APRIL is the cruellest month declared Thomas Stearns Eliot, and who really knew that the finicky American and Anglophile poet was a perceptive voice of sport.

Okay, to be fair to the author of The Wasteland and The Hollow Men - jeez, he could have been describing England football’s major tournament campaigns over the last two decades - old Tom was not exactly a sports jock.

But his attribution of cruelty and fickle finger of fate to the month of April is more spot-on than a free-kick detonated by either Ronaldo or Gareth Bale.

Just look at this weekend. The Grand National, the Boat Race, the Masters, the start of the domestic cricket season. All that’s missing are the FA Cup semi-finals, and they are next weekend.

Actually, there was a time in my youth - yeah, I know, when photographs were in sepia and cricket was played by gentlemen against the hoi-polloi - when the FA Cup semi-finals also featured on the same heady, intoxicating weekend as the aforementioned activities.

Transistor radios and televisions almost suffered burnout, while newspapers were so well-thumbed the newsprint almost faded away.

So back to the pernicious nature of the fourth month of the year.

Hand in hand with the imminent outbreaks of total exhilaration of triumph, conquest and defiance over odds and adversity, is the grip of cruelty.

Let’s start with Aintree’s annual arrival of equine endeavour. It is both a sporting occasion of magnificence, stamina and - pain.

For all the stringent safety measures that have since been employed at the course, and there have been many, there will be some horses, maybe even a few riders, who will be hurt.

Fatalities among the four-legged favourites and fancies cannot be ruled out.

It still lingers in the memory how North Yorkshire was at the heart of a death at the National when According To Pete - trained by Norton’s Malcom Jefferson and owned by Peter Nelson of Helperby - had to be put down after breaking a leg in a fall at Becher’s Brook three years ago.

Even if there are no deaths, and mercifully the racing gods will look down with favour, then there will be no small number of cash and shirts lost as the nation indulges in a betting frenzy from those ardent students of form to an army of pin-stickers.

The painful nature of the month will gather momentum when chances will be spurned and shots dropped at Augusta, the legendary home of golf ’s first major of the season.

Top billing goes to the man who slips his wood-wielding arms through the sleeves of the green jacket, but even if current world number one Rory McIlroy were to add that apparel to his wardrobe, even he can cast his mind back to the same venue four years ago when he went into meltdown and spurned the chance to win the Masters crown.

April, too, is the month when the English football season turns malevolent. Championship and play-off honours are far fewer than those who miss out and those who also undergo the heartache of flirting with the drop and the ultimate heartbreak of being relegated.

And how truly cruel is the month heralding spring and optimism when the domestic cricket season starts and Lancashire are again going to have one of those summers when rain, ill-luck and lack of talent in depth, yields yet another trophy-less term.

Eliot, dear boy, you were so right on the button.

Benaud the cricket beaut

A WALMGATE colleague baulked yesterday at how the death of cricketer and commentator Richie Benaud featured so high in news bulletins.

But I would venture Benaud’s demise genuinely merited such exalted status.

This was a man whose soft Australian burr - so at odds with the strident delivery of many of his countrymen - ushered the nuances of Test cricket into living rooms across the globe.

From Cootamundra to Coventry, Sydney to Stockton, Barbados to Birmingham, Capetown to Cornwall, Wellington to Welwyn Garden City, Karachi to Kent, Benaud was the voice that gently illustrated and illuminated cricket in its most purist form to millions of listeners.

No mean player himself - he proved to be a master tactician while captaining Australia - Benaud was never a member of the fuddy-duddy brigade.

He was open-minded and open-hearted and is owed a significant debt by cricket for delighting listeners and viewers.

Good on yer, mate.