Guest poem sent in by Shamanth
(Poem #1893) A Reminiscence of Cricket
Once in my heyday of cricket, One day I shall ever recall! I captured that glorious wicket, The greatest, the grandest of all. Before me he stands like a vision, Bearded and burly and brown, A smile of good humoured derision As he waits for the first to come down. A statue from Thebes or from Knossos, A Hercules shrouded in white, Assyrian bull-like colossus, He stands in his might. With the beard of a Goth or a Vandal, His bat hanging ready and free, His great hairy hands on the handle, And his menacing eyes upon me. And I - I had tricks for the rabbits, The feeble of mind or eye, I could see all the duffer's bad habits And where his ruin might lie. The capture of such might elate one, But it seemed like one horrible jest That I should serve tosh to the great one, Who had broken the hearts of the best. Well, here goes! Good Lord, what a rotter! Such a sitter as never was dreamt; It was clay in the hands of the potter, But he tapped it with quiet contempt. The second was better - a leetle; It was low, but was nearly long-hop; As the housemaid comes down on the beetle So down came the bat with a chop. He was sizing me up with some wonder, My broken-kneed action and ways; I could see the grim menace from under The striped peak that shaded his gaze. The third was a gift or it looked it- A foot off the wicket or so; His huge figure swooped as he hooked it, His great body swung to the blow. Still when my dreams are night-marish, I picture that terrible smite, It was meant for a neighboring parish, Or any place out of sight. But - yes, there's a but to the story - The blade swished a trifle too low; Oh wonder, and vision of glory! It was up like a shaft from a bow. Up, up like a towering game bird, Up, up to a speck in the blue, And then coming down like the same bird, Dead straight on the line that it flew. Good Lord, it was mine! Such a soarer Would call for a safe pair of hands; None safer than Derbyshire Storer, And there, face uplifted, he stands Wicket keep Storer, the knowing, Wary and steady of nerve, Watching it falling and growing Marking the pace and curve. I stood with my two eyes fixed on it, Paralysed, helpless, inert; There was 'plunk' as the gloves shut upon it, And he cuddled it up to his shirt. Out - beyond question or wrangle! Homeward he lurched to his lunch! His bat was tucked up at an angle, His great shoulders curved to a hunch. Walking he rumbled and grumbled, Scolding himself and not me; One glove was off, and he fumbled, Twisting the other hand free Did I give Storer the credit The thanks he so splendidly earned? It was mere empty talk if I said it, For Grace had already returned.
I've been proud of having known this poem since I stumbled across it in an unexpected corner of an obscure cricket anthology back in college, primarily because this is one of those pieces that everyone has heard of but hardly anyone has read, because it's not easy to come by. Its significance is much like that of a precious antique, which in a way is its shortcoming, for it takes a while to look beyond the historical significance - the fact that Conan Doyle wrote this about his only first class wicket - of WG Grace, and appreciate it for its rhythm, its poetic beauty. I've read it very often since then, and looking back I see I've loved it primarily because of the allure of an amateur lifestyle that it portrays - an age where you could study medicine, play first class cricket, referee boxing bouts and marathons, and still produce brilliant literature, when you could live without sacrificing any dimension of your life, without putting your head down to specialize in any one field, when you did something simply because you loved it without having to forfeit other aspects of your life that you loved just as much. It makes you long for a lifestyle with such freedom. This reminded me of a prose piece by Arthur Mailey, "Conquering my Hero" (I think; not sure if I remember the title right), on how he got Victor Trumper out in a club cricket match - which I loved for giving a close up, personal view of what's otherwise an ordinary club game, in much the same way as this poem, even though the tone of the other piece is altogether different. The tone of the poem too indicates that you could do something for fun, without taking yourself too seriously, which sounds incredible in an age of almost totally professionalized sport (and life). The rhythm of the lines, the self-deprecatory tone, the short-story-ish flow, and the almost microscopic focus on a single over of the game - all make this a lovable poem. Regards, Shamanth [Addendum] Bill Frindall of BBC Sports had some more detail about the historic wicket, in response to a reader who asked "I once heard that a famous author took a single wicket, that of W.G. Grace, and wrote a poem about it. Who was it? My best guess is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.": And a very good guess too, Lavanya. It was indeed the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, who played in ten first-class matches, mainly for the MCC, between 1900 and 1907. A lower-order right-handed batsman and occasional slow bowler, he scored 231 runs, average 19.25, in 18 innings with a top score of 43. His only first-class wicket came against London County at Crystal Palace on 25 August 1900 when he had WG caught by the wicket-keeper off a skier for 110.