© Brenda Joy, 2013

Winner, 2013 Humorous Section — Coo-ee March Festival, Gilgandra, NSW.

When you had a good mate such as Charlie, boarding school was a whole lot of fun —
chasing girls, playing pranks on our teachers and with sporting events to be won,
but we found chapel services dreary, that’s until we invented one day,
a distraction we called ‘pulpit cricket’, an amusing new sport we could play.
Now the rules, they were ever so simple. We would make up our teams in advance
and decide on the game’s batting order, then the rest would be left up to chance.

For the ‘umpire’ would be the old chaplain and we’d watch all his gestures with awe,
‘cos the signals he made through the service were how Charlie and me kept the score.
We continued this sporting tradition, even after we’d left school behind.
We would visit a whole range of churches never knowing what ‘umps.’ we might find.
They determined the state of the wicket, if it favoured the spin or the bat,
and we went by the judgements delivered; we agreed we’d not argue with that.

When we set up a series between us, we became well and truly obsessed,
both so keen to be winning ‘The Ashes’ — that’s when preachers were put to the test.
Some would enter the game with great gusto: Two arms out to the side meant a four
(if your team won the toss and was batting, you were in for a pretty good score)
and for keeping the runs ticking over, Pentacostals would rate very high
as their sermons were chockers with sixes, being signalled by arms to the sky.

Other preachers would favour the bowlers as they waggled their finger about,
for a digit aloft was the signal which decreed when a batsman was out.
If an ump. would persist with this habit (as an Anglican rector once did
when both teams were dismissed for a pittance) we agreed, he was not worth a quid.
And some umpires could never be trusted.  One Salvo. who preached about drink
had pointed his pinky all sermon, so next week it had seemed safe to think…

…he’d do likewise.  I opted for bowling, but that Captain, he sure let me down,
‘cos the following week he was sombre and so Charlie’s team took me to town.
If an ump. stretched one arm horizontal, then a bowler had bowled a no-ball
and a tug on a robe meant a short run (that’s when games would slow down to a crawl).
But the worst was a priest who just stood there, showing no demonstration of faith,
only having concern for the scriptures, without gestures at all — like a wraith!

He was meant to provide entertainment, to keep cricket scores moving along,
but such umps. simply made a game boring; seems to me that their training was wrong!
Weren’t they taught that significant matches were relying on signs that they’d make?
Did they really believe that their sermons were enough to keep people awake?
In the very last game of the Ashes, a dull preacher had stifled the score
to a standstill.  It seemed our long series would be destined to end in a draw.

The whole fate of the Ashes depended on the last crucial minutes of play.
All I needed was one upheld finger; Charlie needed five runs sent his way.
Then with no due respect for the outcome of this duel we’d fought for a year,
without signal this staid pulpit preacher said, “Amen!” and stepped back to the rear.
But then something quite untoward happened and our friendship was split by a hair,
as this ump, falling down off his platform, threw the both of his arms in the air.

Neither Charlie nor I took much notice of the priest unbecomingly floored,
but to Charlie this post-sermon gesture indicated a six had been scored,
while I argued the game was well over — so we each saw the outcome our way.
That’s how Charlie and me lost our friendship, but I still retain hope that one day
we can go back to being good cobbers.  All that Charlie must do is agree —
he was WRONG and his side was defeated and the overall winner was ME.

N.B.  With his permission, this poem was written from an idea in a story told by Bill Wheatley of South Australia.

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