Miles Dilworth travels away from the world of runs and wickets to investigate some of the entertainment in recreational cricket beyond the middle.
1. Boundary Boules
A simple invention, initially created entirely for practical purposes, the plastic flags that mark the boundary edge have become the source of ritual entertainment for club cricketers around the country. Generally played in groups of four or five, it is essentially a game of improvised boules, with each participant attempting to roll his or her cricket ball as close to the flag as possible before moving onto the next. The game is particularly adored by hapless opening batsmen and those with short attention spans. Boundary boules also carries a tactical use, often initiated as a polite nudge to your mates in the middle; if you’re the one wielding the willow at the time your teammates start gently rolling balls around the boundary’s edge, it generally means that you need to up the rate. Can also be played with the discs you sometimes see; you just can’t do it with that posh rope the pros use.
2. The Half-Volley Game
Played around the catching cradle, the half-volley game offers an ideal opportunity to get back at a fellow clubber who has run you out, given you lip or triggered you on the back leg in front of all three. With your mate ready in anticipation of a sharp reflex catch on the other side of the cradle, for maximum schadenfreude aim beyond the wooden target to leave him scrambling around his ankles. Repeat the trick until they flip their lid. Skills honed in training can then be transferred into a match scenario. Initially used to excuse yourself for a misjudged throw that lands just short of your teammate, the cover-up rapidly escalates until someone gets hit on the shin, breaks their finger or just leaves it for buzzers. It’s pretty much a lose-lose game. Marvellous.
3. Changing-Room Cricket
The big kahuna of cricket games. First conceived to alleviate the boredom of rain breaks, now universally acknowledged to be more appealing than the so-called ‘real thing’. The famous camaraderie that changing-room cricket breeds is so great that WWII soldiers played the bunker version in order to maintain morale during those hard months on the western front. Depending on the size of the room at your disposal, certain expansive shots may well be banished but there will always be the over-aggressive chump who decides to welly a ball into a light, face or crotchal area, once again bringing the game into disrepute. Thankfully such incidents are generally kept in house and the ICC refrain from any punitive action.
Often incorporated into the rules of changing-room cricket, this one can also be enjoyed in the glorious outdoors. One-hand-one-bounce – whereby a batter is out when a fielder makes a one-handed catch on the bounce (keep up!) – offers an alternative for those who can’t be doing with running hundreds of yards to collect a ball. In scenes similar to the Anderson-Panesar Cardiff rearguard, eager fielders crowd the bat with strictly defensive shots only prescribed. A totally useless exercise for most club cricketers, who rarely if ever have the stomach to field under the helmet when a leather ball is used. Or, indeed, to block it.
5. Cricket Olympics
A London 2012 Special Edition, but also a great way to round off the end of season social, with a veritable smorgasbord of mad, maverick and downright dangerous games taking place. From the straightforward cricket bat javelin, cricket bat relay and cricket bat lift, to the more grueling medicine ball shot put and full 22-yard, batting gear sprint, never has such little equipment been put to such varying use. Events take a turn for the painful as the ‘high ball catch eliminator’ is wheeled out to end proceedings, a sadistic game where balls are propelled out of a vertically aligned bowling machine at top speed before plummeting back into, and usually straight through, a ringing pair of hands. The off-season is the perfect time for those inevitably broken fingers, pulled hammys and dislocated shoulders to mend themselves.
6. Darts Cricket
Darts cricket is, for sheer entertainment value and excitement, a superior pastime to standard cricket. It can be played as a Test match or in limited-overs form and – although a variation not for the purist – with any number of teams. It goes thus: an over consists of three darts. A treble scores you six; a double is four and between these two extremities a dart on the red is a single, black a brace. You are out if your dart hits anywhere else on or off the board. What is so incredible about this game is that it is always close. Finishes are without exception tense affairs and there are a significant number of last-ball (dart) finishes. To the untrained eye, to look at the scoreboard/chalkboard at the end of a game you would think it was the moronic scribblings of a dyscalculic halfwit. But these games draw a crowd. The excitement is infectious and to a cricket darter the atmosphere created by an exhilarating contest is as close as one is ever likely to get to a condition of genuine celebrity.
7. The Slip Cordon Sprint
The shout of ‘quickly round lads’ is often taken too far by the slippers and keeper, who participate in a 30-yard dash, determined to be the first to take up their positions for the following over. Childish pushing and shoving usually results in calls of foul play, while the old bugger fielding at first is always left to trot through and bring up the rear. Over-rates would be improved immeasurably if Buttler and co. engaged in this sport within a sport.
8. Dice Cricket
A more traditional pursuit for those with less spring in their legs and a firm favourite of the armchair cricketer. More English than cricket itself as it requires absolutely no physical output whatsoever and can be enjoyed with pint/tea in hand. Has since been corrupted in its commercialisation, but the original pen, paper and standard dice remains the preferable approach. Basic competence in mental arithmetic required.
9. Pub Cricket
Should you find yourself in the pub after cricket, a variation on 20 Questions. Think of a cricketer (the more niche the better) and answer your teammates’ questions with only ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It can go a bit like this:
“I’ve got one.”
“Currently playing international cricket?”
10. French Cricket
An all-time classic. If played with a real cricket ball expect bruises and no mercy from your teammates. Happily not limited to the confines of the clubhouse as made evident by its brief appearance in Ricky Gervais’ The Office. Named as such because it is considered inferior to the fully-fledged version and no one likes anything better than having a pop at the French.