We don't get to watch a lot of cricket in this part of the world. I'm quite prepared to pay for it but even so Sky tell me that for contractual reasons they can't stream me the Ashes. And the BBC can't stream the commentary, for the same obscure motive. I am left with this, which for various reasons, is not the same.
Which means that when Eurosport chooses to show the T20 World Cup, something that I would normally find it hard to take seriously, I order the finest popcorn and buff up the edge of my seat. Today we have beaten Australia, an unusually uninspired Australia, in fact. The main reason they beat us so often is that we prepare for a cricket match, while they prepare for the conquest of Persia. They just seem to care that bit more. Today we got to them early and often, and the fight went out of them.
To the true cricket fan, cricket is life. And to the cricket fan with a bit of art in him, art is an attempt to hold a mirror up to cricket. Francis Thompson has done this, producing the most evocative, if slightly obscure, lines ever written about the game, and the most beautiful image of all is in the second part of the stanza. It doesn't explain how it feels to win the Ashes, it is even greater than that; it expresses what it is to watch cricket.
"For the field is full of shades as I near the shadowy coast,
And a ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a ghost,
And I look through my tears on a soundless-clapping host
As the run-stealers flicker to and fro,
To and fro: -
O my Hornby and my Barlow long ago!"
Francis Thompson was completely nuts, and the rest of the poem, particularly the WG Grace section, is unambiguously execrable. But he achieved a moment of genius. Forget Newbolt. "At Lords" is what the love of cricket does to people.
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