Backyard cricket on an ad hoc wicket | Daily News

Backyard cricket on an ad hoc wicket

Backyard cricket, street cricket, beach cricket or garden cricket is an informal ad hoc variant of the game of cricket, played by people of all genders and all ages in gardens, back yards, on the street, in parks, car-parks, beaches and any area not specifically intended for the purpose. While loosely based on the game of cricket, many aspects are improvised such as the playing ground, the rules, the teams, and the equipment.

Traditional cricket is about two teams keeping score, proper specialist equipment such as pads, stumps, helmets, and white clothing Backyard cricket is the antithesis of all that. In backyard cricket, quite often, there are no teams at all. The players take turns batting and there is often no emphasis on actually scoring runs.

The pitch can be any bit of ground that is reasonably flat. The wicket may be any conventional object readily available such as a chair, a cardboard box, a rubbish bin, or a set of sawn-off broomsticks. A ball is the other essential item. Tennis balls are often used due to the fact that they are less likely to inflict injuries than a cricket ball.

They are also much cheaper and more readily available than a leather cricket ball and are easier to hit due to their slower air-speed and relative lightness. Tennis balls also bounce more than normal cricket balls, especially at low speeds. The bat need not an be a Gray-Nicolls, but could be anything made of wood, as long as it can whack the ball and can be suitably held in the hands.

Besides, with tennis balls you don’t need batting helmets, gloves or groin guards although you might have wished you had slipped in the latter equipment when facing Uncle Jim’s regular tennis ball thunderbolts.

And some of us did after witnessing the terrifying spectacle of some of his victims rolling on the ground in hideous contortions. Uncle Jim was actually an uncle of our close buddies, the formidable Fernandopulle brothers, who lived down the road. Uncle Jim did not give quarter for any of us pre-teens. So his fast balls whistled past our ears with unplayable speed.

For the benefit the uninitiated, the groin-guard is a hard cup that fits inside your ‘jockers’. The cups are hard material inserts and when a rock hard cricket ball hits one it’s called ‘ringing the bell,’ which rhymes with hell, which is what it hurts like. But I must say that rather than a ringing tone it sounds more like a sickening clunk which can be heard all around the ground even without the aid of the new-fangled stump microphones.

Cricketers are advised never to leave home for a game without one! It is politely known as a box or abdo-guard and provides ample protection to the … shall we say, pelvic region. But the players commonly refer to it as a ball guard. And you had better have your own because most players aren’t up for sharing!

There is an old cricket joke that the first box was used in cricket in 1874 and the first cricket helmet was used in 1974. So we know that the earliest players had their bits and pieces in mind and were taking measures to look after them! Another startling facet that strikes us is that it took men 100 years to realise that their head and brains were equally important.

We’ve all played backyard cricket with all kinds and been bloody annoyed by people such as these. There were the younger brats who were never out, like my kid brother Lance, who if he nicked one to the keeper wouldn’t walk.

He would insist that the ball had bounced off the toe of his bat before it was caught. Even when he was clean bowled he wouldn’t give up his bat contending it was a no-ball. Shades of the great W. G. Grace, wot!

There is always the ‘pain’ who calls himself the commentator: He calls every damn ball. Names every shot. References the field settings. Screams in exaggerated anguish at every dropped catch. Tries his hardest to get a catchphrase up and running. Basically thinks he’s in the same league as Tony Greig or Henry Blofeld - he isn’t.

And don’t scoff at this type of improvised ball game, because at one time or another even the world’s greatest cricketing legends must have been nurtured on such humble venues.

Ask any famous Sri Lankan or international cricketer where they got their start, and the answer would obviously be the same - playing in the backyard or on the street with their family and friends. Fom Kumar Sangers to Mahela Jaye, the backyard is where many of our cricket stars started out.

But backyard cricket comes with its fair of arguments too – after all, we take our cricket darn seriously in this country. It is only fair that the family dogs get a call up for the fielding team because you’re playing on their turf anyway. The family dog is considered non partisan and can field any time he feels like it. If any of these hounds catch the ball hit on the full the batter is ruled out.

In any backyard game the dog is your most prized fielder.

It is the fielding side’s job to chase the dogs when necessary and the bowler’s responsibility to clean off the animal’s yukky slobber. That’s the reason, I guess why my kid sister Ann, my cousins Vilma and Margo were too sensible to get involved in these games.

Yet in all, backyard cricket is all about fun, not sweating or nit-picking over the small stuff.

The LBW rule was considered too tricky to umpire. Instead, batters are ‘strongly encouraged’ not to block the wicket with their legs. The intensity of a backyard game of cricket can often be just as passionate as anything dished up by our willow-wielding Test cricketers at the height of a climactic game.

There was an eccentric old maid in the neighbourhood named Madeline who sometime crashed our matches. She could bash the ball around a bit. We finally dragooned Uncle Jim as our hero to deter her from trespassing on our turf. So it was that he fired a toe-crushing yorker to Madeline causing her skirt to balloon, lose her balance and finally impale herself on the stumps. Rather than face Madeline’s wrath Uncle Jim tied an extra knot in his already tucked-up sarong and ran like the blazes into the home next door.

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