Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Backyard Heroes

Tuesday, 4 July 2017
I haven't had the urge to write much lately, so this blog has fallen by the wayside a bit this year. Instead here's a change of pace - something I wrote a while ago and thought I may as well share, a story about growing up and falling in love with the game.

The month is May. The days are getting warmer, the showers of April are in the past (mostly – we do live in England, after all), and the evenings are stretching out. The first test of the summer will soon be upon us. But, maybe more importantly, the cricket season has begun in our tiny back garden.

The grass has barely grown back to cover the brown patches left from the previous summer - where two marks formed at either end of the garden, showing where we stood to bat or ran in to bowl. The slope is greater than Lord's, the surface as uneven as they come – rather more so, in fact. The length of the pitch is barely 10 yards, and brings a lot of tennis ball bounce. That is to say, tennis balls are what we have to use. A daunting environment for a batsman, perhaps, but an arena where heroes could be made.

And it's not to say the bowler has it easy, anyway. The boundaries are tiny, and a shot hit square of the wicket would easily be worth four. The ball easily bounces off the bat, so it doesn't take too much of a hit. If you miss the ball, and if it doesn't go on to hit the stumps, with no keeper there byes are for the taking. Playing your shots though always comes with a risk – not necessarily from being caught, but of the ball going into the neighbours' gardens. When that started to happen a bit too much, it was time we graduated from that small patch at the back.

The weather didn't have to stop the fun; the games could still carry on inside. There was indoor cricket, best played when parents were out the room, or the table top cricket game. Hours could be spent on that game, a little plastic ball and little plastic figures, with teams invented with gloriously named players such as 'B.A. Slogger' and 'I.M.A. Bowler'. Perhaps it was even a precursor of the inventive batsmen of today, the most unusual angles being needed to score a six.

The game was packed up and taken on holidays, filling many evenings and rainy days. The backyard game would travel with us too; moving to our grandparents' gardens, or to the beach. Cricket on the beach came with new challenges – a pitch crumbling in on itself from sand and the tides; a ball that could return from the boundary soaked from the sea; extra-competitive family members making you chase the ball further and further. But it came with its own glory, too. The satisfaction of dismissing one of the grown ups, or making them have to chase the ball when you found the sweet spot of the bat.

We might have left the backyard now, but the spirit still lives on. It's the place I learnt to bat and bowl, and you might even say that it's where I learnt my love of the game as well.

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