Verity

Something rather different from my usual poetry postings. This poem was written in memory of celebrated cricketer Hedley Verity, who was wounded in action in Caserta, Sicily and taken prisoner; he later died of his wounds in a Prisoner-of-War camp at the age of 38. It was a tragic end to a life that had given so much to the world of cricket.

The following is a brief account of his playing career taken from the website where I found the poem. You can find a longer biography here.

Verity was born in 1905 within sight of Headingley Cricket Ground. It seems strange to think that Verity was originally turned down by Yorkshire at trials in 1926, but he was eventually given a chance by the county in 1930 and, of course, became a fixture until the start of the war. He was the natural successor to that other great Yorkshire left-arm spinner, Wilfred Rhodes, whose career drew to a close in 1930 after an amazing 883 games for the county. Verity was never going to get close – Hitler saw to that – but he did turn out for Yorkshire 278 times and in that time he produced some remarkable bowling analyses.

In 1931 he took ten for 36 off 18.4 overs against Warwickshire at Leeds, but incredibly he bettered these figures the following season by taking ten for ten in 19.4 overs against Nottinghamshire, also at Headingley. They remain the county’s best bowling figures for an innings while Verity’s 17 for 91 against Essex at Leyton in 1933 remain Yorkshire’s best bowling in a match. Verity claimed nine wickets in an innings seven times for Yorkshire. He took 100 wickets in a season nine times and took 200 wickets in three consecutive seasons between 1935-37. He ended with 1,956 first-class wickets at an average of 14.9, took five wickets in an innings 164 times and ten wickets in a match 54 times. On 1 September, 1939, in the last first-class match before war was declared, he took seven for nine at Hove against Sussex.

The year after he first appeared for Yorkshire, Verity made his England debut against New Zealand at The Oval, finishing the game with four wickets. After that summer he was ignored until 1932/33, the Bodyline Series, in which he took 11 wickets, including Bradman twice. By the time his career was over, Verity had dismissed Bradman ten times, a figure matched only by Grimmett. As with his domestic career, Verity’s international performances threw up some astonishing bowling figures. He took eight for 43 and finished with match figures of 15 for 104 against Australia at Lord’s in 1934. His stamina was demonstrated during the 1938-39 tour of South Africa when he bowled 95.6 eight-ball overs in an innings at Durban, taking four for 184. By the time war arrived, Verity had taken 144 wickets at an average of 24.37.

During the war he was a captain in the Green Howards. He sustained his wounds in the battle of Catania in Sicily and died on 31 July, 1943. His grave is at Caserta Military Cemetery, some 16 miles from Naples.

Ironically, the poet, Drummond Allison, was also killed in action during World War 2.

The ruth and truth you taught have come full-circle
On that fell island all whose history lies,
Far now from Bramhall Lane and far from Scarborough
You recollect how foolish are the wise.

On this great ground more marvellous than Lord’s
– Time takes more spin than nineteen thirty four –
You face at last that vast that Bradman-shaming
Batsman whose cuts obey no natural law.

Run up again, as gravely smile as ever,
Veer without fear your left unlucky arm
In His so dark direction, but no length
However lovely can disturb the harm
That is His style, defer the winning drive
Or shake the crowd from their uproarious calm.

by Drummond Allison (1921-1943).

7 Responses to “Verity”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Is it in that anthology of cricket poetry Peter? And will you someday find and post “In certamen pilae”, a poem written in Latin about cricket (not dating from ancient Rome, alas)?

    I hadn’t known that Verity got Bradman 10 times. I recall Richard Hadlee describing the young Graeme Hick as a “flat track bully” and, while one must be careful in applying such a description to a man with an unprecedented Test average of 99.94, it does seem that Jack Hobbs coped better than Bradman on sticky wickets.

    • telescoper Says:

      I don’t know if it is in the book you gave me, as that is in Cardiff. I came to this poem via a strange route on the net, actually. I watched a DVD of the TV episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot called Four and Twenty Blackbirds. At the end, Poirot surprises his colleagues with his knowledge of cricket, remarking on Verity’s remarkable feat of taking 15 wickets against Australia on a rain-affected pitch at Lord’s.

      Although it is well known that Agatha Christie was a fan of cricket she did make a mistake here. Poirot refers to Verity bowling chinamen, which he never did; he was strictly a left-hand orthodox finger spinner. It was checking this out that led me to the poem and to the moving story of his wartime death.

  2. Phillip Helbig Says:

    I have a list of musicians, bands, etc to check out when I have time. Most I have just read about, some I have seen live or on television (or YouTube) or heard on the radio. One is Roy Harper. One of his most famous songs concerns cricket. Not only does the song have its own Wikipedia entry (not that unusual for songs by modern beat combos), there is even a Wikipedia entry for cricket poetry.

    When the day is done, and the ball has spun, in the umpire’s pocket away
    And all remains, in the groundsman’s pains for the rest of time and a day
    There’ll be one mad dog and his master, pushing for four with the spin
    On a dusty pitch, with two pounds six of willow wood in the sun

    When an old cricketer leaves the crease, you never know whether he’s gone
    If sometimes you’re catching a fleeting glimpse of a twelfth man at silly mid-on
    And it could be Geoff, and it could be John, with a new ball sting in his tail
    And it could be me, and it could be thee, and it could be the sting in the ale
    Sting in the ale.

    When an old cricketer leaves the crease, well you never know whether he’s gone
    If sometimes you’re catching a fleeting glimpse of a twelfth man at silly mid-on
    And it could be Geoff and it could be John, with a new ball sting in his tail
    And it could be me and it could be thee, and it could be the sting in the ale
    The sting in the ale.

    When the moment comes and the gathering stands and the clock turns back to reflect
    On the years of grace 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.

    When an old cricketer leaves the crease, well you never know whether he’s gone
    If sometimes you’re catching a fleeting glimpse of a twelfth man at silly mid-on
    And it could be Geoff and it could be John with a new ball sting in his tail
    And it could be me and it could be thee and it could be the sting in the ale
    The sting in the ale.

    When an old cricketer leaves the crease, well you never know whether he’s gone
    If sometimes you’re catching a fleeting glimpse of a twelfth man at silly mid-on
    And it could be me and it could be thee.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Hi Phillip; I don’t think that any other game matches cricket for its combination of quality and quantity of writing on the subject. The most famous cricket poem is the first verse of “At Lords” by Francis Thompson, who also wrote a famous religious poem (The Hound of Heaven) and is an outside bet to be Jack the Ripper. He wrote it after years of alcoholism in London, about a visit of his own county, Lancashire (mine too), to London’s leading cricket ground, named Lords (named after Thomas Lord not the aristocracy). The famous last line, “O my Hornby and my Barlow long ago”, which you can google for the rest, refers to Lancashire’s opening pair of batsmen. A.N. (‘Monkey’) Hornby – the nickname is not racial – is buried not far from where I live now in the countryside. I have visited his grave and there is a carving of bat and ball on it.

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        I initially stopped parsing your first sentence before “of writing on the subject”. Would such a shorter sentence still be true?

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Thompson had to be disssuaded from using the line “O my Monkey and my Stonewall long ago”. (Stonewall was Barlow’s nickname.) Just as well.

  3. […] subject of The Last Match was legendary Yorkshire spin bowler Hedley Verity. I posted about him not long ago so I won’t repeat his life story here, but the point was that the last match he ever played […]

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