Monday, April 11, 2011

UK poet Anthony Rudolf's cricket memoir

This month I’ve been editing a new issue of my poetry magazine broadsheet: new new zealand poetry. The guest poet is British poet/translator Anthony Rudolf. Last year I wrote a brief article on his cricket interest. Here’s the cricket extract from his new memoir that Anthony sent me to publish in broadsheet:


From A Vanished Hand: My Autograph Album

A cricket scorecard pasted into my album, which I have successfully unpasted to read the reverse side, is rich with possibility, although I no longer remember whom I went with to the second day of the final Ashes test of 1956, held at the Oval. Doubtless I did not go to the Lord’s Test because, unlike the Oval, it was in term time. Possibly my companion was Paul Rochman, definitely not Michael Pinto-Duschinsky who had a skin condition preventing him from being in the sun. I wonder if the former Prime Minister, John Major, later president of Surrey, was there as a schoolboy. Born in March 1943, he is six months younger than me. Evidently Major and I look or looked alike because, while he was Prime Minister, I was quite often stopped in the street: “Are you the Prime Minister?”, asked some schoolboys. “Would I be walking around North Finchley in a tracksuit if I was John Major?” My nearest and dearest could not see it, but I could, and all those strangers thought so too. Vox populi, or what. The cricket gave me an excuse to write to him about our physical resemblance. I told him about the schoolboys, enclosed a photograph of me, and also a photocopy of the scorecard. Eventually a reply came from his Chief of Staff, Arabella Warburton: John Major did attend the Test match on the first day, when Compton played his last Test innings. There was no comment from him on the alleged likeness and she herself saw none. 
   Hugh Tayfield and Crawford White, the two signatures on my scorecard: my old Cambridge friend John Barrell did not need the following explanation when I consulted him, though non cricket fans or cricket non fans among my readers should be informed that Hugh Tayfield was a famous and distinguished South African off-spin bowler. All the same, I am not sure that it wasn’t Crawford White whom I recognised first. He was the cricket correspondent of the now defunct News Chronicle which we took at home along with the Times and it is possible his photograph was printed alongside his by-line. According to the Guardian obituary of White in 2000, “his most difficult job was ghosting Denis Compton’s column”. The previous Test at Old Trafford saw Laker take nineteen wickets (eat your heart out, rival Tayfield), a unique record to this day. I consulted John because I wasn’t sure if I attended the Oval on the first or second day, and accuracy, as in left arm spin bowling, is of the essence. At first I thought that I picked up the scorecard — which shows England all out for 247 and Australia 13 for three wickets — at the end of play on the first day but John Barrell writes, consulting his memory and the 1957 Wisden which he owns: “if memory serves, Compton was out for 94 after six o’clock on the first day, and, in failing light, May decided to send in Lock as night-watchman. But he was out first ball to Archer, and so Washbrook had to come in. He averted the hat-trick but fell before the close, also to Archer; Evans immediately fell to Miller, and England ended the day at 223 for 7, having been 222-3 half an hour before.”  The score on my card suggests that the printers on the ground were late in bringing it out on the second morning or, less likely, brought out a second edition quickly. I seem to remember we had our own cricket books on whose blank templates we could keep score, but mine have not survived the passing of time.
   Cyril Washbrook was aged forty-one and was one of the England selectors. The first four England batsmen on the scorecard are listed as P.E. Richardson, M.C. Cowdrey, Rev. D.S. Shepherd and P.B.H. May. The rest of the England team was Compton, D.C.S., Lock, G.A.R., Evans, T.G. (keeping wicket of course), Laker, J.C., Tyson, F.H., and Statham, J.B. Note the initials: the first four England players were amateurs (“gentlemen”), the last seven professionals (“Players”) and the convention, which I touched on earlier in respect of John Warr, was to identify them by the position of their initials. On the other hand the entire Australian team have their initials first. John Barrell explains: “all the Australians were adjudged to be amateurs in those days. If memory serves, and it does, there were only five teams in the Sheffield Shield at that time, too few to justify their paying professionals, and they played only over long weekends, but not on Sundays.” The match was eventually drawn. England won the rubber and the Ashes. Barrell very kindly scanned theWisden match report for me. The scorecard cost me three old pence, has its own individual number 171011 (or is that the number of the edition?) and an advertisement for “Shell with I.C.A.”: “Only Shell has both high octane and I.C.A”.  I emailed Shell’s customer service to find out what I.C.A. stands for and received no reply. Perhaps they think I am an anti-pollution activist. Odd how John Barrell was the only person I could turn to, given that a few weeks earlier I asked him if he could tell me the name of the anonymous author of an 1816 article in the Edinburgh Review.    

(Coda: A recent obituary of the Middlesex off-spinner Fred Titmus refers to a loudspeaker announcement at Lord’s concerning the scorecard: “For F.J. Titmus please read Titmus F.J.”. Apart from calypsos, the only song that I know of which refers to cricket is on an album called Back in the DHSS, made by the Indie group Half Man Half Biscuit, “Fuckin’ ’ell, it’s Fred Titmus”. Sadly, unlike the lead singer, I never met him to obtain his autograph).

© Anthony Rudolf 2011

See also my blog post "Anthony Rudolf - UK poet with a cricket interest" (October 2010).

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