When poetry romanced cricket!

In 1950, Lords witnessed one of the craziest scenes ever in post-war cricket. The occasion was the historic “Windies” victory over England

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Meida)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Meida)

Monojit Lahiri

Flashback time.

In 1950, Lords witnessed one of the craziest scenes ever in post-war cricket. The occasion was the historic “Windies” victory over England. The wanton ecstasy of those unforgettable moments has been etched timelessly into one of the games most memorable calypsos:

West Indies first innings total
Was three twenty-six, as usual;
When Bedsar bowler Christiani
The whole thing collapsed quite easily;
England then went on
And made fifty-one
West Indies then had two-twenty lead
And skipper Goddard said “That’s nice indeed”,
Chorus: With those two little pals of mine,
Ramadhin and Valentine.

Celebrating their 1983 demolition of England (5-0) Windies song writer Lance Percival gave old favorites (Jamaican Farewell and Banana Boat Song) a whole new twist. Belted out by (former) opener Gordon Greenidge, it went:

Down the way, where the skies are grey
And rain falls daily on the umpires head
We’ve arrived, with Captain Clive
The cricket team Englishmen fear and dread.
Chorus: Glad to say we’re in the U.K.
Where West Indian batsmen can bat all day.

This little calypso is only one of thousands that rhapsodize the true joy and spirit of the game, inspiring some of the greatest writers with odes to the willow.

The “golden age” of cricket poetry undoubtedly belonged to the 18th and 19th century. Poems of that era tossed out imaginary tales and historical ballads, which at once enhanced elements of romance. All the traditional forms of poetry came into play. Many eminent writers of “prose” paid glowing tributes to this great game, almost poetically.

Irish playright Richard Brinsley Sheridan in 1776 referred in his celebrated The School For Scandal to: “The chimneys of Knightsbridge and footmen at cricket …” Thomas Hood described his young cricketers as “sportive deer.” Even the great British Poet Laureate Alfred Tennyson, for one profound moment, put aside the heavies to write: “A herd of boys with clamour bowled and stamped the wicket …”

Geoffrey Chaucer mentions cricket in his immortal Canterbury Tales and Rudyard Kipling, too briefly chips in on “flannelled fools” in The Islanders.

James Love, a fine poet of his day, eulogized the great game:

Hail Cricket – a glorious manly British game
First of all sports, be first alike in fame.

And Lord Byron sang its praise:

Together we impelled the flying ball
Together waited in our Tutor’s hall
Together joined in crickets manly toil
Or shared the produce of a river’s spoil.

Thomas Moult elevated cricket verse into romantic poetry. His memorable Close of Play remains a classic of that genre:

For the last time a batsman is out,
The day like the drained glass and
The dear sundown field is empty;
What instead of Summer’s play
Can occupy these darkling months
Ere spring hails willows once again
The crowned king?
How shall we live so life may not be chilled?

G.D. Martineau is another great poet of the game, as evidenced in The Crown:

Let cheers resound
For cricket-folk whose love’s a steady flame
Their fervour crowned
With deeds of derring-do and fairest game
And glad remembrance of a glorious game.

John Arlott, the late, great cricket writer and commentator often dazzled with his evocative and charming verse. His “ode” to the late Sir Jack Hobbs on the latter’s 8Oth birthday remains a gem:

No yeomen ever walked his household land,
More sure of step or more secure of lease
Than you, accustomed and unhurried
Trod, your small yet mightily manor of the crease…

Sir George Hamilton captures the game’s pride and jubilation:

Where else, you ask, can England’s game be seen,
Rooted so deep, as on the village green.

As does H. Villin in Test Match:
Watch the blade thrust
The beautiful sword, the turn ‘o wrist
And the sudden streak to the distant rail.

What can be the reason for the muse to be clean bowled over? The lagato-limbed charm of a leaping bowler? The fantastic magic of lightning catch? The silken elegance of fluid strokes, the serenity of the traditional pastoral setting, the high drama of a nail-biting finish or the ultimate dignity of the game?

What better way to end this ode to the willow than Sir Francis Meynell’s poem presenting a whole new dimension with striking effect:

Dazzled by dappled land and light
And scarce-transparent shadow
I thought I saw the quickening sight –
The field close-set the men in white,
A host of cricketers in the meadow …

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