It’s a funny old game, club cricket. Phil Walker and Ed Kemp navigate you through the whys and the hows.
First published in 2015
Most explosive word in any clubhouse. Captains beg for it, players try to provide it, but when it’s inverted – especially when the cry-off comes croaking through on the line, late on Saturday morning – it turns the place into a human cattle market, with bodies getting shunted up and down the XIs, invariably sold to the richest, or more likely the most desperate, bidder.
Throbbing barrel of arms and biceps wrapped in a tunic who rolls in at No.8, doesn’t take guard or speak, smacks your spinner into an orchard, then hurls flat bombs with a kinked arm at your terrified No.3 who duly – and in honour of the role for which our bucolic beast takes his name – makes a bolt for the door.
Cheese & pickle
The finest and most dependable sarnie filling of all the tea-time staples, no arguments. No one ever pulled a hammy racing to the tea-room to get their hands on the last of the fish paste. ‘Tea’ is a big part of the club cricketer’s day, particularly when you’ve been out first ball and don’t bowl (see also: TFC). In what other sport do you break halfway through for an almighty feed?
Ageless purveyors of moon-bothering medium-slows and scourge of good players everywhere, putting it there, right there, for centuries.
Doesn’t matter how much you love playing the game, there’s nothing quite like the joy of not playing it. Even if it’s your team that’s been skittled for single figures, at least that gives you more time to see the family/watch The X Factor/nip off to that wedding/hit the bar.
There’s not a cabbage patch in the northern hemisphere upon which an old stager won’t be imploring a young’un to get on his front bloody foot – or dog if you will – to counter the complete absence of anything resembling bounce. Also used as a verb, as in to ‘front dog it’.
If you don’t end the day with chlorophylled creams then questions will be asked over your commitment in the field, but if you do, then eyebrows might be raised as to how you really got them. And that’s not to mention the risk of them provoking the ire of your nearest and dearest. But grass stains are as much a part of the club game as ringing round for an 11th man on a Friday night.
Have a blow
Cricket’s language is unique and varied. “Have a blow” – an oblique enough collection of words as it is – in its cricketing context could translate as: “Well bowled, excellent spell, have a bit of a rest and you’ll be back on soon enough,” but might equally mean: “You’ve bowled a load of old dross and don’t expect another go until late August” (when half the team is on holiday).
Scorers with coloured pens, and batsmen with two eyes on their average. Club cricket wouldn’t be the same eccentric and infuriating thing without either of them.
Time-honoured tactic to rein in the smugness levels of the chief run-maker/wicket-taker. Score a fifty or hundred or take a five-fer and the first thing you must do is traipse up to the bar, your sweat-soaked socks dangling off your feet, to purchase a flagon of something or other, so your mates can drink and take the mick out of how lucky/jammy/flukey/ugly/crap you are. Drink it in; you’re everything they wish they could be. Score 48, 97, or take four-fer, however, and you’ll be met with a single word as you walk back, hollow and broken: “avoidance”.
Bat preparation technique: there’s always been plenty of debate about how long is long enough – mainly because no one can really be bothered to do it at all. Except a few special specimens, who bring their new stick to matches, and bang away at it on the boundary edge while waiting to bat. Like a demented woodpecker, with no idea how to behave in public.
Look (in the book)
Standard unimpeachable riposte to any suggestion that those three wickets you picked up (leg-side strangle; comedy leg-before; that ‘stumping’ when your keeper rolled it at the stumps from six yards back) might be a bit on the fortunate side.
Mums (and dads)
A bit of rhyming slang for you, as in “Cor blimey, love a duck, me old china, go on, strap your mums on, you’re in next and no muckin’”. Perhaps more prevalent in Essex (home of our editor) than elsewhere.
Bowlers bowl, batsmen bat, batsmen who have batted sod off early or bowl token lobs, bowlers wanting a bat get the arse. It has and will always be so. Don’t fight it. However wildly inappropriate the surface, or how drearily ineffective the practice, the club cricket gods have decreed that ‘nets’ are HOW THOU SHALT TRAIN. So that’s that.
Mythic, bronzed alien from another world who bowls like Maco, bats like Punter, fields like Jonty and drinks like Fred. Or at least that’s the idea, when in the teeth of December your cash-strapped club takes the plunge based on a grainy DVD of someone taking a Ranji Trophy three-fer in 1996.
An annual staple: some kind of single-wicket/six-a-side/mix-in beer cricket, a bit of fundraising and plenty of refreshment. A good chance to get everyone together, and for teammates (playing against each other for once) to avenge decades-long selection grudges.
Critical fundraiser. Sport rounds generally found to be the most popular. Invariably ends in violence. In Australia, naturally enough, they prefer Cow-Pat Bingo. The deal: rent a bull, load him up in the morning, mark out a grid on the outfield, place your bet on your favoured square, let the beast roam, sit back and wait
Light, heavy, motorised or ‘push’, the roller is one of the great symbols of the club game. And offers a very English meditation: it’s just you and the roller. Take charge of it. Go up, down, up, down. Move slowly. Feel the stresses of the world fall away and allow your emptied mind to fill up with the vision of an absolute road sometime in August.
Subs (collection of)
A surprisingly demanding role carefully delegated by the captain to the youngest or most malleable member of the team, making said member one of the true unsung heroes of recreational sport.
“Thanks for coming. No really, cheers. Look, I know you didn’t get a bat or a bowl or do much in the field, apart from those really excellent jogs from third-man to fine-leg, but we really appreciate you helping us out. And hey, that tea was worth twice your match fee! Same time next week?”
Whether you’re talking a fully qualified panel official with the white coat to prove it or just a member of the batting side, there is no figure in sport that provides players with such an iron-clad excuse for failure.
In the strict feudal system of club cricket job roles, the fabled guardsman of the ‘Vallies’ – that velvet-plastic Pandora’s Box of watches, wallets, heirlooms, war medals etc – is the sole job of the irreproachable senior pro, and that is very much that.
A ludicrous conceit eschewed by all but the most humourless, base and despicably upwardly mobile of teams. Warm-ups of any description (save for a nice kickabout) should be banned from all fixtures not involving first XI Premier Leagues.
It’s not ever so many, is it? So how come it can feel like moving heaven and earth to gather together a full team? Oh, and to keep them all happy! ‘Tis a cruel yet magical number indeed.
The lifeblood of the thing; the future and the finance. And there aren’t many better places to do your growing up than at a cricket club. Keeping the yoof involved until they’re paying full-whack match fees can be tricky, but manage it, and before long they could be running the whole damn show themselves. And so the story continues.
Nought, blob, s**t-all, nada, nowt, goose egg, globe, duck, blonger, the big O, bagel, zilch: ZERO. It’s where we all start, and my, where we all end up.