Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Heaven is a cricket ground.

Photo by Selina Reid

For nearly 30 years between 1750-1780, Broadhalfpenny Down was the centre of the Cricketing world. The hospitable Richard Nyren, owner of the 'Bat & Ball' and one of the foremost players of the time, provided the headquarters for the Hambledon Club; a place of much feasting and carousing for the top cricketers of the day.
This happy brotherhood took on and beat the Rest of England in a series of matches for enormous wagers watched by huge crowds. The Hambledon Club established and refined the laws of cricket. It was also responsible for developments in the game, such as length bowling, a third stump, and improving techniques. As more cricket was being played in London, the centre of gravity inevitably moved from Hambledon and the Marylebone Cricket Club, formed in 1787, became the authority for the laws and the general governance of the game.

Photo by Selina Reid

The Broadhalfpenny Brigands CC was set up to restore the playing of cricket regularly on the historic Down. The Brigands have always sought to play their cricket in a spirit of jovial comradeship mixed with keen competition and to extend a warm welcome to the many visiting teams and spectators who come to enjoy sharing in the delights of cricket on Broadhalfpenny Down.

And it was Sunday pasted that I found myself driving up to enjoy the historical pastures of this most famous of cricketing grounds as a debutant for the Brigands CC. I have long been one of the many stopping on my countryside travels to enjoy the pleasure of watching the men in white dance across the living memoirs of crickets past. It was this Sunday after much chatting and finding links from a work collogue that I would get my chance to walk out of that pavilion.

The day itself could not have been nicer for the opening of the ground, a warming ray of sun greeted all in shorts and t-shirts, and by 13:45 the ground had already accepted many a picnic blanket on its boundary as well the greeting of the two sides. The changing rooms smelled of leather pads, cricket balls and my nerves had me changed into training shorts and shirt much earlier than required. I quick jog along the far side of the ground watching the cow’s shift much like clouds made me remember the simple reason for playing cricket was the joy of being outside in the warm glow of the summer sun.

Photo by Selina Reid

The pitch itself smelled like it had just been cut and the markings of the lines freshly painted in anticipation of the game to begin. The side itself (Brigands CC) a mixture of old hands and young terrors, public school boys mixed with those of naval importance as the applauding for the opening batsman continued to drift back towards the cows.

What happened next you half expect as you open in bowling in April, a little bit on the short side and cut away for 4. What happens after defines a bowler in terms of how they return, to have him hanging his bat in the sun lent an air of noise and a finger raised, and the mind relieved at my first wicket.

What was to happen in the next hour was nothing short of either the cricketing gods shining a light on a hopeful season or a dream coming true. As a 28 year old club cricketer of the average standard that most joy comes out of playing any cricket,  let alone that of a standard fit for boasting. Today was a five wicket day, you’re never sure when they will come about you’ll sometimes take 3 or maybe 2, but that perfect 5 wickets is always just an edge short or a dropped catch away.

Five wickets, I’m sure the trees that hide the ground from the road have heard many a rattle of stumps and bails hitting the turf. Today was my day to bask in that joy of the 5th wicket falling, and after my 7th over as I trotted back towards the rope, with no applause or adoring fans to meet, just a small hear d of Jersey cows with more thoughts on eating grass than that of the game played on it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

And so it begins.

England has been blessed in recent days with a coming of the sun to burn away any lingering thoughts of the harsh winter. And with the county season again choosing to start early all those souls that sit side-by-side within office blocks or at home looking at retired photographs of the cricket they once played can now start to think of the summer again, even if a touch earlier than normal.

The County Championship, the now not so popular competition among those under 25, fr many April is the time to dust off the pads, sand back the blade of choice, play a few defensive shots in front of the mirror before the wife walks in and start to dream of big scores in June. The shoulder aches after the first official rolling of the arm and the smell of the freshly cut square as you walk past the ground is tempting you to begin play early.

County cricket on the other hand is in full swing with all teams reporting for duty over the weekend of April madness in the sun drenched grounds across the counties. I for one was lucky to escape the clutches of 'home duties' and made it down to the Rose Bowl Sunday to watch an interesting 3rd day of cricket from the new stands. I arrived to the ground on or about 11:00 only to hear the sound of many an appeal as the last 3 batsman were returned to the hutch by 11:20, oh the dismay of an early collapse, and not just from the batsman as Simon Jones & Dominic Cork both having to leave the field for treatment (Simon not returning) De Wet the new South African/Englishman found early wickets be it off no balls.

I have a habit when watching County cricket to always be wishing the best from my fellow countrymen (Australians) no matter which county they are playing for. I have many a story of  an over night case of man-flu stopping me from getting to work, only to jump trains in the morning to see certain player obtain a 100. This day Di Venuto the 37 yr old veteran who's time in the gold & green are long past the Tasmanian opener, yet I always admired his gritty batting and on this day it seemed I might of got a milestone had it not been for the young Hampshire spinner Danny Briggs bringing my joy to an end on 40 as I opened the bag of sandwiches. My day concluded with an 'almost' historical moment as Stokes took to Dawson like a bowling machine putting him over the ropes 5 times only for a conference call to Nic Pothas insuring a 6th was not to leave the ground.

And so now my summer has begun a touch before the calendar tells me so, and a lot earlier than my wife would like. This week I shall begin the ritual of following the weather reports across 3 different websites and 2 news channels, the kit bag will be given an airing out, and the cricket shoes a wipe down, the whites still seem to be cream but the mind is completely bonkers on this silly little game. This weekend brings the early fixtures of the year, time to air out the arm pits with a few loose overs, and see if the bat works. Saturday brings a pre-season club match in Otterbourne and Sunday brings a debut at The Cradle of Cricket, and the weekend will bring further musings of a summers cricket is all that matters from April and September.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Rule of 4.

Yesterday as England was in the grips of the hottest day for 2011 at a mild face warming 21 degrees, so much so that men small & large were removing t-shirts at an alarming rate. With the sun showing its wares this early in April the mind tends to drift ahead a few weeks to the start of the cricket leagues, when I say ‘cricket’ leagues I don’t mean your jaguar driving, freshly pressed whites and bats with sponsor’s logos. I’m talking of the time of year when grass stained trousers show the signs of a veteran.

Having suddenly noticed someone had slipped him a Fosters, Warney quickly disposes of the venom

With the season sharply approaching and the weather now drawing more of us towards the green grass of the beer garden it made sense to look into proper preparation to a day playing cricket. There are many debates on the use of beer before, after and sometimes during sporting conquests. With many feeling its usage should be at a minimum, and others think maybe 1 is alright. My good friend Andy and I found ourselves pondering the theory of the pre-match drink, and where it sits in loosening up a player who is tense on the day leading up. We know or have been told of horror stories of nights gone wrong and days in the field ruined by an over indulgence of the amber fluid kind.

Andy tells of a great little tale from his university days when preparing for a big game against a Rival University the captain had specifically requested no pre match drinking. All the team were waiting at the bus for the 11th man, 15 minutes late Johnny Smith rocks up with his bit of skirt (she was only wearing a dressing gown – sparking riotous scenes) from the night before p*&@”d out off his mind. After a 2 hour journey he is still drunk on arrival at the crease as the innings went along his hangover grew. Dear old Johnny was not in a good state at tea! Unsurprisingly they lost the game and Johnny lost the rest of his student loan in fines.

Very few can drink and play cricket, Ponting an exception to this.

I stand on a simple mathematical equation, one not as difficult as the duckworth lewis method, but just as important to the fabric of cricket life, it is simply named ‘The Four Beer Rule’ and is in affect from the first Friday of any cricket season to the final Friday in August.

The Four Beer Rule for me works on many levels, as I'm a big fan of the ‘one round’ where the sum of those in attendance must be equal to task of necking the no. people in the amount of beers, with 4 being the limit to a round.

4 being the limit to a round back home (Melbourne) works well, mainly as you can tend to get a round in for under tenner ($2.50 for a beer) for 4 people, and if you can’t you are clearly in a bar/pub too fancy for the likes of you and your mates. Being under a tenner means that everyone can afford a round for 4. Plus it means you can take out of the bank exactly a tenner avoiding those moments passed 4 pints when your brain tries to trick you into thinking a 5th & 6th is a great idea washed down with tequila.

Now the ‘one round’ works well in groups of 3 and 4, but I find when drinking with just one other mate that 2 pints is not enough to discuss the days play at the cricket or to come up with good selections for the following days racing, and this where the double round should be employed yet not straying from The Four Beer Rule, with each member buying 2 lots of 2 pint rounds, finishing your night on the round figure 4 pints, and not opening up the wallet for more than a tenners worth.

Many will feel that they can test and find faults in such a theory and I have watch many who have failed to take hold of The Four Beer Rule and lose their way home with nothing more than a lamb sandwich to talk to. I know that there is always an exception to any rule, and we may find that within our cricket club the likes of ‘Bruce’ or ‘Pig’ can indeed put away beyond a tenners worth of rounds in a night, and it is these men that we try to avoid. We are all informed of drinking in moderation, but what is moderation? To me this is a bit airy fairy and doesn’t give your cricketing male who values figures and statistics a point of reference.

Good luck in the weather and remember – DON’T BE A FOOL, KNOW YOUR RULE