure comes as something of a surprise that, because nothing has been done, not even removing the Queen’s head from the stamps, the funding disappears. Had Tony Benn knew which digit to pull out, the UK would still be a global force in computing. I roundly curse his ineptitude every time Microdross programming gets in my hair.

Anticipated Outcomes is a cornerstone of the USA and UK special relationship. Technological and industrial mighty US of A believe they can do anything anywhere. An anticipated outcome UK are happy to follow and bide by as all roads lead to Beruit if not Damascus.

What’s this to do with cricket and the Ashes? England’s win last year was a shock to the Aussies too. It hurt, it bloody hurt. You saw that in Brisbane, where Ponting went out of his way to try and not just beat but annihilate England, (a plan that could’ve gone wrong big time had it rained and/or Flintoff, Collingwood and Pietersen not played strokes beneath their quality.)

The Aussies don’t do anticipated outcomes. If they anticipate anything it is the here and now. In sport that’s always where they want to be, right here, right now.

Instead of anticipated outcomes they realise desires – like Camra with a good pint.

In terms of Adelaide, they didn’t just anticipate a draw, they wanted to win. Two quick wickets and their desire was realisable. Realising desires vs. anticipated outcomes? No contest.

Realising desires has driven the Green Baggies since at least 1987. Alan Border hated losing the Ashes. When he became captain his desire to regain and never lose them again has been passed down the line though Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. In all their winning series, they realised their desires, the isolated occasional test win by England at a series end more a post-coital aberative smoke.

The clash of anticipated outcomes against realising desires usually has one winner, hence Australia’s domination of the Ashes since 1930. Bodyline relied on anticipated outcomes. England anticipated Bradman making a shedload of runs, and figured on stopping him. No Englishman considered playing the realising desires hand of ‘We’ll still beat them however many runs Bradman makes.’ It’s interesting that aside from skill and desire, Bradman listed five qualities for sporting achievement – dignity, integrity, courage, determination and modesty. In their first innings at Adelaide England displayed all these, in their second, Collingwood apart, none. They didn’t need to because, that’s right, they’d anticipated their outcome of a draw.

Okay, you’re saying, how come England are defending the Ashes?

Their success last year relies on a supermarket chief.

At the end of the last century in the face of being whipped by everyone apart from Bangladesh, only because they hadn’t started playing test cricket, Lord MacLaurin as the ECB chair initiated the MacLaurin Plan. It took forever to get it past the counties, who were still entrenched in the land of anticipated outcomes, but its vision of the best team in the world by the end of this decade, together with the structures to continue this dominance was a realistic desire, just as taking Tesco from a contender to the supermarket dominator trousering every third high street pound was achievable. Unlike Tony Benn, MacLaurin is a doer. At grass roots upwards cricket in England is more wholesome and healthy than any produce you buy in Tescos.

Things fell apart through winning the Ashes last summer. ‘We’ve beaten the Australians, they're the best, we’re the best, and wins evermore are just another anticipated outcome.’

Series lost and drawn against Pakistan and Sri Lanka which should have been won demonstrate otherwise. That was just the loosening the wheels. They came off major-league last Tuesday in Adelaide. Had Australia retained the Ashes last year, losing how England did four days ago does become inconceivable.

Can I rest the difference between Australia and England attitudes on a few false strokes on the cricket field? And do I need to explain those strokes by pointing to the differences between national attitudes?

I’d be the first to admit there is more to the cricket story. Too many and not enough games; too much exposure and too much protection to and from the media; the lure of money rather than just success – which brings money in its wake - dominating the ECB directives ….. These will have to wait for another day.

However, ask yourself has what I’ve said here explain the otherwise inexplicable collapse of England last Tuesday?

I rest my case in the eyes of Australians. When we lost at Brisbane, I received a phone message from an Aussie which went “I shan’t pretend to commiserate; we like to beat the shit out of you bastards.” Desires realised, message received, normal service resumed.

After Adelaide it was different. Forget the Ponting-Warne induced media hype of this being this team’s greatest ever victory. That’s just to keep the poms down. Great victories are when both sides strive to their best in the heart of the contest. England defeated themselves. Capitulated. Since Tuesday the eyes of Australians have carried this strange look, a tinge sheepish, a scintilla of a thinnest edge from embarrassment….

A Sense of Guilt At Winning All Too Easily

In the unwritten book of how to play sports the Australian way,
realising desires purely through ineptitude of others isn’t quite fair.
They like a fight, have a go, give it a burl, work for their victory,
especially against the old colonial masters of understatement,
sang-froid, playing straight and back down the line.

When dear old England implodes like a pack of cards
without being touched, the Aussies aren’t sure what to do
‘We didn’t beat you fair and square, because you did that for us.
That must hurt, more than us rubbing it in, because it’ll keep hurting
for a long long time. We almost feel sorry for you bastards.’

How does the body of England revive itself for Perth? Come back from the dead?

Whoever’s picked need to be different players. They need to believe they have already lost the Ashes, and the only way to win them back is find the desire to thrash the heart out of the Australians. Technically demanding but impossible without that desire.

Realise desires. Far more potent than anything else Australian?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Adelaide - Requiem For Duff Batting

In Acerbic Rememberance
English Cricket
which died at The Adelaide Oval
Tuesday 6th December 2007
Bitterly lamented by a large circle
of sorrowing friends
and acquaintances
n.b. The body will be cremated
and its ashes retained by Australia
if its spirit fails to fight back

The Sick Team

Red Rose, thou are sick!
The Indivisible Warne
That beats you in flight
When you bat without gorm

Has spun out thy draw
Of English joy
And the Green Baggies
Does thy life destroy

With apologies to William Blake The Sick Rose

The English Disease

Like syphilitic medieval kings, England
suddenly went mad. No apparent cause,
no seeming attempt to stem noble pause
in bedlam's frenzy to lose without stand.
Fumbling wickets tumbled from their own hand,
Misery’s drubbing unconceived before
they gouged their own wounds to bone. Running sores
of needless cuts, hooks, pulls and slashes banned
by dressing room: empty-headed retarded
births within teeming middle of crisis
induced by syphilis's half-brother, hubris.
The day’s sure draw before all this started:
licentious defeats grow infectious,
chaste play's honour fouled by these haughty lechers.

inspired by Greg Baum, Sydney Morning Herald, report of proceedings
- "Like medieval royals with syphilis, they went suddenly mad"


The Adelaide Oval Wednesday 7th December 2007

return to understand
go back to the emptiness of defeat
you might learn something

seats tipped-up, crowd roar gone
a cockatoo, songbirds call above
drumble of traffic, clang of scaffolders
dismantling temporary stands
you demolished with your batting

A smear of dried ice-cream
stench of spilled beer around the bars
a nasal trail into the arena
its wicket perfect as it always has been

Why have I taken you here?
No flags of Saint George. No
Wigan, Norwich, Cheltenham
No sign of ourselves.

The scoreboard retells the story
168 for 4, a six wicket victory
they won't take down for a while

Taste the simplicity of defeat
ing yourself. Swallow its emptiness.
Stay till you understand
how never to fail yourselves again.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Ring Of Truth

I cannot tell a lie. Unlike England I didn’t lose anything at the Adelaide Oval yesterday, and certainly not my mobile phone. Drop-kicked straight out over the George Giffen Stand one bounce into the River Torrens with my trusty left thong, weaker foot too.

South Australia Cricket Association, ever genial hosts, dredged the river and found my Nokia 1100 wicket taker (3 for 8 at The Gabba, 1 for 0 at Adelaide – beat that, Shane McGrath.)

“It’s here for you to pick up,” said the fax to My Place Backpackers. “We’ve sent you a cab.”

Screetch at the door.

‘Jump in. Are you the pom poet that drop-kicks mobile phones into the Torrens? Can I have your autograph?’ I take the portable tattoo set to add my moniker below Shane loves Shane. ‘It’s for the kids.’

‘Here’s your phone, Mr Fine,’ says the SACA staff. ‘Sign here. It’s for the kids.’
‘No worries. Mind if I look around?’

Not a soul in the ground. The scoreboard remains untouched. The enormity of yesterday’s debacle turns incandescent ire into cold fury.

Blam, Splash!

Straight into the Torrens again, this time on the full. Like wit, timing is everything.

The SACA pedalo and the blokes with the fish-net swing into operation.

‘Sign here. It’s for charity – and can we just say, right foot next time, onto the South Bank. The pedalo boat doesn’t come cheap.’

Virgin mobile, which sounds like hotel room service for tired politicans, say it’ll take about three days for the Sim Card to dry out. (Tired politicans generally take longer, even if left hung out to dry) It rings.

‘Skid Nokia here.’
‘Skid - ?’
‘The Skid Nokia, son. Sports Guru to Sports Gurus.’

It was the sort of voice with Rayban Wrap-rounds wrapped round its tonsils.

‘Forget ABC only ringing when the Green Baggies are at crease. You blokes need a miracle.’

Astound yourself with facts you already know; another staggering glimpse into the obvious.

‘You need to become Australian.’

Adelaide Day Five - Hubris

It started before I stepped on Australian soil. The Customs Man asked where my tissues were, I’d need them. I replied that I didn’t have them down for cry-babies. We were both right. The Green Baggies are many things but not cry babies, and England will need a lot more than paper hankies to retain the Ashes after played two, lost two.

It should be different.

Kay, my wife e-mails to say she heard me on Radio Derby this morning, and I sounded like I was dead tired and about to fall asleep. I was dead tired and about to fall asleep. It was recorded at eleven o'clock at night after watching too much slow cricket under too much slow sun - "He should complain. It's brass monkeys, freezing rain, fog, snow, ice, gale force winds and general miserableness in the run-up to Christmas. Bring us some of that Aussie sun."

I shall aim to sound pinkier and perkier tonight, and those reading this on will just have to imagine the joie de vivre in my voice.

You’re more likely to get anger.

However montonous my voice sounded yesterday, it's nothing compared to the pitch. Benjamin Disraeli, the 19th century Tory spinner, said there are lies, damn lies, statistics and cricket statistics, but seventeen wickets in twelve sessions (just under 1.5 wickets per session according to my pocket Frindaliser) speaks volumes in a dull monotonous railway announcer's voice. 'We regret to announce the fall of the next wicket will be delayed due to a total lack of life in the pitch.'

Talk at the start of the game was the dry weather - level two water restrictions, not quite the level four of Brisbane, could lead to wicket cracking up. 'Never mind level two, the ground staff might have to water it.' With superglue. You could land one of the many Boings that fly over at regular intervals on this track and still not leave a mark.

It's almost as bad as the Buxton to Stockport train Kay takes to work, which is delayed or cancelled due to leaves on the line, no leaves on the line, the wrong sort of leaves on the line, too hot, causing the rails to distort, too cold, causing the rails to distort, but basically the permanent way is knackered, and will remain so until the government decides to unknacker the railways.

If they do, Transport Secretary of State Douglas Alexander (and how many of you knew his name; I didn’t) should contact Les Burdett, groundsman, or curator as they're called here, about the Adelaide Oval. A railway made from this wicket would run forever. As I said to the security guy who checked my bag, they shouldn't have allowed this pitch in. Were Les ever to make car tyres, put me down for a set. I could hand them down to my children's children. This is the diametric opposite of a result wicket. You could play on this till the end of the Fifth Test at Sydney and still get a draw. At the end of the game, the South Australian Cricket Association could pulverise this Mogadon Special into sleeping pills for chronic insomniacs –

Two Burdetts before hitting the sack and you'll be sparko. Eight hours zeds guaranteed.'
'Gee thanks, Doc.'
Not to taken if you drive or use dangerous machinery.

Credit where credit's due. Les may have discovered the alchemist's dream - perpetual motion. As a kid with my threppence pocket money (one pence or three Aussie cents in new money) I often mithered about buying a Bassett's Everlasting Strip. This was a very long and thin stretch of toffee, designed to extract a lad's threppenny bit from the pocket of his short trousers. It did last a long time, about a day and half before there was only sticky paper remaining in my pocket. Les has cracked it. This wicket is an Everlasting Strip.

Only no one reminded the England batsmen.

Warne still extracts psychological mesmerism from somewhere, Strauss out for 34 caught off one which hit the pad. Then Bell's run out hesitating on Collingwood's call on a dab behind square. 70 for 2, 108 runs ahead. Game on.

Can England last out on the Everlasting Strip of the Century? No.

Warne reprises his ball of the century bowling Pietersen sweeping round his legs hitting off-stump. If anyone can take on the combined might of England and this pitch it's Warnie, but why does Pietersen sweep fifth ball in, when he never swept in his first innings big century?

The Barmy Army are conspicuous by their absence - where are they when Super-Super Freddie Flintoff comes to the crease, a captain's innings needed to save England?

I ignore Brit know-alls who are blathering on about how they saw Jonathan Agnew dressed up as a dog's dinner at a romantics do, but his wife looked stunning. None of them notice Gilchrist stand up to Clark, as Jones had to Hoggard. Safe enough on the Everlasting Strip with its slow regular bounce to keep batsmen in their crease for fear of stumping. The Brit know-alls all would have caught Ponting's hook that Giles spilled at the same time as responding to Collingwood's call which ended with Bell's run out. The game's always easier to play in the stands than in middle, but it does help to watch what's going on.

Flintoff ct Gilchrist b Lee 2. A useless waft outside off stump. 77 for 5. We're about to clutch defeat from the jaws of a draw. If the Green Baggies win this, the series and the Ashes are more or less lost. Two down, three to go is all but irretrievable. Seriously squidgy-bum time for us Poms.

Lunch comes 89 for 5. Far from watching paint dry while still in the tin, for the disinterested spectator this has been the most absorbing session of the game, if not the series. You can almost hear Fred Trueman up in heaven saying 'Funny game, cricket.' The English aren’t laughing.

Not so funny after lunch, as Jones goes fishing for a Brett Lee wide one to be pouched at gulley. Didn't see it. Think I've lost my mobile phone somewhere between My Place backpackers hostel and my seat in the Chappell stands (and talking of stands, neither Ian nor Greg would've contenanced the woeful England shot selection) Come back after lunch, they say. Lo and behold, I bump into John Turner of, who e-mailed to say he particularly liked yesterday's Matthew Hoggard poem, and perhaps we could meet...

My mobile's already taken three wickets at Brisbane. The near McGrath hat-trick, while away from the action talking to ITN radio, then final day ABC Radio Sydney call just as the ball leaves Pietersen's bat to go down Martyn's throat. Even without it I miss the demise of Jones. The roar goes up just as I enter the stands. Four or a wicket. The scoreboard tells all. Another victim to the Nokia 1100 wicket taker. Had I found it in the ground, I'd have dropped-kicked over the stands, one bounce into the Torrens River.

Natural Break

sooner or later over five days
nature calls outside intervals
you leave the arena all a rush
hasten necessities
praying for quiet.
A roar, is it four
or a wicket fall
in midstream?

the hiatus afterwards tells all
a measure of time elapsed
for the next bat to take guard
or bowler to return to his mark

if only a force of nature
why is it never what you want?

Warne gets Giles with a leg-spinner that bounces - maybe a puff of dust, Mr Burdett. He takes Hoggie with his googly. Barmy Army arrive in force, but it seems too late. Collingwood's still there, and his first innings double-century drew comparisons in the commentary box with Wellington, but not even Blutcher's Army could save England today. Sod 'drew comparisions.' All England are willing Collingwood and the tail to hold out for a draw after the top order have failed their profession.

Watching Australia in the field, there are no hysterics (except for the staged appeals, which are all part and parcel of being professional.) McGrath’s walk to his mark at long leg bears precisely the same demeanor when England were four hundred odd for three in the first innings or 118 for 8 in the second. Just another day at the office.

McGrath leaves his desk in the deep to step up to the mark to nab Harmison lbw. Nine down. 158 for victory. Even if Durham compatriot Collingwood delays the inevitable till tea, half-an-hour away, big Stevie has to step up to the plate, and then some to save England. The only way they can win the game is to do their damnedest to lose it. They've pretty well achieved the first part. Anderson out last ball before tea gives Australia two extra overs.

Not that they need them. Ten off the first over, 168 is made fairly easily, four wickets down and three overs to spare. Unlike the rest of the test on this last day it’s like watching men and boys, or Nyren’s XI thrashing the twentytwo of Muddleshire, or Ashford, a village near Bakewell, taking on Derbyshire for their annual charity game to raise cash for a new pavilion – a few good hits, loss of wickets but the difference in approach is palpable.

That's history and a charity match. This is the Ashes.

A View From The Bridge

All is fine.
No reefs, hidden sounds, rip-tides, storms, fogs
or unanticipated conditions,
the sea a milkpond mirror,
the final day an easy cruise ahead.

Too easy. Captain and crew conspire
to foul propellors, drift off-course,
lose way, take incorrect bearings
till the SS Five Day Draw
is dead in the water,
listing badly,
holed below the waterline,
leak pouring in, pumps unable to cope,
doomed for the depths.

Aussie destroyers race from their stations,
each lacing boundary a torpedo
to dispatch the hulk to the bottom
with all due speed and efficiency,
leaving survivors to fend for themselves.

England seem come-day, go-day, Australia ruthless. That's what hurts; everyone, fans, journalists, players who support England. The lack of professional acumen. I wrote that Adelaide Oval is so achingly beautiful you wouldn't mind watching your team lose there. That is, if they played to the standard befitting their and the ground's stature. If not, it hurts, and hurts bad, extra bad. Truth is beauty and beauty is truth, as Keats wrote, and England lost ugly today.

I’m angry, livid, bloody livid. I can’t remember seeing England bat so badly, although another supporter says they were as poor losing twice in Pakistan this time last year. All the supporters feel the same. This talk is called hubris, but a more exact term to sum up England fans, supporters and doubtless the team's feelings is XXXX, and not a reference to a Queensland beer.
Of course the Aussies fans love it. Even the Germans in the hostel say ‘Zwei-Nul’ (and the German cricket correspondent’s summing up of England’s batting performance ‘unmöglichisher schlecht’ – unbelievably bad. Let’s face it, it was about as poor as England’s inept display losing to Norway in the 1990 World Cup qualifiers:-

Captain Cook, W G Grace, Wilfred Rhodes, Hobbs and Sutcliffe, Percy Chapman, Wally Hammond, Douglas Jardine, Harold Larwood, Hedley Verity, Alec Bedser, Godfrey Evans, Sir Len Hutton, Jim Laker, Fred Truman, Ken Barrington, Ray Illingworth, John Snow, Derek Randall, Mike Brearley, Ian Botham, Bob Willis, Mike Atherton, Phil Tufnell and Dickie Bird,
Your boys took one hell of a beating.

Two Boxing Days ago I watched Coventry lose 3-1 to Leeds at home. It was the worst performance from the Sky Blues I’ve had the misfortune to witness, and there have been some X-rated shockers. Enough that if someone published Coventry City – The Fifty Worst Games it’d be a sell-out, and fans would argue its selection. The 3-1 Leeds game was the worst because not only were the team clueless, they weren’t even trying hard. No dedication or application. Manager Reid resigned straight afterwards.

England’s batting this morning in Adelaide made me feel the same, if anything worse, since they are more immeasurably more talented than Coventry, and had applied themselves well to the task at hand in the first innings. Forget the tissues, naughty boy nets, they need to queue up to give each other a bloody good kick up the arse first thing, otherwise this will be the longest of tours with the shortest itinerary for themselves and their fans.

England Expects Every Man To Do Their Duty

The ground should be empty, dead,
Everyone gone, the last hour not taken;
England have batted out their draw.

The only Aussies remaining,
Paid to stay behind, clear up the mess,
The rubbish, plastic beakers and pie-wrappers,
Dross. They do a good professional job for little reward.

Two teams already gone, ready to go on to Perth,
Adelaide rush hour stuffed with traffic going home
To comment and criticism restricted to the pitch.

The ground is full, the CBD deserted,
England's collapse mimics Jessop's prowess
To empty offices. As wickets tumble

To false shots that'd earn official rebuke
in the workplace, Aussie workers scent blood.
Precious little work done this afternoon,

Collars and ties outweigh t-shirts and shorts
as gleeful witness the inevitable loss
four wickets delay. Englanders are so angry

no sorrow and little respect remains
for players who failed to play professionally.
They need to stay behind, clear up the mess
they created in each of our hearts and their own.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Adelaide Day Four Anticipation

Trekking along the Torrens on my way to the ground I overtake an elderly English couple with MCC straw hat (him) and matching cushions (her). She speeds up to overtake me. 'No need to rush,' I say 'You'll get in before the start of play.' 'I want to soak in some of the atmosphere.' I look up from the Torrens to the teeming thousands crossing the Adelaide Bridge. That is the atmosphere, I think, and in your rush to get into the ground you're missing it.

I catch up with her catching her breath at the start of the bridge. 'He's a little way behind,' I say. She doesn't reply, but her eyes speak volumes. We both know she's lying. This has nothing to do with soaking up atmosphere but making a point in their marriage. He's significantly frailer than her and couldn't keep up however hard he tried. I guess they had their tiff back in the hotel, and whatever the right and wrongs of it, she intends to wreak revenge. Maybe he lorded over her (the MCC pun is intentional) for most of their marriage, rather like as a kid our dog Bob and cat Pap before Bob bust his leg and Pap taunted him. So what. These are people who've travelled halfway round the world to be together, and she behaves like a spoilt child and bully.

I'm angry. Not just at her behaviour, but their relationship. Why couldn't they talk to each other to sort it out, rather than extend and deepen the difficulties in their relationship through lack of acknowledgement. Too often the English only express emotions through their denial.

Australians don't really mind. You can more or less sit where you like in a ground provided you don't try to sit on top of someone else. Even at the Gabba where the police would eject you for standing up and yelling, you could move around more or less where you fancied. It makes a lot of sense. Do you want to sit in the sun or the shade all day? You can socialise, take different angles on and off the paddock. In England, even if you know the person sitting next to you for more than a generation, if you're sitting in the 'wrong' seat, you both have to get up, shuffle across blankets, mustard pots, hot-water bottles, feet-warmers and dyhydrated Wisdens, so you're sitting in the 'right' seat. Social order isn't threatened, and Britain is great again. I imagine the MCC couple have this argument in bed as well as at the ground, assuming they share the same bed.

The cricket is slow and absorbing. For the first hour England seek a breakthorough to the tail end of Australia, while Clarke and Gilchrist, playing for place and form, survive and score with luck and skill in equal measure. After the interval the Barmy Army start up for the first time in earnest, but it's too late. Australia have saved the follow-on with Gilchrist depositing a long-handled fifty in the bank. The long-handle (holding the bat at the top rather than the bottom for greater leverage) the urge to get forward and fearlessly going arial, makes me think this is a latter-day left-handed Gilbert Jessop, aka The Croucher, aka The Office Emptier. Once too often Gillie smacks Gilo down Bellie's throat (if Bellies can have throats) - Gilchrist ct Bell b Giles 64.

After lunch Clarke and Warne kill off the game. The pitch is the only winner. Australia pass five hundred and England’s second innings starts at the end of the fourth day, more or less even stephens. Matthew Hoggard is a Hercules from Yorkshire taking 7 for 109, the second best ever by an Englishman at Adelaide. (The best is Farmer White of Hampshire in the 1929 Test described in yesterday’s poem.)


At times it must be like climbing onto the moors,
dog tugging the lead when mists and ran come down.
Hard to see, know where you are,
stumbling into rocks, bogs, uncertain of paths
that could lead to nowhere or circles,
worried you'll be out here beyond nightfall.

Whatever you do the elements take their toll,
sap the spirit till it seems easier to give up
than go on. The familiar world twists cruelly strange.
You climb each hill, break its back before
it breaks yours, seven times
for one hundred and nine long runs, dogged
against these hounds you never let off the leash.

Was this what to be anticipated before the start of play?

River Crossing

From the Torrens I see thousands teem across Adelaide Bridge
All on their way to the Oval for cricket.
In other times it might be a rock concert
Or refugees fleeing a heartless enemy.

But this is cricket, two sides joining together
to cros a river, its waters placid
to the burbling viaduct of soles above.

I shall join them soon, become one of many,
Another anonymous ticketed ripple
Pouring into the Oval, filling it to the brim
Around about the start of play.

Lock-keepers inspect our holds for proscribed cargoes
Against clearly marked manifests.
We pass through, jostling gates
For the bridge to fall quiet as the river it spans.

At the far end of the day, bails lifted
Pulls the plug on our seats and we stream out,
No locks or gates to bar our progress.

Were the hopes and fears ferried inside our holds
Ever realised? Why else teem across the Adelaide Bridge.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Adelaide Day Three - Reassertion

Day Three - reassertion

Just as I fire up my palm-top Hoggard fires out Hayden caught behind 2 for 35, or 35 for 2. Whichever way you look at it, needing 352 just to avoid the follow-on, Australia are starting to stare down the barrel.

Last session Hoggard wore a black armband, in memory of the first person he got out, who died this week. This morning I received an e-mail from my twin-brother to say our last surviving aunt has passed away - doubt if she ever watched a cricket game in her life, but there is a sense of the eternal in cricket which in some strange way helps the living come to terms with the mortal loss of those we love.

Adelaide is also like an England ground in that the crowd fall quiet with each ball. At the Gabba, however taut the state of play (admittedly England were bandjaxed) there was always a burble of chatter, like the cicadas in the park, almost regardless of the passage of play or people.

Sandwiches. I'm staying at My Place, a backpacker's hostel on Waymouth Street. I'm about twice as old as anyone else there, and I'm not sure what they make of me. One lad came in late last night well oiled and asked about poetry. I think the English have to be drunk to talk literature with writers. He was impressed by the Collingwood poem of two days ago, but wanted some rhymes with a vulgar term to apply to Shane Warne. 'Front,' I thought, 'which he has and you haven't.'

Sandwiches. The Aussies just bring themselves to a match. The English always bring sandwiches to the cricket. The packed lunch, thermos flask of tea or coffee, possibly both, umbrellas, plastic mackintoshes, blankets, newspapers and books to read, and when they finally sit themselves down, get comfortable to start to watch the rain fall on the covers, they say 'Oh dash it, dear, we forgot to pack the English mustard to go with the pork pies. We will have to make do with the French.' This morning I was making my sarnies along with another English bloke (we're outnumbered about two to one by Germans, no idea why) It took me back forty-five years.

My twin-brother and I used to go and watch county cricket at Cheltenham College. The Cheltenham Festival, years before the term was borrowed then usurped by the arty-farty literarti. In the morning we'd go to one of the first supermarket chains in England, suitably named Finefare, buy the makings for lunch, prepare sandwiches - egg and tomato my favourite, luncheon meat a very poor second, and set off again. In a way I'm still doing much the same - it's just 12,000 rather than a mile to the grounds. Learning something new, asserting the right to experience other worlds.

Martyn won't be doing that for a while after edging Hoggard to Bell. The rifling inside the barrel is visible in the whites of the Australian eyes when Giles drops a Ponting hook at deep square leg.....

Catches Win Matches

I swear I saw it come straight off the bat
A small red dot growing to fill the sky
and ready myself to hold its descent,
feet well apart, steady, hand-eye practiced
co-ordination triggered to make the catch.

Arms above my head, a high-board
diver sure to end the ball's spin, tuck
and revolutions with a perfect re-entry
to soft sweatless cushioned plams. Welcome
a mob of celebration. Mates stare. I dropped it.

I don't see how. A safe pair of hands,
maybe I lost it coming out of the stands,
the red and white flags of Saint George
a dragon of distraction that swallowed
opportunity in a fiery display of Engerland.

Profit from your opponents errors is a basic tenet of playing cricket. Ponting and Hussey do just that. From 65 for 3 to the Poms to 3 for 185 at tea is steering the game to a draw. Mount Adelaide at 551 seems an easier climb than Mount Gabba.

Australia even win the tea-break.

The Real Thing

At tea Team Boony and Team Beefy
contest the Battle of The ´Tasches.
A relay race to pad up, run away
and back again. As close to reality
as a rhyme is to fidelity.
None watch curatorial staff
re-line the crease, tend the pitch;
nor they us, the throng critical of players
once they resume the damning area.

After tea Ponting and Hussey continue their reprise of Collingwood and Pietersen. Score just gone to 236, the nearest to a wicket a run-out which takes the length of a spinners over for the third umpire to adjudicate. Juries can make decisions quicker, and it all adds to the suspense, the entire world inside the ground glued to the replay screen. Nine wickets and 789 runs in nearly two days play indicates the pitch might slightly over-favour the batsman, even if Ponting normally doesn't need luck. The writing on the wall is a draw, and another wicket doesn't fall before stumps, (new ball almost due) you can start to chiesel D R A W in stone.

With the new ball Hoggard knocks the mawl from the mason’s hands. Two quick wickets, Ponting and Hussey, and the day ends Australia 312-5. Both sides would have accepted that at start of play. I think Australia have done better than England, Australians vice-versa. Hoggard’s done well. Four wickets out of five. He started in mourning. Perhaps we should commemorate the dead by celebrating their lives. The 1928-9 Ashes series was timeless, in both senses of the word...

Day of The Dead

on the occasion of the 8th Baggy Green Dinner, Saturday 2nd December, 2007 Adelaide and in commemoration of the Fourth Test 1929

Seven days hard yakka, they rise from the Ashes,
individual heroes all in teams to test their
undivided mettle. Close finish at the close,
seven days hard yakka, still they rise for the occasion.

We worship the memory, the more their breaths are done
short or long in the field, Jackson to Bradman,
White to Hammond, all eleven of each side
split by just a dozen runs after seven days hard yakka

in a field near a river watched by many,
attended by empire from a different era,
depression and bodyline still to come,
Adelaide will always welcome its heroes

whose ghostly boot-sprigs clatter down
and up pavilion steps. Some quick, some slow,
some two at a time, some quiet, near funereal,
a tattoo as sure as any scorecard of exploits

to become players of today. You may say
they do not bear compare with yesteryears’
titans, god-bestowed elegance of performance
to mist over the grind of seven days hard yakka.

Turn for confirmation and you shall hear nothing.
Nothing from them, for other matters call
at the end of their days, boots, bats, pads,
sweated armoury, undone yet not yet stowed away,

half-abandoned, stranded in an unwashed canvas
of labour against dressing room tiers
bear witness to these invisible spectres
off to share a few cool ones with posterity they created.

Adelaide Day Two Record Breakers

It is a very English morning, I'm still wearing jacket and jeans as the sun just starts to come out after lunch.

Happy Birthday To You, Mr President

a cool morning’s start. blustery,
overcast, almost a two sweater day,
Collingwood’s very English century
made in very English conditions

i’ve come from the fun of the eighteenth
Test Match Brekkie. seven hundred in a room
Without views ending with scantily
clad New York, New York, all for charity

no charity here. Pietersen
laces McGrath’s first for three fours.
no back-handers or deceits however political
each bound to be found out for what they are
in these most English of conditions.

Queing for a warm drink - it's that cold, I fall into conversation with a woman from the hills, as she puts it, the Barrosa wine growing country. She's not a big sports fan, here with the family to fetch coffees, coats...I explain my game with words and poetry - 'oh, I like poetry - I'll take a look at the website.' I guess she's the sort of person Ashes Poetry is also aimed at - you don't have to a be cricket fiend to enjoy cricket poetry.

With this cold weather I run the risk of Serious Cricket Watchers Neck. A repetitive strain injury caused by turning from the field of play to the replay screen for a particular minutae of action. In this instance a near edge of Pietersen off Lee. In the end the snickometer is indeterminate, so I guess the pen is edgier than the blade, even when facing Glen McGrath today. Slowly but remorselessly they bat through towards the interval. It’s as though England have taken control of the weather, the skies about the ground, as well as the game itself. Just before lunch Clarke replaces Clark but still Australia can't bring England to account.

After lunch the sun comes out but still England murder the Australian attack till it almost becomes an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms like military intelligence or an adequate supply of alcohol. Collingwood and Pietersen put on 310, before Collingwood is out for 206, both all time Ashes records for Adelaide.

The ground doesn’t seem to mind. It’s so achingly beautiful at times, you wouldn’t be too upset if your own team went down their elegant drains here. At the drinks interval the Gatorade trolley looks way out of place, an interloper on tradition and custom. It’s not just me who doesn’t like it. The ground holds it in comtempt.

Here’s a riddle …

What’s the difference between the Gatorade Trolley and the Aussie attack?

Both trundle onto the pitch to refresh England’s batsmen but the wheels haven’t come off the Gatorade Trolley.

Finally England declare at 581, just in time for blacksmith Flintoff to fire out Langer. I go to read at the South Australian Cricket Association Historian’s Baggie Green dinner in a very happy English frame of mind (which explains the relative shortness of this report.) I even manage to get one of the quiz questions right (Who played a single Ashes test match and soccer for Manchester United – Arnie Sidebottom) I also appreciate how cricket has a huge and varied love, perhaps more than any other game.

Record Heart Breakers

big tough antipodean arms,
sheep reivers, drove men used to labour,
held firm across broad chests,
hill people down for the day.

in silence they watch the Southern Cross
suffer. they eschew 3 blow-up fingers
to say Go Australia. they are australia.

jets cross the wicket, spectators
instructed how to inflate life-jackets
in case of emergencies. hill people
eyes remain motionless. fielders
motion to each other
across the paddock.

not waving but drowning