No 29: Sunday Cricket

There is something very peculiar about the Sunday cricketer. They are a different breed, brought together to play in slow motion on badly designed pitches at all sorts of venues. The standard ranges, but one thing is for certain – hungover, still drunk, eccentric, bloody keen or a mixture of the above, those twenty-two blokes really love their cricket.

Aside from the whole bat and ball scenario, Sunday cricket couldn’t really be much different to its Saturday alternative. Hard-nosed sledging is replaced by jovial ribbing, send-offs are quite rightly unheard of. Sunday cricket is just that, friendly, played by a bunch of chaps who just want to turn the arm over or have a hit. The ‘standard snobs’ are consigned elsewhere whilst those keen enough just have a bit of fun. Bliss.

For a wide-eyed junior, the experience of batting with an overseas pro can be the defining moment of the season, however small their contribution to that 27 partnership. For the high standard show-offs, the embarrassing failures crop up as often as the bullied tons. Across the sports, there is seldom a situation that fuses so many standards, as with walks of life.

Take the ‘Sunday circuit’ in West Yorkshire. Alongside league clubs stretching out their fixture card, there are a number of committed ‘wandering’ friendly sides that welcome in all sorts of personalities, shapes and sizes. From the larger-than-life opening batsman that keeps a notebook of every statistic ever kept (“You’re my 99th opening partner, young man”, he once told me), to the foul-mouthed, long-haired divorcee who shouts “F*** it!” each time his cover drive hits a fielder, these blokes are genuinely nice people, and playing against them is a pleasure. How often can you say that of your league opponents? Facing a 74-year-old opening bowler who hits a pretty consistent line and length might sound an abhorration to some, but to the Sunday cricketer, it’s all part of the season.

The Sunday cricketer species can be divided into sour easily identifiable groups:

The Badger

The cricket badger hibernates through the winter, coming out in early April and continuing through until October at the earliest. What this bloke doesn’t know about cricket doesn’t exist, and any game offered is gratefully accepted. Often not the best player, the badger doesn’t always play league cricket, instead choosing to ply his trade across the friendly circuit, usually adopting legendary status along the way. Master of an ugly 20. Eccentric.

The Pro

Urgh. These graceful creatures, often standing at around six-foot three in height, turn up sober, swagger to the crease in whites drenched in yesterday’s runs, and belt the ball to all corners. Switching to off-spin after he has torn the heart out of your top order, the pro often does that far too well, smiling and shrugging his shoulders to any fellow pros on the field. Rarely truly arrogant, but always keen to point out who he plays for. Sometimes migrated from Australia, South Africa or New Zealand.

The Drunkard

Roped into a game late on Saturday evening and promised a spot in the top four (if usually a bowler), or the new ball (if usually a batsman), this jobbing club cricketer wears bloodshot eyes and a sorry expression for the first two hours of the Sunday cricket experience. Once fed and watered, the drunkard bursts into life, sometimes enjoying levels of success usually reserved for the pro. Prone to vomit after quick singles.

The Junior

A staple of the friendly circuit, the junior is fresh-faced, wide-eyed and enthusiastic. Yet to evolve into one of the aforementioned breeds, he (or she!) calls correctly, bowls slowly and always, always employs a perfectly executed long-barrier.

In a time when Aussie captains hope to break arms, when international stars are fixing matches, and when leagues around the country are having to step up their disciplinary procedures, Sunday cricket encapsulates the sheer eccentricity of the game in its purest and most unspoilt form. ‘Pro b Junior 142’. Long may it thrive.

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