Our digital editor Dave Fawbert’s ode to the accessible sport you may not have heard of…
A friend of mine once said to me that if sports were a family, then football would be your younger brother. An all-action burst of energy for a short 90-minutes, and then gone.
But cricket was like your granddad.
He’d take a little longer to deliver his stories, you might have to concentrate a little harder to follow what was going on, and he might even fall asleep occasionally. But oh, the yarns he could spin, weaving a rich, epic tale, full of unexpected twists and turns, with subtle ebbs and flows as they were delivered.
Of course, he was talking mainly about Test cricket – the longest form of the game, and the one that most people think of as cricket.
Long, slow days, full of fielding positions with strange names and talk about ducks, bouncers and something to do with ashes, before England lose after almost a week’s play.
But, for those who have never cared about cricket, you need to get into the short, sharp version of the game that has always existed. One that’s been around even before cricket’s own noisy little brother, T20 (the three-hour version of the game which took the world by storm since its invention in 2003).
And that game is street cricket.
What is street cricket, I hear you cry?
Well, it’s the form of cricket that can be played anywhere (not just the actual street – anywhere), with whatever rules you like and whoever you want to play with, whether they’ve heard of a wicket or not.
It reduces cricket to its absolute fundamentals: one player with a bat, who wants to whack a ball bowled by another player as far as they possibly can. It doesn’t even need to be a real bat. And it doesn’t even need to be a real ball.
Just as a pair of jumpers and a ball means that a game of football can spark into action, so any sort of hitting implement and any sort of ‘ball’ will do the job.
I have played street cricket as long as I can remember – it’s a game for the ages.
At school we used to finally get some enjoyment from our chemistry textbooks by using them as ‘bats’ to hit a scrunched-up bit of paper (usually a page ripped out of that chemistry textbook, now I come to think of it) around a classroom during breaktime. You’d score a 6 and earn the respect of your peers if you managed to send the ‘ball’ out of the window.
Sometimes we’d even manage to steal enough elastic bands from the stationary cupboard to create a truly lethal rubber ball which, when connected with sweetly enough, would ping its way around the classroom, often colliding with some poor kid’s lunchbox and sending its contents flying up in the air.
Well, it was their own fault. They should have been concentrating on fielding. Good times.
Naturally, you can play street cricket on the street itself. But you can also play it anywhere else.
Space restrictions? Playing on an odd-shaped, non-circular pitch? No problem: simply adapt the scoring rules to suit.
Maximum one run if you hit the wall to your left that’s literally 10-foot away, no matter how hard. An automatic 4 runs if the ball goes into the road.
Obviously, always, without exception, over the fence is 6, and you’ve got to go and ask for the ball back. Batsman been in for too long and too good? One hand, one bounce and you’re out.
Garden cricket can even be played on your own.
Hours and hours of holidays away at my grandparents, would be spent playing imaginary Test matches in my grandparents’ small but perfectly-formed back garden, playing with a bat that my grandad had carved out of a spare bit of timber and bowling to myself via the wall of the garage.
It’s a common misconception that cricket is an elite sport that requires a load of prohibitively expensive gear to be able to play.
Sure, you can spend all your wages on new leather balls, helmets, arm guards, willow bats worth more than a car, full official England whites and the cost of playing on a Test match-standard ground complete with sight screens, scoreboard, floodlights and professional umpires. I mean, you can definitely do that.
But you don’t need to.
At its core, street cricket is a sport for everyone and is testament to the fact that sport is best enjoyed when it doesn’t have boundaries.
Don’t believe me? There are entire campaigns driving that truth home - NatWest has been celebrating the diversity of modern cricket with the England and Wales Cricket Board and their #NoBoundaries campaign for the past year, teaming up with Chance to Shine, a charity bringing cricket back to state schools and people from all backgrounds together.
The fact is, all you really need is a ‘ball’, a ‘bat’ and some creativity.
Just look at India and Pakistan, where street cricket is played absolutely everywhere. Many of those countries’ greatest players – and indeed, many of those playing for Pakistan in the Natwest Test Series #NoBoundaries against England this summer – first discovered their love of the game playing the sport. They honed their skills using a ball made of tape and stumps consisting of a few sticks stuck in the ground, or drawn with chalk on a wall.
So, please, don’t wait any longer.
Embrace street cricket in all its many forms this summer.
Get out in the garden yourself. Get your kids to play.
Get playing in the car park during your lunch break at work. Go to the park after work. Set up a league.
Because there are few things more thrilling in life than absolutely whacking a ball miles away, or unleashing a rocket of a delivery straight into middle stump.
Who knows? Perhaps you’ll be walking out at Lord’s yourself in a few years. And, even in the unlikely event that you don’t, you can start to discover the glorious game that is cricket.
Dream big, people: perhaps one day we might all know what a silly mid-off is.