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 29, 2006

Melbourne Day Three – Capitulation

Sorry about late arrival of this piece. This was due to England’s performance yesterday, which means there will no further service on days four and five.

Just before setting off rung by Peter Baxter to appear on Test Match Special at lunchtime. Arrive at the MCG early enough to talk to staff about arranging clearance. Gwenne who takes me to the media centre mentions how she studied Dante at university. The Divine Comedies should be read by more, I say. Maybe the Inferno would make a better bet to describe England's plight.

Get to my seat just in time to see Symond's inning end with a waft to Harmison, caught Read. Interesting to compare Mahmood with Harmison, especially side-on. Stevo is like Meccano, an action all bolted together, angles and straight bits, which constantly needs nuts and bolts tightening up, tweaking, gears putting into mesh. Mahmood is slow springy silk drawn along a draper's counter, ruffled then smooth again in the final delivery. Worth perserving with, even if Warnie gives him some tonk.

The MCG is gladitorial. A third umpire decision really would be a hundred thousand thumbs or down to decide the batsman's fate. Warne makes merry, takes Australia to 419, England second dig 260 behind. ABC call for an interview at the ground before start of play tomorrow. It could be all over by then.

Over lunch I'm in the Test Match Special box with Jonathan Agnew. It's unnerving as it is an honour. Henry Blofeld says 'Cook comes forward and plays no stroke,' and instaneously I'm tucked safely away in bed in Bakewell tuned in earphone in ear.

Test Match Special

I met him at a match. Daddy played,
one of his last, mummy in charge of teas,
we both agreed he was quite a catch
to bowl out dad and make the winning hit.
Egg and cress with cuppa held with no delicacy;
gloved paws crushed the bone-china twixt my knees.

Asleep now, or maybe awake, ear-piece to ear,
(my Christmas present to him last year)
tows him from my side to Australia
so far away, his flannellette hirsuite back
brushes my nose, the texture of bat-pad or strange
marsupial. Was it so different at our nuptials?
The raised colonade of bats from church door
in the mirror-polish of the chauffeured car
didn’t quite put me at the top of the order.
Nets, committees, summer and winter tours,
coaching the juniors. At least, mum said,
you know what he’s up to – don’t you?

Where’s his head now? Next week in Sherbourne,
unjambing the utility door, on the list since the year before,
countless club accounts and planning applications
(on the cards since the year before,) grandsons’ birthdays,
(left or right handers; bats or bowlers.) Ungainly huddled,
drowsy he mumbles, sighs, then turns his head
to shadow the clock-radio’s score; three in the morning,
without warning he’ll yell ‘Shot! Stupid Fool! O no, not again’

- As if they’re listening to him down under, or me.
It’s only when it’s done, another Ashes series gone,
he rolls over, asking to be held like a small boy
lost in his mother’s arms.

Talking of ears, Glenn McGrath gives Strauss's a right mouthful as they walk off for their lunch. 'Might be a poem there' I say to Peter Baxter, the TMS producer, 'McGrath has this miserable demeanour.'

Grump, grump, grump I'm Glen McGrath,
Grump, grump, galumph, galgrumpalumph, I'm Glen McGrath,
I'll bend your ear from here to the dressing room
And back again, over after over till you edge or miss
The point of my delivery

Around me are some of the greats of the game.

Not just Jonathan Agnew, but summarising with Blowers is Ian Chappell, in whose stand I sat in at Adelaide, perhaps one of the shrewdest and rudest Australian cricketers ever. Geoff Boycott walks in and out and in the foyer Ian Botham is grabbing some lunch. Ahead of me Blowers interviews Dennis Amiss, who I last saw in the flesh score a double hundred thirty years ago against the West Indies at the Oval, and stiill finish on a losing side (

Dennis's deft footwork nearly takes all the leads with him, and I take his seat, a right-hander with two left feet. Agnew is an excellent and perceptive interviewer. 'I know nothing about poetry,' he asks 'but why are in one poem some lines in pairs and in another they're not.' I explain about techniques such as internal rhymes in V-8 batting

aussie cars come with muscle for extra hustle

From V-8 batting back to my seat above the Barmy Army Heavy Division. We're 72 for 3. Cook played on to Clark, Bell lb to McGrath, not quite getting far enough forward, and Pietersen promoted up the order so he doesn't run out of partners, drives round a straight one from Clark. Both Bell and Pietersen tuck their bats under their arms in similar fashion as they return to the dressing rooms. The Army still make enough noise for Brett Lee to pause and acknowledge the Oooooo! as he starts his run-up. As each wicket falls, the Aussie Fanatics prepare their come-back anthem 'Four-nil' to the tune of Auld Lang Syne.

In the commentary box they wonder why the BA start singing when they do. One aspect is them noticing the tv cameras coming their way, the media leading the march. Another is perhaps why the mad thrash outside off-stump. Like English batsmen, they just have to, just a matter of when.

Does the Barmy Army help or hinder those in the middle? If England's fielding then probably yes. I remember standing with the Barmy Army during the last session of the last Ashes Test at Old Trafford. Everyone was on their feet cheering England on to take the last Australian wickets. Pietersen fielding in the deep urged us to make more noise, to help the team toward the extra effort of victory. Batting, not nearly so sure. You're so focused, concentrating on the task at hand, it's like every ball is a penalty kick; you divorce the crowd from your mind. Collingwood drives Lee to short-midoff. 75 for 4. So much for my TMS prediction 217 for 3 at stumps. Brett Lee extravagently bows towards the jeers from the Barmy Army.

Next to me is a cut-out Freddie Flintoff, while the real thing clouts Warnie for a two bounce four over square. Nick Whitlock, a poet from Cordite Poetry rings and we arrange to meet at tea.

We agree to set the series into 11 line stanzas, one for each innings batting line up, he taking the Aussies, me the Poms. 'If you don't have to bat again, we've saved you some work.' I say.

England all out 161, two more than their first knock, knockers please note, an innings and ninety-nine runs defeat.


Ghosts of ghosts of ghosts. The moving hand
Having writ will move on. Each stroke of the pen
Is a mark to be recorded but not taken back.
It is edgier than the blade.

The English batsmen, nothing to lose
Having lost the greatest prize, play at playing.
Their strokes not worthy of themselves
nor their imagination. Out.

Bat under arm, an envelope sealed of a letter
They never wished to write:
An imposition in detention,
It is signed, sealed and delivered.
The long slow empty walk to a lost pavilion.

Ghosts of ghosts of ghosts,
The originals swear under their breaths
To weep real enough tears.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Melbourne Day Two – cards, cars and cakes

Forgot to mention yesterday that Australia finished the day 2 for 48, Flintoff nearly getting a hat-trick. This is because I didn't have a scorecard. 'Scorecard? What the XXXX is a scorecard?' asks Aussie Bloke.

In England at any first class match, an up-to-date scorecard is printed and sold at the start of each day's play. Often they are reprinted for the intervals and close of innings. I remember the 1960s Cheltenham Festival had a scorecard printing tent, where under the canvas was an old-fashioned hot-lead printing press, doubtless steam-or-clockwork powered, which thumped the latest score out. You could hear its bangedy-crash-clatter reprise the strokes and wickets that had led to its activity. There was a distinct smell of oil, inks and paper, while if you were quick enough it'd smudge because the ink wasn't quite dry.

'We don't need scorecards,' says Aussie Bloke. 'We've got proper scoreboards.' Which is true, Australian scoreboards list all the players, bowling averages, balls faced, bail summons, divorce ratios - they don't need Bill Frindall either. Except Melbourne, where you have a two line entry below the replay screen which gives a fuller if not complete version which you can't quite read when it's not showing the Boonaza moment of the mouth, usually involving more Aussie Blokes.

'Who gives a XXXX about the score?' Aussie Bloke says. 'Us blokes are bound to win. - just a sec'

A Bloke goes for his mobile phone, as do thousands of other ABs. It's 3 mobile's advert which starts with the Green Baggies' mobile phones ringing. My mind wanders back to the Cheltenham Festival scorecards, which held the only advertising at the game - something like 'Acme Cleaners the acme for cleaning your acme.’

In contrast you can't move for advertising at the MCG. Armaguard to Toyota, including Florsheim Florsheim who probably took over Acme Acme years ago. Seems a shame none of them have thought to sponsor a half-way decent scorecard, because then I could tell you that Australia finished 111 behind England, the dreaded Nelson, without even one ball left.

Play's about to start. Laurel, my daughter, has just spilled her hot Milo I queued days for.

MCG criticism time

The food and non-alcoholic drinks outlets need a serious wake-up call straight up their collective backsides. There were more people behind the counter than in the queue, all doing nothing to administer to the queue's needs. It's just as bad outside the ground, where a van had six staff each arguing with each other about what none of them were doing, namely just one dealing with the customers, serving through a six inch wide slit.

'Real coffee,' they said. I agree. It was the poorest flat white I've tasted in Oz. There could be worse, but it'd have to resemble sump oil with extra sludge. The back-room boys at the MCG need to issue catering contracts which stipulate 'Don't let the queues start' and check they don't.

It’s peculiar that at the security over-kill Gabba, the service was the best to date. Memo to MCG Catering Contracts Department "Full body-search brain-inspection security checks for customer awareness monitoring required on a regular basis."

End of MCG criticism. Australia are scoring even more slowly than England yesterday. Sun comes out, Flintoff gets Ponting to sky a hook to Cook at mid-on for 7, 64 for 3. The blacksmith rivets the dancer back to the hutch. Flintoff and Hoggard are bowling their hearts out. With some luck England might restrict Australia to less than two hundred. A maiden from Hoggard, the crowd hushed.

Drinks, and Melbourne does not have the Inflatable Gatorade truck. Far more civilised and pukka. Well done, MCG

First ball after, Hoggard gets one to come back just enough to slip through and take Hussey's off stump for six. 79 for 4. Harmison's second ball lifts, Clarke edges to slip, ct Read 6, 84 for 5, the Barmy Army fill the MCG with who they are. "Mighty Mighty England"

Only Australia are, as throughout this series, just that significant iota better. Hayden and Symonds, seventeen balls to get off the mark, bat from lunch to tea taking the score to 228. 150 partnership follows, and the game gradually diminishes from England's view, a fast car accelerating away as the traffic lights change to green.

Never mind steam or clockwork powered printing presses, and sump-oil with extra sludge, the V-8 has a Queensland rego. Century-makers Hayden and Symonds are both from the north east state, big blokes who play big strokes. Symond's maiden test century comes with a six straight over bowler Collingwood's head. Double-ton stand brings them to 322 at the second new ball. From 84-5 England have been left standing, an inning's defeat looming in the trans-Australian Ashes race.

V- 8 Batting

aussie cars come with muscle for extra hustle
to cover the ground across the states.

hear them burble, roar and hurtle
past bystanders awash with their dust.

in Queensland they understand
these unwritten rules of the road.

big blokes with big strokes
smack the ball and keep the score

accelerating towards a vanishing point
of vanquished oblivion

foot flat out down the wicket
the Hayden-Symonds 279

has all the go you need
a howling good motor

the poms innings defeat
looms large in its rear-view mirror.

At 350 for 5, Andrew Strauss runs a big circle from slip to bowler back to slip again giving and taking catches to gee up the team. Captain Freddie claps his efforts from second slip before bowling another over. It seems to have some effect. Mahmood gets both Hayden and then wrecking truck Gilchrist to edge behind. 7 for 372. There might be a chance if England finish the innings quickly and bat out of their skins…. It might just delay the Parfitt moment. Whether or not bowling plans were nicked from their dressing room, the England team hasn’t stopped trying.

As an England supporter I suppose I should stick to humble pie but for lunch today we shared some of Connie’s Christmas Cake.

Cricket Is A Cake At Christmas

Months of preparation. Fruit grown,
picked, selected, dried, packed, distributed,
displayed, assessed, purchased, steeped in rum,
sherry, port and other essential spirits.

Nuts harvested too, shelled, roasted
with aromatics; mixed, stirred, egged,
wholemeal flours, light and dark
demerara sugars, nutmeg, cinnamon, mace,
caught and ground exotica to spice and seal
a well-lined, slow slow oven,
all well seasoned till done.

Moist, firm, flamboyant teams of flavours
compete for supremacy. Each morsel,
taste, touch and more their anticipation
are the cuts, pulls, drives, catches and saves
you came to consume and savour

Memories replaced with the cake
inside its tin, to store for coming seasons.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Melbourne Day One - Warnetics

The MCG is huge. To give you an idea of its size, you could seat a packed-out Derby County, Coventry City and any other Championship Ground and still have room. 105,000 people. Pretty well the population of the Peak District. Fantastic.

And of course it comes with English weather, that intermittant fine veil-like haze of mist you can't quite see but brushes the skin with the dampness of impending decay. It has already delayed the start of play. According to The Age it snowed in Victoria yesterday, which is probably less feasible than snow in Buxton in July, or England winning the next two tests. Now it is coming down heavier. It'd be an irony if at the MCG rain were to save Australia.

You feel sorry for the English fans who've arrived for the last two tests. Not only is the weather about as bad as when they left - not seen a pair of shorts, never mind sun crème today - they've set off knowing the Ashes are lost, and the next two are by comparison, bun-fights. I remember Jonathan Agnew being asked on a phone-in about whether the series would still be live by Melbourne, where the questioner was contemplating going out for the last two tests. 'Oh yes,' said Aggers, 'England won't have lost the Ashes by then.'

In a way my work is done. Before leaving England Arts Council England dubbed me 'The Official Ashes Poet.' I had me down as a bloke who was writing some poetry about cricket, two of his many loves. However my task as Official Ashes Poet is now effectively over, since the series has been decided. Pacé Orwell, sport is war without weapons, it's like being a war artist once the war is over.

I shall just write poetry in and around the cricket. Or its lack at present. It's suddenly become much brighter - they've switched the floodlights on. They've also taken the covers off the pitch, England have won the toss and elected to bat. It takes two overs for their openers to put that bat on ball.

Rain brings an early lunch, 36 for 1, Cook caught Gilchrist bowled Lee, shouldering arms. The rain also brings the nap out of the mown outfield whose plaid of rhomboid squares gives the appearances of one of those woollen scarves the Queen wears at Balmoral. And they play Aussie Rules on this during the winter.

Melbourne Cricket Ground

No village green or country paddock,
the mower misses the long grass wrapped
around the roller and peeling sight screens
pushed over for winter, benches tipped up,
in brass-plated memory of Roger or Ethel
who spent many a long afternoon
pint or thermos to hand and oblivion
the world passed by. At the heart of it all
lies twenty-two yards, wicket to wicket,
tenth of a furlong, a chain
to tie bat to ball, a landscape
of former empire, medieval origins,
acres ploughed through the mind,
one hundred and five thousand assemble
to worship.

44 for 2. Bell lbw Clark 7. Between showers very English conditions, overcast, ball daring about, not a single bouncer to date. Between showers, and only one boundary to date.

A great blow for radical thought and Australian freedom, one of the security team throw back one of the crowd's beach balls. Melbourne, a city proud of its liberal virtues. Had it been Brisbane and The Gabba, they'd have probably neutered the poor security team member's progeny as well as deporting him for Un-Australian Activities. Strauss hits the second boundary of the day, an hour after lunch. Thin rations all round for Boxing Day but absorbing cricket.

101 for 2. Collingwood and Strauss play and miss to a fifty partnership and Strauss's first fifty of the series before Collingwood edges to second slip off one which Lee gets to lift. Next ball is the big one. Strauss plays round a straight one from Warne and is cleaned bowled. No complaints there, not least from the Melbourne crowd where their favourite prodigal nabs his seven hundredth test wicket. A three minute standing ovation from everyone English and Australian alike. I wonder what Shane feels. Relief, I imagine. Mission accomplished, and in accomplished style. Now he's reached his goal in front of his home crowd, retirement planned and announced and Ashes in the bag, Warne S K can enjoy himself, doubtless at England's expense. Ladies and Gentleman, Shane's seventh hundredth test wicket is in the MCG

Warne, Shane Keith born 13 September 1969 test match debut January 1992
(To the jig, The Sailor’s Hornpipe)

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.

A leggie with Clarrie Grimmett’s accuracy (plus extra hair)
The wrong ’un, hard to pick, and howzat when beaten through the air,
The flipper and the toppie, zooter and the slider
And the chatter: yells, looks, asides and pleas,
(the only time the bloke’s down on his knees,)
A Clarence Darrow George Carman at the crease
What umpire on earth however stoney could say no?
Another baffled though reluctant victim tries to dilly-dally but he has to go.

The next man in is almost out before he’s in.
The legendary magician will mesmerise him.
He knows he’ll have to face a flighty camisole tease:
A forbidden glimpse of flesh to tantalise
Reveals a hirsuite Superman medallioned Australian chest
Full of tricks the antipodean baccus of temptation doesn’t divest
Before the silly fool with bat and pads realises he’s transgressed
The blond cherubim’s spinning finger puts him to rest.

A waistline that indicates adequate social activity
Since an Ashes debut in 1993; Warne, S K.
Shoulder strapped, lucky charms, his daughter’s bracelet,
The facts are patently clear, he should really try to face it,
Whatever schemes and dreams of schemes are whirling on within,
The top of his head is not quite what it used to be,
(In fact, somewhat like this rhyme, going rather thin.)
Harum-scarums with mobiles and diuretics,
His simple way with words schtums clever dick critics,
Through thick and thin he’s always gone back
To his mark: a three-card trick-sy four-step run

That flummoxed Fat Gatt with the ball of last century,
At the lees of his career, the ikon’s tank is close enough to empty
Lo, he gambols past Strauss A J, namely number Seven Hundred
And yet another one. Forget the waist, hair and old age. Heed the old adage
If you’re good enough, you’re old enough. Let him rip his ripper one last rip,
As The Grauniad's Trundler-in-Chief Selvey opines
‘No game’s over till the fat boy spins.’
I’ll buy that, gimme me one more, Skip.
Good on yer, Warnie. May The Good Lord Bless
How your balls turned square!

117 for 4 at tea, another defeat, like a U-boat periscope sighted by an English convoy, starts to loom... Except Gilchrist misses stumping Pietersen off Warne. The other ships go down with scarcely a trace. HMS Flintoff flashing at Clark, MV Read driving at Warne, SS Mahmood caught behind for a duck, Collier Harmison holed out to Warne, Show Boat Pietersen short of the fence, Pedalo Panesar another swipe. 159 all out.

Hard graft against the swinging new ball done, the last eight wickets fell for 58 runs.

Here's a carol for Billy The Trumpet

I saw England collapse again
Collapse again, collapse again
I saw England collapse again
On Boxing Day in Melbourne

Warnie got 5 for 39,
5 for 39, 5 for 39
Warnie got 5 for 39

On Boxing Day in Melbourne

Bonjour Trieste

A Survival Guide to the Loss of the Ashes, and similar English sporting failures.

Fifty Ways
(after Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover – Paul Simon)

It’s bad to be defeated
All too easily.
We travelled here with such high hopes
To end in misery.
It could have been much worse though how
I cannot see.
There must be fifty ways
To lose the Ashes.

A negative strategy made it
Harder to win,
And by the same token opponents
Reckon you’re about to give in.
We bent right over
So you could give our arse a good kicking,
There must be fifty ways
To lose the Ashes.
Fifty ways to lose the Ashes.


Play the Australians.
Pick Geraint Jones
Ahead of Chris Read.
Don’t prepare for the Gabba,
Ignore Monty Panesar,
Madness at Adelaide,
Led t(w)o the Waca.

Over a hundred thousand
Have paid to be at the MCG.
Even a fourth Aussie victory
Will seem a little empty,
Now there’s nothing we can do
To make the series live again.
A win is still a loss;
You don’t need to use
All those fifty ways.

Maybe it doesn’t matter
If we go and lose five nil.
We’ve already lost what we
aimed to fulfill. We can’t change
Those first three games,
There must be fifty ways
To lose the Ashes


Play the Australians.
Pick Geraint Jones
Ahead of Chris Read.
Don’t prepare for the Gabba,
Ignore Monty Panesar,
Madness at Adelaide,
Led t(w)o the Waca.

Australians need not go much further than this. Winning is joy shared by all, except the loser. Loss is more private, if not personal.

This guide should not be necessary. Not just because England at worst should have drawn Adelaide, but by now England supporters should have grown used to loss and disappointment, not just in tests, but also one day internationals, soccer, rugger (both codes, especially union) athletics (2012 here we come) Wimbledon and lest you've forgotten the Empire - which included Australia.

As nations we're sporting antipodes. England loses far more than we win, while Australia wins far more than they lose. Likewise expectations. England build expectations upon hopes upon dreams. Australians do their best.

So, how as an England supporter do you cope with loss and failure? Here I speak with some acumen and expertise. Not just as an England supporter, I'm a third generation Coventry City fan. Here are several methods, tried and tested, together with a context-based star rating.

The Grieving Process
This is the classical method of coming to terms to coming to terms. Shock, Disbelief, Anger, Guilt, Remorse, Sadness before moving onto the next Ashes Series. Hard work, soul searching, but may lead to personal growth, which in this context is wholly irrelevant ***

Alternate Realities
You need a smattering of relativity physics for this to work. There is an alternate world in the universe where Vaughan comes back with a fully fit team from Australia having retained the Ashes. A variation is Lady Luck - if only Giles had caught Ponting, Strauss not given out lb, Captain Cook not discovered Australia... Neither luck nor alternate realities hold much water in face of a three nil drubbing. *

Especially after the batting in the second innings at Adelaide, you start to think you could do at least as well as the players you support, especially if you've travelled round the world to do it. However 'My dead grandmother could play that Shane Warne with a stick of celery blindfold with both hands tied behind her back' doesn't quite have that ring of truth about it. **

Always Look On The Bright Side of Life
This is the Barmy Army Weltanschlung. For it to have any chance of working it requires copious consumption of alcohol. Indeed for the Barmy Army, win, draw or lose requires copious alcoholic consumption. Provides instant and oblivious if temporary relief. The morning after may well bring back the full horror of the situation. **

Temporary Transference of Cultural Identity
Desperate situations require desperate measures. You can deny you were ever interested in cricket, or supported England. You'll need a alternate pursuit and/or nationality. For example, tiddlewinks or my favourite, as someone with half-Russian blood, becoming a member of the MCC - Moscow Cricket Club. Be prepared for the guilt and loneliness of isolation, not to mention knowing when to time your return. *

Historiography Perhaps the most effective means of combating cricketing failure - the study of the past. It's a short but easy step to travel from the 2005 Ashes Victory to memories of Gatting, Botham, Brealey, Hutton and before you know it, you'll find yourself saying 'That Hammond's some player' or 'Should we play Ames or Duckworth?' It doesn't matter because cricket supporters will respect your knowledge and learning, even possibly forgiving the odd lapse of memory when it comes to buying your round.

Interestingly, the world of literature doesn't possess this depth and gravitas. Bonjour Trieste was written in the 1950s by Francoise Sagan as the sad end to the gay (both senses of the word) riviera life of the epoch and her own. Trieste, that Adriatic resort which can't decide if it's Italian or Slavonic. Today Sagan's excellent novel is out of print and forgotten. Not so great cricketers of class and the past. *****

Analysis of Failure

This is for cricket lovers, especially English cricket supporters, who wonder why the Ashes were lost so readily after taking so long to regain.

Previous Performances

We did better than the last time down under. The 2002-3 team lasted eleven days in their attempt to wrest the Ashes. At least this time it was fifteen. Whether this understated fact is considered significant probably depends upon individual reader's expectations.

Selection - overall tour party

The tour party selection was good. No one has said no one who went shouldn't have and no one who didn't go should've. Maybe Robert Key can consider himself unlucky not to replace Marcus Trescothick instead of Ed Joyce, and some would argue that Neil Broad should've been called up once the pace attack seemed so toothless, but I can't remember the basic selection being so right, and agreed to be right. Odd that the media hasn't pointed this out, or may be it isn't...

Effort and The Media

The team did try their hardest. The Daily Mail and other papers to bang on about too many parties etc is, to use a very technical phrase most readily understood by those in the media, bollocks. Not only is it bollocks, it's hypocritical bollocks. This is the same paper that praised this team to the hilt and beyond, doubtless enthusing about Flintoff's drunken state the morning after the night before regaining the Ashes.

Not only is it hypocritical bollocks, it is also lamentable bollocks. A common problem all England teams in all sports face is media intrusion and expectation. This in turn creates stories which don't exist. My missus tells me that there is a dressing room fall-out because Flintoff doesn't like Panesar. This story doubtless arose because Fletcher said he wanted Panesar in at Adelaide, whereas apparently Flintoff didn't, thus breaking the cardinal rule that individual selector’s opinions are never ever discussed in public (it is a corporate decision) In turn journalists turn this into a "Freddie hates Monty" story, and regardless of substance it is difficult to deny ("Duncan denies Freddie hates Monty") Can you imagine the Australian press running such a story, regardless of how well or badly the team was doing? No. And if any paper tried, they'd be tried and found guilty of that most heinous sin, not backing the team.

There's no story in the first place, since there is no reason any two players should like or dislike each other. They are professional cricketers working together to do a job of work, and all professionals work with others they may or may not choose to otherwise be with.

Talking of being professional, sports journalists should stick to sport, rather than invade personal space. The hypocritical (does journos' personal lives ever come under press scrutiny?) and lamentable (does invasion of privacy help England teams?) bollockry that fills far too many column inches does nothing to support England teams. Worse it leaves less space for true sports journalism. The ability of the Australian media to support their team in times of difficulty is diametrically opposed by the ability of their English counterparts to do the exact opposite. Stick to the facts of the matter at hand, and write about them well.

Efficiency of Effort

England did try hard, very hard, if at times they were exceptionally trying.

We are now getting to the facts of the matter at hand. As detailed in 'Post Mortem' after the Adelaide Test, England teams handicap themselves by using a mental model of Anticipated Outcomes - 'We have won the Ashes, therefore we shall keep them' which is particular weak opposed to the Australian model of realising desires 'Let's get the Ashes back.'

Both the England team and media used this model, as have the England soccer teams and press with the World Cup since 1966.

In this instance, it meant a complete reversal of the strategy that won them the Ashes. Instead of going hard, realistically attacking at all times, outdoing the Aussies at their own game, England were excessively defensive, keen only to protect what they held, not to grind the opposition into the dust. Doubtless this strategy was discussed and agreed by England team management and was the primordinal error, since it made it almost impossible for them to retain the Ashes.

Australian Conditions

Insufficiently taken into account. "We beat them last series, therefore we should this series." Something which is quite hard to see on the box, the increased size of the grounds - which makes finding gaps different, and hitting boundaries and going arial harder - and the different nature of the wickets - more bounce, less lateral movement - means you need to adapt your game, never mind the sun and playing away. No amount of net practice will provide compared to time in the middle. In other words all the team were still experimenting during the First Test at the Gabba, and some still are at the Waca. (Not sure if Geraint Jones will ever have the game to bat successfully in Australia.)


This comes down to schedule. England are playing not enough yet too much cricket. Before The Gabba they needed two hard four day State games in order to 'hit their straps.' Presumably this could have been arranged. It seems tour management believed this was unnecessary and also undesirable. In other words they underestimated the task at hand because they were already anticipating the outcome of retaining the Ashes.

Selection - match by match

Injuries and absences did make a difference, but not to the extent of a 2-1 winning side already 3-0 down. Put it another way, even with Siinon Jones, Trescothick and Vaughan avaiable, the negative strategy still would have played into Australian hands. The selection of Geraint Jones and Giles ahead of Read and Panesar was part and parcel of this negative ethos. As curiously was Flintoff as Captain - a great player in 2005, therefore best choice of captain in 2006-7. You’re only as good as the next ball.

Overall Rod Marsh is right. England have gone backwards since 2005. The question is how to go forwards again.

Where Next

Here I wish the solutions were as readily identifiable as the problems. I 'd go for achieving quality and potential. This would mean selecting players on the basis of the prime part of their game (ie Panesar and Read rather than Giles and Jones) It would also mean hard warm-up games so that the team was match rather than net-hardened. Taken together this should mean England are as well prepared as Australia. Together with an aggressive attacking attitude, playing to win, it should mean that England has a fighting chance. Without it there is no hope except relying on outrageous amounts of luck.

It'll be interesting to see whether England play with a different ethos in the last two tests.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Perth & Freemantle

Sorry Western Australia, can't say I was taken too much by Perth.

"Sheffield has never much cared for its history and buildings, and one day it will regret it" Sheffield Telegraph 1907.

“Darkness insists that Sheffield is a city, a metropolis; daylight reduces it to its component parts, to a series of bloated villages, unfolding across the undulations, linked only by sewers and roads. Perhaps this is all Sheffield has become: an infrastructure in search of a city, a system of services and administrative units sprawling across an intractable landscape.”
Richard Burns, The Guardian 1991.

Unlike Adelaide, Perth has denied its grand design. True the civic vista along the Swan River still exists, but that's about it. For the rest, it is a hodge-podge of high-risers and malls dotted here and there without rhyme or reason, as though the civic planning authorities after a good night out came back to the office, stuck a map of the city on the wall and threw darts at it backwards over their shoulders. Where they stuck in, new development. It is appalling.

You can see glimpses of the 1890s to 1920s Perth here and there, rather like valuable antiques in a scrapyard. But the original gold-rush boom town, which all Australia, never mind Western Australia, admired, has been destroyed, buried and gone.

Worse it's been replaced by the worst of modernist male architecture.

This is the Fire Station. If ever a building wore raybans, this is it.

More recently Perth planners have acknowledged some sort of past but instead of locating and refining it, it's just a mantelpiece ornament.

This building is going up next to Rayban Fire Station. It gets the Totally Naff Retro-Facadism Award, and all the architects and planners involved in this slur upon their profession should be neutered to ensure no progeny devise anything similar.

They should also do penance by looking after homes and children for at least the time it takes to design and build this thing. You see, Perth is Malesville.

Outside St Martin's Business Centre, another phallic tower, this piece of pub(l)ic art is a monument to two centuries of businessmen. Forget the glass ceiling, women, you can't even get through the door.

The way Perth works reflects this abysmal architecture and city planning. There is no public transport to its International Airport. In case that didn't sink in, or you think I've made a gross typo, there is no public transport to its International Airport. Just a moment, congestion, global warming.....

Service is dire, almost as bad as England on a bad day. 'That bad, eh?' Not just my opinion, official surveys state levels of service in Perth are the worst in Australia. They put it down to the mining industry - West Australia is booming on providing the iron ore for far east economic development - taking the best people. Not so sure myself. Why isn't the same true in Brisbane? I reckon it's something to do with the extreme isolation of Western Australia. Not just the two hour time difference, but a basically male dominated society. There is nothing soft, cuddly, warm, graceful, feminine or caring about Perth, all the key attributes which lie behind good service. In Malesville feminism doesn't seem to have happened. Apparently Brits like to retire to Perth, maybe those who like a world where men are men and women don't count.

The construction sites are accidents waiting to happen. No one wears hard hats, no one obeys basic rules. Here's a site supervisor who can't be arsed to do up his bootlaces.

I used to be a field archaeologist and was a bit of a tartar about health and safety, hence no serious accidents on any site I was responsible for. Perth needs to do up its bootlaces and get its act together.

It wouldn't be so bad, (well no, it is that bad) except a dozen miles downriver is Fremantle, Perth's harbour, which remains a truly beautiful city. Imagine Tilbury and London reversed and you've got the picture.

Wouldn't you love seeing this at the start and end of your working day as you took the train to work?

If cities are works of art, pace Plato, Adelaide is Athens. Whatever Perth was, it's now become Sparta. It needs a Lysistrata to withold sex, especially to its architects and planners in order to bring any sense to the place. Aristophanes knew what he was talking about. In Lyistrata the men wore phalluses. In Perth they wear high-risers.

If as A N Whitehead said, the history of western philosophy are footnotes to Plato, then the history of western civilisation are scatological references to Aristophanes. Methinks the difference between contemporary Perth and Adelaide may well have something to do with the lack of (phallo-centric) party politics in Adelaide's local government.

Next stop Melbourne and Sydney.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas in Australia

21nd December 2006, Fremantle

Don't think I'm the right bloke to talk about spending Christmas anywhere. Someone who's a lapsed atheist of jewish descent isn't go to go overboard on the holy trinity son of god born in Bethlehem thing.

By and large I'm a pretty jovial chap most of the year, but Christmas with its enforced bonhomie and rampant commercialism bring out the best or worst in me. 362/365 I'm Mr Friendly-Face. Christmas is my time to be a thoroughly miserable git.

The weather's lousy. People you don't know at all come up as though you're life-long friends to wish you all the best, or worse they're people you do vaguely know and spend most of the time avoiding, or worst of all people you know don't give a monkey's about you send 'tra-la-la let's be merry' Christmas cards. 'Up yours' you feel like replying, only you can't be humbugged.

It's fair to say Christmas in Australia is upside down. The pagan side doesn't relate. In a pre-deepfreeze industrialised economy Yuletide was when you killed off the livestock you don't need for breeding purposes. So you might as well celebrate eating that big old cow or pig that's been manuring your front yard for the last two years. Likewise all those mince pies, fruit cakes and plum duffs you've been storing up for God knows how long. This went by the board with global refrigeration (which help precipitate global warming, all you irony-watchers) but in Australia you don't even have the weather for it, since it is height of their summer. Therefore you can forget all that traditional fair stodge rhubarb, which Australians do.

No point since the weather is fantastic. I'm missing the chestnuts roasting by an open fire, but not the crap weather it's an escape from.

As Ian Wood, another novelist who lives about five minutes down the road put it:- "Today in Bakewell the atmosphere is suffused with moisture and it is quite hard to see from one side of the road to the other. There is no sign of snow, but every chance of rain. And it is very cold."

Or as my archaeological mate, Ken wrote of the Freemantle sea-scape "What kind of parents are you that could so easily swap the fog, cold overcast and frost of a Sheffield day for that? With the added penalty that Laurel won't have access to my latest batch of onion bhajias. Well, I hope the sand doesn't get into the turkey too much."

The Australian shops and civic bods do try to do things English style. Here's Brisbane's Christmas tree, which is sixty foot high totally artificial and looks completely naff in sub-tropical weather apart from ten minutes of twilight. Whether it increases sales or lengths of people's grins or faces is anyone's guess. Santa gets a rough deal of it. He still has to wear the full monty, red fur coat, boots, gloves and ho-ho-beard. His red cheeks are due to too much sun, not sherry at the fireplace, because Queensland houses don't have fireplaces. You can buy blow-up Santas and Christmas Trees which probably sell as fast as they can get the puff to puff because Aussies love anything blow-up, and the bigger they blow-up the better, especially egos, so they can deflate them again.

Adelaide, being smart and cultured, doesn't do blow-up. Instead 'eight world famous sand artists with specially compressed and graded sand' spent at least three days producing this little lulu. Two of those days were dismantling it in search of one of the artists' car keys, which were discovered in his back pocket all along. A plea of justifiable homicide is likely to be accepted.

Car-keys aside, Aussies themselves don't seem to take Christmas too seriously. There is no mad shopping, shops running out of food at the one time of the year when everyone's larder and bellies are groaning at each other. And the bizarre ecologically bonkers habit of everyone giving everyone else a Christmas card (Did you see my ad in The Times 'David Fine is probably not sending cards this year.')

Instead Australia is travelling continent distances to be with their nearest and dearest they spend the rest of the year avoiding. You could almost taste the anticipated fear and loathing on the Quantas flight from Perth to Sydney. Flight delayed - two people didn't get on the plane for 'personal reasons.' You could feel two hundred others wishing they had the nerve to do the same.

But there is the magic, the real magic of an antipodean Christmas. The start of the summer holidays. Why manic overdulgence for six days when you can stretch out slobbing out over six weeks? Pace yourself. Seems far more civilised.

The churches don't really bother either, thank God. That false religious thing which intervenes in the Happy Adverse Stress Event Shop-till-You-Drop Season which the English know and love. Maybe Quantas could do 'Macho-Plastic Melt-down Freeze Your Nuts Off' Christmas Specials to the 'Old Country' Start now by joining the queue for queues. As Tom Wait put it 'If you want to go mad, you better get in line.'

If you don't, for all you Australians who wonder what rural England is really like at Christmas, read on, dear reader, read on.

It’s Cold Enough To Snow

the earth is close to silence.
dark, cold, ready to crack open,
frost the stubble upon a shepherd’s jaw.

one step and the earth is broken,
and once broken, ready to break once more.
watchful for signs, feet tread warily, willing
to concur or demur where others step before

but less clear the gifted senses: taste, touch or
ear. Give them compass to ensure
safe journey outside a windowed, tinselled whirled
as heaven goes about its business –

hard harked the dark to till the well-flocked stars
seeded by eternity’s calloused hand. In its sleep
unceremonied magic spells a land
where we rise, renewed, reborn upon this day:

a past is borne upon its back,
the world’s an ass to carry
a troubled sack of adventures
without these troubles annulled.

walk soft, slack reins, bite not the bit.

beneath our well-hidden soles
obedient earth shall still disobey:
across moor, copse, fields and hollows
it is cold enough to snow.