Do not give way to pride

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In Seamus Heaney’s introduction to his translation of the epic Beowulf, the Ulsterman justifies his interpretation of the opening word of the poem, Hwæt, as So rather than the conventional “Hark”, “Low” or “What!”  He explains that in the speech of his relatives  So “operates as an expression which obliterates all previous discourse and narrative, and at the same time functions as an exclamation calling for immediate attention.”

So. The first day’s play in this Ashes 2013 series obliterated all previous narrative and discourse, of which there had been oceans as wide as the whale-road between Denmark and Sweden. It demanded our immediate ATTENTION.

Cricket centres on the extinction of human resources. By its very nature it has the capacity to induce shock – a feature of the game that can so easily be forgotten when, as today, batsmen like Trott and Root appear to be making their way solidly with no alarm.

Dismissal can come out of nowhere like the monster in a Nordic Saga who picks a victim to devour like a crisp from a packet.

Siddle had been swatted away with contempt in his first spell from the Pavilion End. 27 easy runs had come from his first 24 spear-throws. Brought back boldly by his chief at the Radcliffe Road End, his first ball from there tore through Root’s defence, yorking, castling, and dispatching the young warrior in one disarming moment.

The event appeared to paralyse Root and left the watcher blood-drained by its abruptness.

England found batting easy – the trouble was that they also found getting out just as unchallenging. 75% of their runs came from boundaries. 10 of their wickets from frailty of a very human kind.

At Trent Bridge, this 10th day of July, all who looked on were reminded of that long-gone epic and the anonymous poet’s truth: “For every one of us, batting in this world means waiting for our end.”

Grendel Siddle struck five times for 50, Pattinson 3 for 69, Starc 2 for 54 in England’s 215.  Post-Root, the crowd had begun to expect the unexpected and, like the Danes cringing in their heorot, inured themselves to loss. England’s game plan fell away – here was an old acceptance.

The kingly Lehmann at the dressing room door urged on his men, “Let whoever can … win glory before death. When a warrior is gone, that will be his best and only bulwark.”

But Grendel took the form of Finn, and then of Anderson, each striking twice on behalf of the monster who raids every cricket ground, gobbling greedily in tens.

In an echo of the Root dismissal, Clarke and all Australia will have experienced that visceral  shock as a delivery from Anderson angled in, more than straightened and knocked back the off stump like a broken bone.

If Clarke can go so easily … what hope for others?

Cricket is epic. To take part or to watch is to be party in an elaborate elegy.  The stinger creeps up and, when least expected, leaves but a single, two thousand year old thought:

Do not give way to pride.
For a brief while your strength is in bloom
but it fades quickly; and soon there will follow
illness or the sword to lay you low,
or a sudden fire or surge of water
or jabbing blade or javelin from the air
or repellent age. Your piercing eye
will dim and darken; and death will arrive,
dear warrior, to sweep you away.

First Test, Day 1: England 215, Australia 75/4.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Do not give way to pride

  1. Reblogged this on Down At Third Man and commented:

    Just when should it have been obvious England were in trouble? Second week of July 2013 Grendel barges in on their feast

  2. growltiger

    It was not until early August that I turned my attention (and that of my GCSE-threatened son) to the trigonometrical aspects of this impending disaster, formulating the question (the “Joe Root Problem”) as whether he should play forward or back to the ball moving away outside the off-stump at the angle theta. (Answer, of course he should have been playing forward to minimise the base of the triangle, given by tan theta and the length of his forward stride). Thus, it was obvious from a completely abstract viewpoint that Root was in fundamental trouble.

    The possibility of misidentifying Siddle with Grendel, when the latter (a left arm quick of unexpected hostility) was still lurking in his lair, was an irony of the time sequence. Sorted, now.

    • Wonderful GT. Everyone at the Great House hopes your son came through will flying colours and is enjoying AS levels.

      You do touch on an important factor: Root and Cook’s technical difficulties are widely discussed, TM’s own son was dismayed at the angle that Bell’s bat has started to come down. Atherton has been persistently critical of Trott’s advancing trigger and its susceptibility to fast short pitched bowling.

      The years of plenty have obscured these vulnerabilities. Those players and their coaches will have put off tinkering. This is now more of a gamble in the age of the laptop, post-Moneyball.

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