This is the story of a game of cricket,
Played in the brooding shadow of a hill.
It won't record the fall of every wicket,
Nor boast vaingloriously like Bobadill,
Preferring, in a plain, unvarnished way
To show how cricket has its serendipities,
Is shaped much as Will Shakespeare shaped a play,
Dependent on protasis and peripeties,
And other Greek devices which, I promise,
Are comprehensible to Edward Thomas.
Protasis, then: the circumstance prevailing
Before the play begins, and through Act One.
This really doesn't need too much detailing.
The place, Teign Valley; weather, pallid sun.
In caravan and hovel teams are changing
As Jim and Matt confer on the statistics.
There's some complexity in the arranging
Both skippers are Erratics and they're Mystics.
Matt Cook gets fined for saying - oh the shame of it -
He'll play for us to make a better game of it.
His father, too, gets fined, though in absentia,
For a remark which needs some explication.
If Matt scores plenty, Chris scores even plentier
For Clyst St George and us in strict rotation.
'If', he reflects, while fielding second slip,
His eyes glued round about the batting crease
'If', he reflects - his hand drops to his hip -
'My average and age were of a piece...'
If that were so - and this is what he said -
'There's no two ways about it. I'd be dead.'
Act One. The Mystics batting. Fred and Deke,
A contrast in experience and ballistics.
Before he's reached it, Deke has passed his peak.
It's four years since Fred turned out for the Mystics.
A partnership of seventeen is stunning
From this unlikely pair. The signs are grim
Until discrepancies regarding running
Force Fred to realise Deke has done for him.
Meanwhile, the forest foliage as his bedding,
Sam Cook is working on his Ruby wedding.
They will be fined - you can be sure of that -
For searching in the bushes for lost balls
Before a four's been hit. Sid's in to bat.
At twenty-four another wicket falls,
And then another. Watkins on a hat-trick.
Matravers and Chris Squire back in the shed.
Kate thought Chris would be quick, but not quite that quick.
She's not had time to put the twins to bed.
Anticipating marital derision,
Chris blames his golden duck on double vision.
John Somers, playing yet again his last game,
Replaces Pearson at the Gypsy End.
'Summers' - and winters - living in the fast lane
Have bent his body where it shouldn't bend.
Sid, ominously, clips him for a couple.
Autumnal Somers counters with his slider.
He, not the ball, slides, since he's not so supple
As when his boyhood bloomed in Abereider.
Towards the distant boundary 'Sidney' rockets it,
And Alec Watkins nonchalantly pockets it.
This Watkins is a precious acquisition.
Pity about the e-mail. Never mind.
Four down for less than forty, a position
That we Erratics all too rarely find.
We're still in the protasis, don't forget.
Act One is winding down to its conclusion.
Things, unbelievably, get better yet.
Windy's in stasis, Berry's in confusion.
He, listening to the Test Match, 'Over' calls
When David Pearson's only bowled two balls.
Chirpy's L.B. to Somers, Sam Cook's here,
Fresh from the bushes, scarcely detumescent.
'No hurry', Windy whispers in his ear,
'Just get your eye in'. But Sam's incandescent;
The red mist undulates before his eyes.
The Mystics have their second golden duck.
Dave Pearson's bowled a leg-break. No surprise.
Does Sam defend, I ask you. Does he fuck!
Sam's brother Matt should be in seventh heaven.
The opposition's 70 for 7.
And when the curtain falls upon Act One,
They've lost another. 74 for 8.
Protasis over, and the friendly sun
Seems to imply we won't have long to wait.
But don't forget peripety, my friends,
The change of fortune that is drama's basis.
With Jim and Grumpy occupying ends,
We're entering upon the epitasis.
The counter-narrative has just begun.
In dialogue, they put on 71.
Grumpy makes most of them: a Mystic star.
And when he's made enough starts hitting catches.
He nearly always does, prefers by far,
Not solo brilliance, but good cricket matches.
And when he's out, Jim plies his vorpal blade.
Conscious that he, as skipper, must not falter,
He plays the best square cut he's ever played
And sees it plucked out of the air by Salter.
Catches win matches, so the pundits say.
But then the pundits didn't write this play.
With Act Two over, interval is taken;
The caravanserai providing tea,
And Annie, guardian of the scones, is shaken
To hear her mother say, 'There's two for me'.
Why two for her and only one for Fraser.
Why not, says Rita, isn't it quite clear -
The principle is known as Occam's razor -
If not for me, nobody would be here.
A 'fined' example of inverse theology
That mixes cricket up with gynaecology.
Act Three begins. John Kirby and Al Brunt
Face Fred and Sam. The sky is getting darker.
Umpiring at square-leg and facing front,
I mouth th' Erratic mantra, 'Where's Bill Parker?'
Then, open-eyed and full of expectation,
I wonder just how many Al will score.
Not less than fifty in my estimation.
He looks so good! He's just been stumped for four.
Cumulo-nimbus closes round the sun.
Exit Al Brunt. The score's 14 for 1.
For Kirby, every ball's an invitation.
He knows, like Damien Martyn, where he likes it,
And if it's anywhere in that location,
You can be fairly confident he spikes it.
So when Sam bowls what Boycott calls a 'four-ball',
He clatters it as gleeful as a lover,
But when Sam follows that up with a poor ball,
John spoons it up to Grumps at extra-cover.
And so, after his feats of derring-do,
The scoreboard's reading 28 for 2.
Peripeties are always in the offing
In any play that's worth a second glance,
And, though in retrospect inclined to scoffing,
I thought, then, the Erratics had a chance.
Watkins was watchful and Matt Cook was dashing.
We sailed past fifty with ten overs through.
But cricket, like the law, can punish flashing.
Matt Cook, caught Grumps bowled Windy 22.
Then Pearson and Ed Thomas as the Chorus
Departed without troubling the scorers.
Catastrophe brings drama to its end.
It follows hard upon the epitasis.
Fate's arrow, once on course, will rarely bend,
Knowing just where its final resting-place is.
Though, like an adolescent Hercules,
Young David Pearson braved the furious foe.
Though Alec Watkins, proud as Pericles,
Stood with him, breast to breast and toe to toe,
Though, battle-scarred, they added 33,
This but delayed the cruel catastrophe.
The game was done; we lost by 22,
And though your poet's brain's not mathematic,
That number has provoked a heady brew
Of contemplation that I'd call erratic.
Matt Cook's two overs cost him 22,
And 22 was what he scored when batting.
And, Mystics, by that much we lost to you,
So when you're adding up, you should add that in.
And when the final calculation's done,
If Matt had played for you, then we'd have won.
That's gibberish, of course, and I can't finish
Without at least a celebrat'ry stanza,
To boast a moment that time can't diminish,
A grandparental glorious-great bonanza.
I've always said I won't retire from cricket
Until a grandson joins me in a team.
I'd love to partner Fraser at the wicket,
Or take one that he's leg-cut off the seam.
What matters more to me than the statistics:
He's made his fielding debut for the Mystics.
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