Dotty about ditties in the dot-ball game

Cricket Diary; One-man stand

At the risk of introducing a discordant note into this sporting summer it seems unfair that the past month has been dominated by football songs. The steadfast refusal of "Football's Coming Home" to slide graciously down the charts and out of earshot has been particularly dispiriting.

It is time to redress the balance and remind ourselves that songs were being sung about cricket when football was still in long pants. Few Victorian gatherings round the parlour piano could have been complete withoutsome appropriate ditty, such as William Clarke's refrain, sung to the tune of "Rule Britannia":

Then success to cricket, 'tis a noble game

It's patronised by royalty, and men of wealth and fame.

As Clarke was in his pomp as a lethal underarm bowler (his wickets cost barely 10 runs each) around 1850, the history of cricket songs is obviously a long one. The world's leading expert on the subject is probably David Rayvern Allen, who wrote a book devoted to it.

"Throughout most of its existence cricket has attracted the attentions of song writers," he said. "There are more examples from the past because I suppose it used to be more of a national game which touched more people than it does now. But songs still get written."

Indeed, Allen's favourite is not from the days of music halls and country house parties. Nor is it one of the joyous West Indian calypsos. This leaves out of the reckoning the faintly obsequious "Cricket - The Song of the Centuries" which was penned 101 years ago in honour of W G Grace's hundredth hundred.

He also discounts "The Ashes Song", written in 1971, one of those distant eras when England beat Australia. Ray Illingworth's side had returned triumphant from their tour and went into the recording studio to deliver the following:

We've got the Ashes back home, We've got them in the urn

The Aussies have had them 12 years So we've got to have our turn.

Next summer we can replace the figure 12 with the figure 10. Allen's top cricket song is the decidedly lyrical number from 1975, written and performed by Roy Harper in homage to John Snow and Geoff Boycott, "When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease". It is a romantic's song which affirms that "the fabled men and the noonday sun are much more than the yarns of their days". Those for whom the delights of "Football's Coming Home" have palled will therefore be thrilled to hear that "When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease" will feature on a compact disc of cricket songs shortly to be released by the Lord's Taverners. The disc has been assembled by Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Green and also includes oddities like the calypso "Who's Grovelling Now" and a number by the Indian batsman Vinod Kambli.

Stilgoe, himself a composer of cricketing ditties such as "Sticky Wicket Blues" (as in "got that damn shame it ain't cricket Blues"), said: "This is a disc purely from the archives. If there is a second it's possible that we could revive some of the older songs not on record." We owe it to the game to make sure it goes to No 1 and back again.

ONE of the joys of watching Glamorgan play Pakistan last week - the Pakistani batting apart - was the constitution of the home team. It fair put a lump in the throat of the county's versatile and prolific former bowler, Don Shepherd.

Looking out on the greensward of Pontypridd, Shepherd, taker of 2,218 wickets (the most ever by a bowler not to have played Test cricket) and a son of Port Eynon, noticed that his team contained 10 Welshmen.

True, David Hemp was born in Bermuda but his dad is called Clive and he was brought up and educated in Wales. And though Owen Parkin was born in Coventry and schooled in Bourne- mouth his name is redolent of the valleys while his father is called Vernon and his brother Morgan.

"It is wonderful to see," Shepherd said. "We must never forget that this team isn't just representing a county, it represents a country."

KENT'S all-rounder, Mark Ealham, is, of course, the first member of his family to play for England. His dad, Alan, was an outstanding county cricketer as batsman and fielder but never played for his country. Well, yes and no.

Ealham senior fielded as a substitute in the Jubilee Test against Australia at Lord's in 1977 and took two outstanding catches off Bob Willis and Derek Underwood. He "performed in his own brilliant way," reported Wisden.

FEW authors on cricket have been as prolific as David Rayvern Allen (see above). His output has included books on the broadcasting of the game and an anthology relating to Grace, but his imminent tome may be his most significant. It is to be called "Last Over" and will be a combination of biography and reminiscences of the doyen of cricket writers, now 89, E W Swanton.

KEVAN JAMES, the unsung Hampshire all-rounder, made history against India. First, he took four wickets in four balls, only the 31st player to do so, and then achieved a unique double by scoring a hundred. James, 35, recalled: "The first of the wickets was a rank bad ball down the leg side which our wicketkeeper Adi Aymes did exceptionally well to gather and complete a superb stumping. As for the hundred, I wasn't feeling very well at the start of the innings asI'd had some champagne the night before celebrating the wickets."

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