Review of A Tingling Catch: A Century of New Zealand Cricket Poems 1864-2009, edited by Mark Pirie, HeadworX, Price $34.99.
The reviewing of a book of cricketing poetry by someone who doesn’t play the game, should prove an interesting challenge. Like everyone, I am familiar with cricketing metaphors – stuck on a sticky wicket, clean-bowled, stumped, middle wicketed, run out, and so forth. The English language owes a lot to cricket - more than to any other game possibly. It is, after all, the quintessential English game. And up until recently we were a very English society. I am sure long after we become a republic, we will still be playing cricket.
Cricket’s local poetic origins can be traced over 150 years reaching back to Pember Reeves and Thomas Bracken and beyond (thereby preceding football) and the range of poetry as noted by expert editor Pirie, ranges from ‘rhyming verse, to free verse, and open form, to haiku and tanka (Japanese forms), to limericks and remakes of well-known stage and pop songs.’ This wide poetic catchment enables Pirie to include the relatively recent ballads of Jim Tocker and the more up-to-date poems of Tony Beyer or Murray Edmond.
On the basis of this selection, our most prominently featured local cricket legend is the great Richard Hadlee, rated by some as the greatest fast bowler of all time. He is celebrated in Ian Donnelly’s straightforward, ‘A tribute to R J Hadlee,’ in Robin McConnell’s more sophisticated, ‘the intense disciple: Richard Hadlee shade and light’ as well as in Pirie’s ‘At Lords’. Pirie felt compelled to remind our Australian cousins of our bowling star when Lillee was mentioned - though cricket lore has it that Hadlee modelled himself on Lillee, so the two are inevitably linked.
Being of an older generation, I remember Bert Sutcliffe most strongly. Sutcliffe was said to be the world’s greatest left-hand batsman and is acclaimed in one of Pirie’s poems as ‘our Bradman’. The compliments don’t come higher than this. Sutcliffe showed his true mettle by returning to the crease with his head bandaged after an injury and proceeded to score 80 with fellow batsmen Bob Blair whose fiancée had died that weekend. The ‘right stuff’ is the phrase that springs to mind with these two stalwarts.
One of the finest poems is the ‘The Batsman’ by Brian Turner (brother of famed cricketer Glenn Turner):
I am told, demands a relief in the famous
as a possibility. His boots lie on the floor
of the wardrobe, their whiteness
fading, grass on the sprigs.
Their hair as matted as the warp
of destiny that brought them here
their faces taut and blasted dry
as lava welt on scoria
Review © Michael Morrissey 2011
(From Investigate, April 2011, pp. 54-55)