Twenty Eight Poems About Cricket
What is it makes a perfect commentator?
A connoisseurs knowledge of cakes,
Or lakes of conversation in the rain,
Taking the strain from the weather?
A feathered phrase, a witty jibe,
The knack of spotting the unusual from the bland,
Making an event occur
When little seems at hand.
Some knowledge shown,
But, rather more, opinions thrown between the balls
And some acceleration in the voice
As wicket falls.
A thirst for the peculiar,
Concern for pigeons in the afternoon,
A hearty optimism,
And a sense of doom.
A willingness to be at a loss,
To explain the tactics as a mystery,
But most of all a sense that “we”
Are taking part in something in the history
Of the game.
There was always one phrase
that throughout my career
Sent a shiver of anger
from ear to ear,
If I was run out
with a dubious call,
Or, ducking askew,
I was hit by the ball,
When finding my six
had dropped short to a four,
When struck on the pad
and sent out leg-before,
When trying a boundary
and losing the match,
When losing my footing
and dropping a catch,
When watching my googly
turn into a wide
The bold cover drive
that ended up skied,
When sat in my pads
as the skipper declared,
When having to tell,
in the pub, how I fared,
There's always one phrase
guaranteed to annoy,
The crisp recitation of
“BAD LUCK OLD BOY!”
I've not been here for thirty years;
My humble pitch converted in hard times
To a merchant's yard,
And where the wicket used to stand,
A pile of builder's sand.
I walk towards a thicket,
Past a stack of bricks at extra-cover,
Peel back the briars to discover
The old pavilion,
And, where my feet once rested,
Sleeping bags of garden peat.
A little rusted now, but still the shadow of itself,
The scoreboard stands,
Invaded by the bracken and the ivy hands,
Its numbers lost
And, no doubt, lying somewhere
As a sad memento to the cost
Desmond Haynes, Desmond Haynes,
Cricket is full of such glorious names,
Rhodes and Hendren, Grace, Grace, Grace,
Larwood, Thompson, men of pace,
Quadir, Bedi, Maninder Singh,
Underwood and the men of spin,
Botham, Gower , England 's hope
To get the ball to the boundary rope,
Marshall , Garner, Holding, Croft,
So very rarely hit aloft,
Worrell, Weekes and, of course, Walcott,
The W.I. have the W lot,
Chester , Constant, Dicky Bird,
Always cool and rarely heard,
But what could ever be quite as silly
The new Mound Stand
Is, I think, grand,
If somewhat controversial.
For some say “Rot,
It is a blot
Too modern and commercial.”
They may be right
That, on first sight,
It seems a funny creature,
But in a while
I think it's style
Will be a cherished feature.
So don't cross swords,
You men of Lords,
Give this new stand a chance,
For it is best
That you adjust
To changing circumstance.
Listening to the radio,
The Test Match from Bombay ,
There's sun over the satellite,
Here snow is on the way.
The Indians are batting,
The bowlers, toiling hard all day,
Have blisters on their feet.
Gavasker makes a century,
The crowds begin to roar,
I listen hard at 5 a.m. ,
But stay awake no more.
At half-past six I wake again
To hear the wireless blaring,
Gavasker still is glancing fours,
I go to work despairing.
Here we sit with nerves like steel,
Pre-decision and post-appeal,
The bowler has turned and screamed out “Howzat?”
With breath that fair quivered my Panama hat.
The batsman looks nervous,
Not sure if he's caught,
Desperately wanting to know
What I thought.
I ponder, lean forward, while pursing my lips,
The bowler stands frowning with hands upon hips,
Everyone still, all the fielders the same,
But keeping them waiting is part of the game.
The wicked whistle of a six,
An advertising board, a thump,
The hissing of a whipping yorker,
The cracking of the middle stump.
The hollow knock of shots mis-timing,
A curling drive, a reflex catch,
The subtle elegance of sweeps,
A steady four of sure dispatch.
The watch-work purring of the spinner,
Dilemma, pendular, in air,
The hesitation, frozen moment,
The keeper's gloves sow cruel despair.
The nervousness of ninety-nine,
A sense of fate, a shade of doubt,
And guilty satisfaction brimming
From the man that bowls him out.
The maverick pugnacious hitter,
Twenty-four at four a ball,
Caught, while hooking, by long leg,
A stubborn glory in his fall.
The pacemen raising puffs of dust,
A click and instant cheer of slips,
A megaphonic rural umpire,
“No ball” ballooning from his lips.
All glorious moments from the game
Of people hitting balls with sticks,
But nothing else has quite the thrill
Of the wicked whistle of the six.
He is the wily spinner
With the fingers of a witch,
His smile is enigmatic
And as devious as his pitch.
He always seems so kindly
With a gentle reputation,
He is the one whose wobbly run
Flushed with youthful confidence,
The batsman starts to flail,
The spinner grins like a Cheshire cat,
The ball removes the bail.
He is the wily spinner,
Deceptive in his flight,
A wicket down and in his eye
Is devious delight.
Plod, plod, plod, plod,
These are the steps that the umpire trod,
Both in the heat and on the wet sod,
The umpires came and their judgment was god.
Occasionally thin, but more usually stout,
They knew all the rules and they heard every shout,
Always impartial, be it sportsman or lout,
A shake of the head as they murmured
The bowler cursed the wicket-keeper
With horror in his eyes,
The ball slipped past the glovened hand
And whistled for four byes.
The keeper never stood a chance,
Such was the dodgy wicket,
But still the bowler looked askance
And cursed the keeper's cricket.
He scuttled backwards to his mark
And almost made his peace,
Then hurtling like a fireball
He overstepped the crease.
“No ball!” the umpire yelled with glee,
The bowler went vermilion,
Then scurried in with a full toss
Hit over the pavilion.
His ears blushed, his nostrils flared,
His throat gathered a lump,
Then in he charged and calmed himself
By hitting middle stump.
The bowler smiled, all friends again,
The batsman walked with grace.
A little provocation fans
The fire in the pace.
Round and round the umpires
Walk about the square,
Water on the outfield,
Water on the wicket,
What are they going to say?
Oh sir, no sir,
Rain stopped play!
To cover or not to cover?
That is the question,
Whether it is nobler in the field
To bear the swings and fortunes of a sticky wicket,
Or to yield,
Fall to temptation, which,
Is something of an insult to the pitch:
To say it cannot take the strain
Of an English summer
And it's fond companion,
(Or else, perhaps,
The players, with equivocation,
Are fearful of the battle
Waiting with his bat in place
The gallant batsman stood to face
An onslaught of tremendous pace
As the demon bowler turned
The arm gave an almighty heave,
The wicket-keeper lost a sleeve.
The batsmen felt his senses leave
As his left ear was burned.
The umpire swayed without surprise,
Signaled, cucumberant, four byes,
With not a flicker in his eyes,
Meanwhile, the fielders gathered round
The batsmen, lying on the ground,
Who whimpered like a stricken hound;
The umpire thought, he's learned.
I am number eleven,
Its a quarter to seven
And only two overs to go.
Eight wickets gone
And the pace-men are on
With the ball keeping dangerously low.
I'm biting my nails
And watching the bails,
Adjusting my pads and my socks.
At last! Its the end
And I needn't defend
My honour, my bails and my box.
It's always been of great regret
To Major-General Downty
That he was born in Maidenhead,
In just a minor county.
To save his pride, it is believed,
Long telegrams were sent
To say that he had been conceived
At Canterbury in Kent .
Each year, it's said, he hit the wire
To cronies far and wide,
Such was his intense desire
To be kin to a county side.
Thigh pads, arm pads,
Leg pads, rib pads,
Helmets, visors, batting gloves
How much further,
Digging in the armoury,
Until our cricketer is playing
Three pairs in a row,
Every one a nightmare of bad luck,
Where is the flow when you're stuck on naught
And fellows pat you on the back and say
“Bad luck old boy, but that's the way it goes.”
Everyone knows it's only a matter of time -
But oh! How slowly -
And, turning holy,
A century of prayers.
But oh! How heavenly the tingle
Of the nervous scampered single
And the dying of the cluck:
Out for a duck
Out for a duck.
The faithful bat, Excalabur,
At last has broke it's splice,
Always the willing warrior,
At last paying the price.
This veteran of fifteen years
I faithfully would oil,
And standing with me at the crease
Shared glory and shared toil.
There never was a purer voice
From any willow rung
Than when Excalabur had struck
And from it's middle sung.
But now it's gone, it's spring unwound,
Its fighting days are done;
The faithful bat, Excalabur,
Has scored it's final run.
And yet, perhaps, up in the sky
Where angels play at cricket,
Excalabur will rise again
To guard a saintly wicket.
(or The One That Got Away)
I scored a sturdy twenty seven,
the seventh highest ever
For the village number eleven,
With seven fours
(Or was it eight?)
And we think fishermen exaggerate.
Bound to be Man of the Match,
You ask anyone,
The most incredible catch you've ever seen.
I know that spinner got five men out
For only seventeen
And - well - that fellow's hundred looks
The most successful in the record books,
But the ball was traveling at a rocket-rate.
And we think fishermen exaggerate.
I remember that time I scored a six
So long it reached the river.
I hear the ball is unfound yet
And the shiver of the water
Lasted almost half-an-hour,
Such was the stroke's great weight.
And we think fishermen exaggerate:
Bad light, bad light,
And they've stopped all the cricket,
But here from the stand
I can still see the wicket.
I can only conclude
As they all troop away,
That we are the payers
And they get the pay.
I am so big,
You are so small,
I am the bowler,
You are the ball.
I pick you up
And I hurl you down,
And sailors drown.
I am so small,
You are so large,
I am the ball,
But you're in charge.
Throw me right
And you're bound to win,
But boundaries come
And the ship rides in.
It seems the picture that I hold,
Of driving sun and exploits bold,
Is but a memory of old,
A picture without reason.
The glorious summer never came,
The winning element was rain,
Hardly an unaffected game
To grace the county season.
I am a lonely cricket ball
Locked in a cabinet,
My final over has been bowled
Banished from pitch and net.
I once was fire-engine red
And shone like polished glass,
I held the hand of Fiery Fred
And whistled through the grass.
A Yorkshire ball hit here and there,
I never lost my shape.
My shine soon went, but I was sent
So fast, none could escape.
Thus, like a mayfly, I relate
A rather touching story:
A lifetime sitting on the shelf
For one great day of glory.
Dreams on my pillow,
Leather on willow,
Taking the field at Lords.
Scoring a ton
Before luncheon at one,
Sixes and fours to the boards.
A boy's own wonder,
Destroying the spin and the seam.
My wicket is taken,
I sadly awaken,
Alas, it is only a dream.
Must keep my dignity
In this galling time,
Keep my temper calm
And take the members clapping
With accustomed charm,
Sign, with the raising of my bat,
My gratitude for their applause.
But what a rat,
I mutter past pavilion doors,
And with good cause
This cursing of the bowler:
A morning's graft, an innings fine
And then -
Bowled middle stump for ninety-nine.
The member raised an eyebrow
When he saw the fine-leg's socks.
They were, to say the least, unorthodox,
A rather pinkish colour
From an accident in the wash.
He tapped his friend and gave a subtle cough,
“I say, old chap, have you seen those?”
The member, curling up his nose and staring hard,
Struck out the fielder's name,
Erased him from the scorecard,
And muttered underneath his breath
“What is it coming to, this game?”
There we are,
The straps tied up,
The pads and gloves and faithful bat
Packed in for one last time.
It would have been fine to score a fifty,
To hear the cracking wood hit threes and fours,
To give the final closing of pavilion doors
A sense of glory.
But it was not to be.
A modest three, in singles, came
In the final innings,
A quiet game.
But with an ending
A newer glory is begun,
My bag now packed
And handed over to my son.
These poems are dedicated to Helen Stansfield, a teacher in South London who gave so much to so many.