Poetry Wire Literary Review

Sweet music of bat hitting ball

India team celebrates after winning the third Test against New Zealand at Holkar Cricket Stadium in Indore on October 11, 2016. Photo: Reuters  

If I was a Supreme Court judge, I would let the Health Ministry deal with dengue, and BCCI run cricket. But alas, I am only a rhymester. And there is no ‘Contempt of Poetry Act’, thank god. In fact, no one holds poetry in greater contempt than publishers themselves. If someone in Sales meets a poet in a mall, he will look the other way. So while Justice Lodha dismantles cricket and ‘freezes, defreezes and deep freezes’ funds, I can only disburse some poetry on cricket. In 1948, our whole family came to Delhi to watch the first Test against the West Indies. George Headley was playing. Those days the Feroz Shah Kotla wicket favoured bowlers in the morning dew, Rangachari got three quick wickets and they were 27 for three. A wag wrote a poem in Shankar’s Weekly. I quote from memory:

Three cheers went up as Headley came in

And the sahibs of Delhi made a great din

But Headley was bowled and returned with a grin

Sighing D’Mello D’Mello.

Anthony S. D’Mello was the BCCI President, and his name, repeated twice, became the poem’s refrain. I remember two other lines: “ Rangachari was bowling his Madrassi bumper/ But Walcott was batting like Victor Trumper.” The modern generation wouldn’t know Trumper from Donald Trump. Another great hitter of yore was Gilbert Jessop who “ wrecked the roofs of distant towns/ when set in an assault.”

In club cricket, the outswing bowler has a rough time, I know to my cost. So here’s the club outswing bowler’s lament (mine):

Outswing bowling has its blips

Especially with iffy slips,

Far-famed for their greasy grips.

The outswing bowler beats the bat

Non-striker shouts “well left my lad!”

The poor bowler is a tad

Confused. Outswing is a dashed good ball,

curves around both bat and pad,

But wretched wickets, they won’t fall.

Nine out of ten you miss the bat.

With the tenth you got the rat!

But the footmarks tell it all;

Umpire rules “No ball! No ball!”

The inswing on the other hand

Is cheap and surely not a brand!

Yet the bowler has the gall

To go for thigh and crotch and all!

That ball he fired

Might have hit the Leg Umpire!

Still to the White Coat how he turns!

Is this Blenheim or Bannockburn?

‘Howzat’ he asks, lets out a cry.

You’d think umpire’s astute and spry.

But his finger reaches for the sky.

From the ludicrous to the sublime, let us move to the great Jack Hobbs — he scored 197 centuries in first class cricket. My father, who saw him bat, told me a story. King George V watched an English player being beaten black and blue at Wimbledon. As he walked out, he found the press waiting. All he said to them was, “Thank God we have still got Hobbs,” and got into his car. John Arlott wrote a fine poem on the 70th birthday of Hobbs. Here are two stanzas:

There falls across this one December day

The light remembered of those suns of June

That you reflected in the summer play

Of perfect strokes across the afternoon.

The Master: records prove the title good:

Yet figures fail you for they cannot say

How many men, whose names you never knew

Are proud to tell their sons they saw you play.

From Hobbs to Len Hutton, another classic batsman. Harold Pinter (Nobel laureate) wrote:

I saw Len Hutton in his prime

another time,/ another time.

In Seattle, I read six plays of Pinter; one could buy them for a dollar each at half-price stores. I didn’t enjoy them. I suppose on the stage, with actors on steroids, he would look good. My arrogant take on the great man would be:

I read Harold Pinter in his prime

a waste of time,/ a waste of time.

Even William Wordsworth wrote about cricket. His love for the French Revolution is well known. My professor Dr. S.S. Chawla always quoted his lines on the French Revolution: “ Bliss was in that dawn to be alive/ but to be young was very heaven.” Well, Wordsworth went to France and on his return in 1802 wrote: “ Here on our native soil we breathe once more/ The cock that crows, the smoke that curls, the sound/ of bells — those boys that in yon meadow ground/ in white sleeve shirts are playing.

Let’s end with some fun. Watch the ire of the fan against cricket columnists. “ The men who play for England/ Are apt to make mistakes/ Against O’Rielly and McCabe/ or Grimmet’s hidden breaks… The men who pick for England/ Are either fools or cranks./ They put in Binks of Middlesex/ Instead of Jinks of Lancs…”.

The poem ‘Giglamps’ which appeared in Morning Post, goes on to say: “ The men who write for England/ Are cast in finer mould./ They deal (what mastery of style)/ With every ball that’s bowled.” It ends by saying that writers go on from strength to strength, “ and never lose their length.

Keki N. Daruwalla is a poet and short story writer.

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