Sunday, June 16, 2013

Anonymous 1928 NZ cricket poem

Over the weekend, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading Ron Palenski’s recently published anthology of rugby poetry, Touchlines (NZ Sports Hall of Fame, 2013).
The book is well worth having on your bookshelf. It contains poems from the 19th century up to the 2011 Rugby World Cup, from Samuel Sleigh to John Bryan, a Dunedin rugby follower at the 2011 World Cup.
I’m a contributor to the book, and helped with its compilation.
Other poets include: Harry Tillman, Max Boyce, William Pember Reeves, John Carrad, Banjo Paterson, Brian Turner, Allen Curnow, Ernest L Eyre, Bill Sutton, Seaforth Mackenzie, N A Fenwick, Leo Fanning, Sir Richard Wild, William Robert Wills, Robert J Pope, C A Marris, Claude Olsen and Andrew Paterson. Some of these are unknown in the poetry world but all were rugby enthusiasts with a genuine love of the game.
Cricket, another of its compiler Palenski’s enthusiasms, is included in a few poems and bio notes on the poets.
19th century poet and writer Samuel Sleigh includes cricket in his rugby poem (‘Glorious is the forward drive / From the wickets where you stand, / When the bat is all alive, / When it tingles in your hand’), Wellington lawyer John Carrad was a collector of cricket scorecards, Wisdens and memorabilia and N A Fenwick once wrote advice for Don Bradman in the New Zealand Sportsman magazine.
One of the rugby poems found by its compiler Ron Palenski may well pass for a cricket poem too as it combines both cricket and rugby. I’ll include it here. Some of the cricketers named are batsman Roger Blunt, bowler Bill Merritt, Aussie wicketkeeper Bert Oldfield (of Bodyline series fame), Dicky (tail-ender and bowler George Dickinson?), wicketkeeper Ken James and bowler Reg Read.
The poem is anonymous and written in 1928 (from a University of Otago capping magazine):


The Open Road

The Aussie cricket team was here;
  They kept their nose in front;
Our bowling had no Merritt,
  The attack was mostly Blunt.

Their batting in the latest test was
  A Dicky show indeed;
New Zealand’s bowling average looked
  A decent thing to Read.

Their keeper Oldfield was a beaut;
  He saved them many games;
New Zealand’s not downhearted –
  Not a bit of it, by James!

New Zealand’s best have donned their boots
  And pants and jerseys black;
We hope their belts are lined with scalps
  When they come sailing back.

O’er scorching veldt and hill they go,
  Though many a hefty Alley;
And one thing to SA they’ll show –
  A half must never Dalley.

We trust their cherished hope to bring
  A dull and sickening thud
And neck and crop their best to sling,
  Our best crop is our Spud.

Our boys will Lucas well next year.
  All fit and Brownlie tanned;
Their Nicholls will be spent, I fear,
  And Carleton will be Grand.

The All Blacks named include Geoff Alley, Bill Dalley, Syd Carleton, Mark Nicholls, Fred Lucas and captain Maurice Brownlie. One of the interesting things about this poem is that it notes the comparison between cricket and rugby.
Rugby was our national game then and particularly successful following the Invincibles tour of 1924/25, cricket on the other hand (our foremost game early on) was still looking for international status.
The same kind of national sentiment continues now in the public’s mind. So when New Zealand’s cricketers fair poorly: ‘New Zealand’s not downhearted – / Not a bit of it, by James!’ For they at least have All Black tests to savour, in this case the 1928 South Africa tour after a cricket series loss to Australia.
This was again noticeable in 2013 with the recent May test series loss to England followed by the All Blacks securing good victories in their June test series with France.

Article © Mark Pirie 2013
Touchlines compiled by Ron Palenski
(NZ Sports Hall of Fame, 2013)
Copies of Ron Palenski’s Touchlines: An Anthology of Rugby Poetry can be purchased direct from the NZ Sports Hall of Fame, Dunedin. Price $22.00NZ. Email: Tel: 64 03 477 7775 (for purchases by credit card).

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