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Oval Time by Zaffar Kunial

 November 3, 2020 | Simon Jenkins


A poem written by Cultural Fellow Zaffar Kunial on his first day in the University has been published in the cricketing almanack Wisden. Recalling the deeds of legendary players from WG Grace to Viv Richards, Oval Time is one of several of Zaffar’s works which celebrate his passion for cricket:

 

I forget that cricket grounds exist in winter

seeing out snow and floating in fog.

I forget that the ground’s been there almost forever

and curling around it like a finger

pointing at the wrought-iron gasholder, a buried river

leaving a curve, the Effra.

A road like a brooch around an opal.

The Kennington Oval.

 

The O of a cambered surface that drains the water

like an upturned saucer, keeping the clay dry

in the middle. The filled O of the rolled field, its subtle

four-tone tartan. Green. Green. Green. And green.

The O of a crowd in the shade. The eternal

O of a roped boundary. The O

 

of a century. A double century. Bradman’s duck.

The O of their open mouths watching

a last innings. A last Test. Of not knowing

how many summers you’ll have left.

Of the tilted earth, of an arc, of orbiting the sun

around an invisible seam. The long-repeating

 

wide-brimmed O, as a river of white sunhats streams

in summer from the Vauxhall tube. The shaken

O of an unstopped urn, as a life’s dust is tipped over

the stumpless wicket, in winter, and atoms drift and turn

up towards the gods, towards the favourite seats

where days happened and stuck.

 

Time unfolds again and again from the crease. Fielders

stand with their well-ironed shadows. Grace

takes guard, where a bearded man he can’t see called Ali

takes a hat-trick. An event horizon where Richards

has more time at the crease, sees the ball a nano-

second sooner. Where twitchy Smith stares into history

 

and bobs like a bird, a wagtail or a dipper

half-sitting, half-standing as if stubbornly over

an egg. Sure as an egg timer. Over and over. The O

of a decommissioned gasholder, of a crowd’s open silence,

of a NO shouted at the non-striker’s end. The O

behind that held-up, white, skeletal glove.

NO. STAY THERE.

The O of that palm, creased like a river.

 

(Text reproduced with permission).
Oval Time by Zaffar Kunial