In London, the weather is a gentle sashaying mockery. An Indian summer reminds us of the sullen apology of summer which we have just endured. Soon it will be winter, and ‘A cold coming we had of it’.
As always, poetry is a respite. My first resort is usually Yeats. In English, no one except Shakespeare is better at turning language into music. I have probably apologised before now in these columns for using those ravaging Yeatsian lines which have become a cliché because they are so true, so powerful, such an epitome of the post-1914 world and its agonies. ‘The best lack all conviction / The worst are full of passionate intensity.’ Has any historian ever rivalled that lapidary conclusive eloquence?
Such eloquence is too painful when public affairs are at a nadir. Yet there are other art forms, not all of which are in decline. In recent years, there have been attempts to denigrate proper cricket. Batsmen are referred to as ‘batters’. There have been depressing moments when the top of the English order almost deserved such disparagement: when our only reliable batsmen were Root and rain. But there has been improvement. ‘The glory and the freshness of the dream.’ Cricket is a harsh game. Its psychological demands on players are at least as tough as the physical ones. It is also an entrancing spectacle. A perfectly timed cover drive; the knowledge that at any moment, a dropped catch could transform the match. Like bullfighting, this is not merely sport. It is an aesthetic, harmonising beauty and brutality. Like bullfighting, it has inspired serious writing. At his best, Neville Cardus was as good as Hemingway. Discuss.
We are now approaching the final match in a splendid contest. This series has swung back and forwards, from drama to error to courageous recovery, especially by the Indians. They are a tough side, and a stubborn one. The reluctance to play Ravichandran Ashwin, the best spinner in the world and also useful with the bat, came close to costing them the series.
Throughout all this, the cricket has been a glorious dream — and proper cricket has been rehabilitated. There had been all this one-day stuff: The Hundred, 20-20 or whatever. As a means of enticing youngsters to watch cricket, this is harmless. But there is the risk of infantilisation. Test cricket, nurtured by the county game, is the English equivalent of corrida in a Spanish bullring. As we should all have been reminded, cricket at the highest level is one of the greatest spectacles which human life has to offer — and some consolation, when politics at its highest level sinks to new lower depths.
That is not only true in Britain. Spanish towns are banning bullfighting. But not everything is going wrong. The other evening, Miguel, a bright young Anglo-Spanish lawyer, produced a bottle of Vega Sicilia to celebrate a birthday. A 2016, it was subtle, smooth and harmonious: just about ready, but with endless staying power.
Without disparaging the Caudillo’s achievements, there have been improvements in Spain over recent decades. Large numbers of new wine-growers have come into the market, while the traditional houses still flourish. It is surely time for an oenophile Test series, between Spain and Italy. At the moment, I think that the Italians would be favourites, but not by much. If sherry and brandy were included, the balance of power would undoubtedly swing to Spain.
Cricket, wine, poetry: politics be damned. Jeroboams are offering some promising-sounding second wines of serious Bordeaux growers, of which more later. The sun is still shining. There will be one more Test match and it may well be a cracker. England could still draw the series… or could they? Anyway, the pleasures of carpe diem have not been exhausted.
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