Thursday, October 28, 2010
Chris Boxall's cricket book I Am an Axeman
I’ve played cricket for several teams over the years and for two clubs: Hutt District Cricket Club and Wellington Collegians Cricket Club. I enjoyed playing cricket.
One of my best seasons was playing for the Wellington Collegians' “Axemen” in a social One-Day grade. It was great to be part of the team and have a special role in the side. My given nick-name was "Mr Burns" because of my then long hair and sideburns. I didn’t mind as hearing them call out "Burnsy" reminded me of that great Scots poet Robbie Burns. (Little did they know.)
My role was the close-in catcher, a dangerous position but cool to play a part in matches. I took 6 catches in 11 games that season and gained respect for pulling off some unbelievable ones that were smashed right at me. Bowser, our wicketkeeper, once called out: “Good stuff Pirie! Nice catch, good Michael Jackson manoeuvre!” It was a nice commendation of my one-handed take, up in the air, both feet off the ground. That season I also scored some runs. I mainly batted as a useful lower-order batsman at 7, 8 or 9.
The good run didn’t last though, my form and commitment fell away, I was promoted up the order but I simply wasn’t good enough to play as a batsman against the better bowlers, and I decided to retire from the Axemen after 3 seasons with them. The batting average from my last season was 0.85 after 9 games and 5 ducks. Pitiful. It’s never good being in a team when your soul isn’t in it and you’re not contributing to the team dynamic. I went back to my writing.
The following portrait of me by fellow Axeman and one of our best batsmen, Chris Boxall, is a revealing picture of the end of my Axemen days, especially the image ‘floating out the door off into another poem.’ I had been round to his place to give him a copy of my new cricket poetry book Slips. I included Chris’s “Axemen XI” in A Tingling Catch as a found prose poem. Sadly, I didn’t make the team of the best ever Axemen players. But Chris’s decision was fair. The “Axemen XI” was taken from his published book I Am an Axeman (about his efforts to score a century during his last season as an Axeman). It’s an entertaining and at times very honest book rife with cricketing sayings and quotations. Chris was a great team man and a very dependable opening batsman.
The start of my last season as an Axeman was but a few weeks away and a week after lunching with Sally, the fields dried and we practiced outside.
We introduced a new rule – get out and that’s your net. Really good session, and fifteen guys at a pre-season practice: that’s an Axeman record for sure!
All bodes fine for 08/09.
My net was pretty good; I pulled out my cover drives and slashing cuts, popped a few up and put the pull away. Then Jules bowled me. Shit, that sums it up: more practice needed.
So off to the pavilion I went – where some stew, some sulk, some vent. But for me no time, no time, so I stripped my kit, grabbed a ball and cut the line. It landed on a penny and rapped poor
in the belly. Tyler
I got home after practice and chucked my bag on my bed.
Mr Burns knocked on the door, ah that’s right. He came in carrying a sheepish smile, some memories and a bag.
I offered him a wine but he declined.
Meet Mr Burns – poet, enigma, cricket player, Axeman.
“Do you remember the game at
,” he said, “when I split my webbing fielding the ball? The other team put me in a sling on the sideline and later I was almost needed at number 11. Big Bird said ‘remember Gavin Larsen’ and he helped put my pads on.” Grenada
The crocodile snaps at silly mid off and snaffles the ball, swallowing it whole and somewhat digesting the leather before spitting out a gooey pulp.
“I had an average of 14 in my first season,” he said. “We won this game, I hit a four and Stelios said ‘good shot mate, who said you couldn’t bat?’”
Oops, maybe that was me.
You see it was no secret that he was a poet first, a catcher foremost and a cricket player way away another day.
I invited him over to have a quick look at my writing, but before the literary questions took, he slipped me a cricket poem from a new little book. I thanked him and began flicking, “hey, how’s the team looking this year?” Mr Burns said but by this stage I wasn’t listening…
Everyone likes to take
their chances: the dipping
catch at mid-on
grasped by urgent finger-tips,
or the unbeaten 50 that
has the opposition packing
early. Or the swinging ball
that sends the stumps
cartwheeling into the air.
But, as with cricket,
as with life, there’s times
when things inevitably turn,
and even the best of us
spends their time stuck in the pavilion.
Good stuff. Cricket ay, you gotta love it.
One of the best nights I ever had at the club was with Mr Burns. There were about six of us on the balcony drinking and reading his poetry.
Maybe that’s why I play cricket: for the culture – perhaps this book will turn my batting fortunes around… do the literary Gods talk with the cricket Gods? Maybe they do…
I snapped my thoughts like a ruler only to see Mr Burns floating out the door off into another poem.
I moved my cricket bag and sat on my bed, alone.
Alone in my pavilion, free time – nothing to do but sing and rhyme, what to do, what to do, silver beet, silver beet…
I dreamed of my century and of little feet and cricket bats. I dreamed of my woman and our wonderful future. I dreamed of
and of Argentina and the way her forehead smells when I kiss her. Auckland
Only two hours till 10.30 before I call Juli as I do every night. This gorgeous Argentinean woman, ai, she’s beautiful.
Alone in my pavilion I am, alone in
I picked up my cricket bat – one day I’ll raise you. Actually it feels good to be playing this season; it’s kind of like another chance.
You see, last season was very nearly my last. I mean, I was feeling down anyway…
But then I was betrayed.
(Excerpt © Chris Boxall, including The Pavilion by Mark Pirie, from I Am An Axeman; The Copy Press, Nelson, 2009; ISBN 978-0-473-15756-2)
Thanks Chris for sharing the excerpt.