Outstanding Cricket Songs

Benjamin Golby  ….. https://benjamingolby.bandcamp.com/track/in-memoriam-p-m-r

So far as I know, there are two great cricket songs.  Writing on Roy Harper’s ‘When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease’ in (the now defunct) The Word magazine, David Hepworth said that it,  summons the shade of every village cricket pitch we have ever gazed hungrily upon or glimpsed from a passing car… Both John Peel and John Walters wanted this song played after their deaths. There is scarcely an Englishman who wouldn’t wish for the same honour. [1]

Like most reflections on cricket, the song is more than the mechanics and narrative of the game. From depicting everyman’s park cricket match in dear, gentle hues, the lyric strides to the elevated plain of existence and death. The game is not used merely as an allegory though. It would be a dull, unsporting soul who held so. Rather, cricket is recognised as the superb use of existence that it is, as delivered in the second verse,

… as those footsteps trace for the last time out of the act
Well this way of life’s recollection, the hallowed strip in the haze
The fabled men and the noonday sun are much more than just yarns of their days.

The song forces introspection, arresting attention in its elegiac weight and space, with charged, double-tracked vocal and twelve-string guitar countered against the weight of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band. Mr Harper appears on the record’s cover hairy and shirtless with flannel trousers, pads, cap, and bat and gloves in hand. His head calmly down, he is captured mid-stride as if having been dismissed after a handy 20 or so. This same curious seventies aspect pervades the record. A phaser gnarls the guitars from the opening strum but, rather than being a distraction, this, along with the ancient reverb, presents a lost quality.

The other, Paul Kelly’s ‘Bradman’, just sounds so good. A condensed epic, with a narrative punctuated and compelling , it is as lithe as the Go-Betweens in arrangement, brisk pace and all that sparkles of the summer.

The most lionised of batsmen, Sir Donald Bradman was also a triumphant captain and a man polite and winning on public occasion. Supremely successful among twentieth-century cricketers, he has been canonised in his country as patron saint of the summer sport, known even to those caring nothing for the game. Astoundingly, when ‘Bradman’ was released as a single, backed with the also iconic ‘Leaps and Bounds’, the song stalled on the charts. It is now woven into the Australian sporting psyche, wafting through address systems at Australian cricket grounds and purring from AM radio on Saturday nights in the summer.

I disappoint though, when friends expect me to gush in enthusiasm for the song. For the more absorbing of historical sources lead one to question whether some of its tenets are misplaced and its adulation might be better tempered.

Australia is perhaps not overly probing as to the foundation of her cultural pillars. Typically, the more friendly, colourful and selfless of her citizenry are cherished over the successful. However, dislike for Bradman is recorded among many of his peers, including teammates from successive generations such as Bill O’Reilly and Keith Miller, his arch rival Harold Larwood, and those who later dealt with the man as an administrator, including Ian Chappell. Telling remark is made by Jack Fingleton, Bradman’s most intriguing portraitist and subtle critic, in his whole hearted attempt at praise,

Together with all other cricketers of our generation, I salute him as the greatest player of his age, the greatest attraction the game of cricket has known. Probably he did not make the friends in the game which others did but, possibly he reasoned, he would not have been the player he was had he allowed his concentration to be upset in the slightest manner. He brilliantly and decisively achieved the objective he set himself when he found his feet in first-class cricket – and that was to be, by far, the greatest run getter and the greatest holder of records the game has known. And in achieving this, be it noted, he gave the cricketing man-in-the-street the greatest value he had ever received for his admittance money and he gained the game the greatest publicity it had known. [2]

Bradman was an upstanding man, a private individual sure of self, and a ruthless and excellent cricketer. ‘A complex, highly driven man, not given to personal relationships’ according to contemporary, EW Swanton [3]. Though he angered and frustrated many with whom he dealt, such was the public zeal felt for him that detraction was dismissed in the popular consciousness (perhaps at times with good reason) as jealous criticism. Through his pre-eminence he became a man of the establishment. Through his persuasion he dictated terms to them and, in time, their own policy. Establishment figures are generally remembered in their best aspect and Bradman is by no means unique in this. Fellow knights Pelham Warner and Gubby Allen were men notable in cricket and influential administrators who are generally recalled with fondness, rather than for the fact that they were great snobs. A decisive class above Warner and Allen, though, Bradman was a champion, supreme in ability and concentration.

His brilliance as an accumulator of runs is summarised in the most remarkable of test averages. His career was one of immaculate standards scrupulously achieved. It was also marked by drama but, in keeping with his character, this was generally quiet and modest rather than self-seeking, imposed upon by external events. The most sublime example of this is Bradman’s peritonitis following the Ashes tour of 1934 – Bradman stricken in hospital and struggling for his life, the English and Australian nations willing his survival, and his wife travelling at a furious pace across the globe to his bedside. The same tenacity of personality with which he made a full recovery saw him alone successful among the triumvirate of batting greats following the war. While Hammond and Headley’s careers ended shabbily, Bradman secured his reputation with a distinguished performance through his final two Ashes series, made all the more stately by his austerity of shot selection in contrast to the flair of his youth.

It is an ever forceful argument that personal concerns and failings are one’s own business and should not come into reckoning on a career. However, to be a cricketer worthy to be followed, with all that entails of veneration and honour, is exacting. One need not only hold skill and the mental rigour required of the game. To be truly loved, one must also possess a generosity of spirit that exhibits itself through character. Presumably, a great many people saw this in Bradman. Speaking for not a few journalists, ever shunned by the aloof Bradman who kept his own commercial commitments, John Arlott makes potent remark to imply the contrary,

Not since W. G. Grace has cricket produced such a man who so combined technical skill, concentration, determination or who did so on such a carefully planned course. I doubt that cricket will ever see another for cricket has a way of getting under a man’s skin. I do not think cricket is under Bradman’s skin but I believe that it is under his skull – in close control. Therefore he has missed something of cricket that less gifted and less memorable men have gained. How, I wonder, would Don Bradman define happiness? [4]

Kelly, a shrewd writer, acknowledges at least part of this in the song’s most ambiguous lines,

The critics could not comprehend this nonchalant phenomenon
“Why this man is a machine,” they said. “Even his friends say he isn’t human”
Even friends have to cut something

For the most part, though, the sentiment in Kelly’s song is, as the writer himself attests, pure Irving Rosenwater – Bradman as resplendent hero, the English XI sharp-toothed and short-sighted as pantomime villains. Central to the piece is the quotation of Bill Woodfull’s famous angered summation of Bodyline, ‘There’s two teams out there today and only one of them’s playing cricket.’ This attitude is the one generally held by any Australian who cares to think of the series. Such assessment scorns the achievement of the 1932 – 33 Ashes, and Jardine and Larwood become malevolents rather than cricketers. Sadly this cultural attitude has prevailed with resultant muck such as the 1980s television drama that stars Gary Sweet as Bradman. Australian cricket would be the richer for an informed reconsideration of this series.

Further, why must Mr Kelly draw attention to Archie Jackson’s Ashes tour of 1930? For those who think of Jackson as the Keats of cricket, Bradman is its rapacious Rupert Murdoch.

Bradman is a great Australian figure, but one with a complex legacy like Robert Menzies and Kerry Packer – coincidentally men who also dominated Australian cricket. Their deeds were monumental and their contribution to the nation has been great. However, their legacy is not secure from criticism. Kelly’s ‘Bradman’ is a magnificent song, but I feel it perpetuates misconceptions and lacks that which could be of edification. This is all put succinctly by the Queensland left-arm seamer, Tony Dell, who said of Bradman. Stories point to him being a selfish, divisive person who fought advancement. To me that does not constitute greatness.”” [5]

Watching the song’s video clip, though, Bradman’s batsmanship is such as to inspire grand tribute, so graceful and complete as he moves back into the crease and across to pull through midwicket.

* * *
There are cricket songs beside and Sidharth Monga has written an enlightened survey of the genre on CricInfo. There are those already known to the cricket fan – pop songs that only allude to cricket but prove useful for television grabs like 10cc’s ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ and Sherbert’s ‘Howzat’; odd cricket-specific songs, ‘C’mon Aussie C’mon’ being one of few to abide, tuneful enough to gain existence beyond World Series Cricket; and then there are songs by cricketers like Brett Lee and his outfit Six and Out.

There are also the less known. In 1981 the cricket song enthusiast David Allen compiled the lyric book A Song for Cricket, comprised of generally antique, pre-war fare – club songs and otherwise. It’s a curious relic but, as a book of words without music or context, it lacks anything of stirring beauty or profundity on the game.

More appealingly there are cricket calypsos, of which Lord Beginner’s ‘Victory Test’ and David Rudder’s ‘Rally Around the West Indies’ are the most often recalled. Each chronicles a pivotal moment in West Indies cricket – the former heralding the island federation as it came of age as a cricketing power, the latter a vain call of hope as the side slumped into what has been the most aching depression of any international cricketing side.

My favourite cricket calypso is The Mighty Sparrow’s ‘Sir Garfield Sobers’, a celebration of the West Indies’ victory over Australia in 1964 – 1965. As ever, Sparrow is raw and fervid, dancing about the beat in his delivery. His glee as he exults in the West Indies’ success and details each point of strength in the team’s false dawn is a joy to share. Other songs of West Indian success include Baldhead Growler’s marvellous ‘V for Victory’ and the mellifluous Lord Kitchener’s ‘Cricket Champions’. Besides Sparrow’s paean to Sobers, many other great cricketers from the islands have been cherished through song. King Short Shirt’s ‘Vivian Richards’ is a very fine tune and Wilmouth Houdini’s ‘Constantine’ a chilling minor-key celebration of the early hero. Beyond calypso, I Roy’s ‘Tribute to Michael Holding’ is a fittingly Jamaican work for the singer’s compatriot, and De Alberto’s ‘Chanderpaul’ is a particularly charming record. Neither do the singers of the West Indies begrudge the success of other sides. Equal reverence is given in Kitchener’s ‘Alec Bedser Calypso’ and Lord Relator’s ‘Gavaskar’. Also, if to your taste, there are socas with songs from such large names as Shaggy and Sean Paul.

Presumably there are a great many tunes from the subcontinent which have failed to come West. Given that the Pussycat Dolls had to spruik ‘Jai Ho’ to create an unlikely and somewhat bizarre hit, it is doubtful any Asian songs of cricket will soon grace the hit parade.

In 2009 The Duckworth Lewis Method produced the most concerted effort in the field of the cricket song, with a full-length album of them. Like cricket, their record is not particularly trendy. It is pop music and, as with the rest of Mr Hannon and Walsh’s oeuvre, of the gentler Anglo (or strictly Hibernian) style; the natural successor of XTC, which avoided the glitter of Britpop and consequent movements. In places, cricket and cricketing terms are used with ambiguity. Euphemisms in ‘The Sweet Spot’ and ‘The Nightwatchman’ attempt at humour and brave steadfastness respectively. This is in keeping with what might be thought of as an antecedent work to the record, The Kinks’ funny old song ‘Cricket’. At times, as with ‘Meeting Mr Miandad’, cricket is a launching pad to the surreal. Elsewhere on the album those whimsical and wistful attitudes that often creep into the sport are embraced, as with ‘Gentlemen and Players’ and ‘Test Match Special’. The album is at its most convincing with the music hall romp of ‘Jiggery Pokery’, rapping upon the Warne dismissal of Gatting, and the charming ‘Flatten the Hay’, a vignette of an enthused cricket child in the south-east of Ireland. It is an odd album with bristling MIDI ensembles, enthusiastic chorus lines and silly asides. One might find the textures at times jarringly ebullient but it is a fine thing that has been attempted and a joy of cricket that it exists.

* * *
Outside of the song, cricket has been celebrated throughout the arts. Though limited in this discussion, I feel the need to make brief mention of examples in each field for the uninitiated.

The most significant contributions have been made in journalism and literature. Cricket writing had its early notables such as ‘Felix’ (Tom Horan), but the first undisputed master was Neville Cardus. Cardus brought a smartness, warmth and significance to writing on the sport, which has stayed with it as a benchmark since. In his stead, the lofty canon of cricket literature has been formed by many good writers. To make brief roll call, with deference to the most complete work written on the game, CLR James’ Beyond a Boundary, some of these include RC Robertson-Glasgow, Jack Fingleton, JM Kilburn, Ray Robinson, David Frith, and Gideon Haigh. With a new generation including Duncan Hamilton, Christian Ryan, Ed Smith, the erudite Boria Majumdar and, it is to be hoped, Ed Cowan, cricket literature abides as a vital form.

There is also a significant body of cricket poetry. This includes, as occurs in these matters, a deal of chaff, much of which is represented in Lesley Frewin’s 1964 anthology The Poetry of Cricket among other works. Among the game’s better poets, which include champion fast bowler John Augustus Snow, the most endearing is John Arlott. Some of Arlott’s work is platitudes – lovely ones – but occasionally he reaches a neat depth as in his celebration of Jack Hobbs,

There was a wisdom so informed your bat
To understanding of the bowlers trade
That each resource of strength or skill he used
Seemed but the context of the stroke you played. [6]

Among contemporary cricket poets, a favourite is Nick Whittock. His work is abstruse but does not prohibit the reader from deriving a great deal from it. In example,

ross taylors a good fucking batsmen if
ginger beer didnt exist itd be hilarious
not as hilarious as if ginger beer didnt exist
n enid blytons works remained exact
ly as theyre fuck I love cricket [7]

In the visual arts cricket has also had worthy contributions. The National Gallery of Victoria hangs a fine painting in Fred Williams’ ‘Cricketer’. Further up the road, a stroll around the Melbourne Cricket Ground will prove an ever thoughtful and stirring experience. Towering in bronze are the guardians of the sacred ground, Louis Laumen’s pantheon of (for the most part) Victoria’s favourite sons. Funded by the gambling body Tattersalls and erected over the past decade, these sculptures endow neoclassical propriety to the perimeter of this beloved place. Finest among the cricketing statues is Dennis Lillee. In his final stride before delivery with beautifully arched body, Lillee bespeaks power, elegance, and athleticism. Like the footballer Leigh Matthews, muscling on the other side of the ground, the bowler is an imposing work of awe singing forth his art in Hellenic glory. Further along perches Bill Ponsford with bat vertically raised. Having snapped the ball through the covers his eyes scan the run like a grim watchman. In counterpoint to Lillee’s grace, Keith Miller in delivery stride is a display of aggression. This is not the dapper Miller of romance but a belligerent fast bowler, the spikes in his right boot looming above the viewer’s head with the terror of an iron maiden. The titles of AM and MBE, which decorate his nameplate, lay aligned to the left expectant of some late greater honour soon to come. Bradman is an affable valedictorian, the champion in relief rather than action with bat raised and hat doffed. In voluptuous contrast to these deified figures of sporting prowess stands Warne. Unprepossessing and with scant resemblance to the man in the face, the maligned statue more often suffers the name Fat Warnie. Some halfway through his run Warne prances like an inebriated bestial satyr. This, though, is assuredly not the intention of the sculptor. My views are quite likely the result of cultural conditioning. It is regrettable that in the immediate aftermath of his career Warne is remembered as much for his jocular character as for leg spin. Undoubtedly during the Boxing Day Test this year some wag will again stick a lit cigarette between the sculpture’s lips. It is to be hoped that Warne does not take too great an offence at this irreverence. It is nice to feel familiarity with one’s champions.

There are also films. Many of these are fond and British, such as the 1953 feature, The Final Test, and most BBC series which are worth their blue blood. In recent years there has been a spate of excellent documentaries. Fire in Babylon is the most popular of these, both for its colour and handling of a perennially favourite topic. Out of the Ashes, which details the Afghan cricket team’s qualification for the 2010 Twenty 20 World Cup, is the most life affirming and fantastic. Classically rounded and complete is From the Ashes, which manages to revel in English cricket’s equivalent of the 1966 World Cup while still being a magnificent picture. Thinking on the grand passion of Sam Mendes, perhaps there will be even greater gifts in the not too distant future.

* * *
To return to the cricket song, in a moment of reflection one might speculate on what perhaps the most qualified man, Neville Cardus, arch-stylist of the sport and equally romantic in his criticism of music, would pronounce upon the genre. The fact is Cardus kept the two subjects apart. He dwelt upon what was fine in each to raise it to the sublime and saw no need to mince the great twin passions. When I think on this I gravely question whether one may dare to do so, and whether beauty is not best kept discrete.

The cricket song is magnificent though, if still somewhat ill-defined in scope and disunified as a field. With what brilliance exists, I cannot but believe that there are great wonders yet to follow. Thinking on the fellows hanging about test cricket grounds – Lily Allen blowing kisses to Graham Onions; Coldplay doffing out for Midlands village cricket teams; and then the noble Welshmen of cricket, Nicky Wire from the Manic Street Preachers wearing whites in performance and Andrew Falkous from Mclusky and Future of the Left touring the Australian cricket summer – I am so hopeful, even if it is for some great prophet to come beyond our lifetime.


[1] Hepworth, David. ‘Ten Shades of Summer’ from The Word. July, 2010. Ed. Mark Ellen. P. 71
[2] Fingleton, Jack. Brightly Fades the Don. Arcadia, Melbourne (2002). P. 180
[3] Swanton, W.W. A Personal Recollection. Wisden, London (2003). P. 92
[4] Fingleton, Jack. Brightly Fades the Don. Arcadia, Melbourne (2002). P. 189 – 190
[5] Tony Dell quoted in Australia: Story of a Cricket County. Ed. Christian Ryan. Hardie Grant Books (2011). www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/541158.html
[6] Arlott, John. To John Berry Hobbs on his Seventieth Birthday 16 December 1952. From:, Arlott, John. Jack Hobbs Profile of ‘The Master’. John Murray and Davis-Poynter, London (1981). Frontispiece
[7] Whittock, Nick. don bradman. From: Whittock, Nick. The Doon. Vanguard Press, Sydney (2012). P. 7


released November 12, 2012
Ensemble arrangement written and conducted by Mace FrancisFlute – Emily Thomas
Cor Anglais – Giselle Gabriels
Clarinet – Jessica Andrews
Bass Clarinet – Mark Sprogowski
Trumpet – Sam Timmerman
French Horn – Wendy Tait
Tuba – Steve Harmer

Ensemble and piano recorded by Matthew Giovannangelo, with assistance from Nick Gardner, in May 2012 at Studio Couch, Fremantle

Harmony Vocals – Perrin Date

Perrin and Benjamin’s vocals recorded, and song mixed by, Cam Trewin, with assistance from Nick Miltiadou, in August 2012 at Woodstock Studios, Balaclava

Mastered by Simon Struthers at Forensic Audio, Mt Hawthorn

Sleeve layout and design by Vaughan Davies, Stage Left Design
Artwork by Blanche McManus


1 Comment

Filed under Australian cricket, Bradman, child of empire, cricket and life, cricketing icons, performance, sportsmanship, unusual people

One response to “Outstanding Cricket Songs

  1. Harper’s song is beautiful and, despite some lyrical flaws, does indeed evoke nostalgic visions of Victorian village green cricket. Have a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OY0N8ApcUMc

    Poor Roy Harper. Never commercially successful, he was hugely respected by his fellow musicians; superstars played for free on his solo albums. Then, a few years ago, he got hit with a raft of child-abuse charges. He was acquitted on most of these and the rest were finally withdrawn, but the damage was done. He lost his career, his public reputation and his life savings.

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