Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Recreational Cricket 2013

To Play or Not to Play

. . . that is the question:
Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,

Hamlet never played cricket – at least I can find no reference to it in the play and it is Shakespeare's longest drama. Actually there is not a lot of sport in Shakespeare at all which is not surprising as guns were coming into fashion and replacing the ritual archery practice that had served England so well at Crecy and Agincourt.

Although the origins of cricket are lost in the mists of time, what is certain is that it is a very old game indeed. At the recreational level teams have been playing for centuries on local, picturesque grounds where the emphasis was on fellowship, camaraderie and downing a few pints.

Many people don' realise that cricket nearly became the national summer game of the U.S. MCC toured America in the 1840's and there were many clubs founded. What changed the picture was the Civil War. Long periods between intense warfare gave the soldiers plenty of time in camp to amuse themselves. Cricket needed too much equipment and baseball was easier to contain in the time available.

“The Toronto Cricket Club was established in that city by 1827 and the St George's Cricket Club was formed in 1838 in New York City. Teams from the two clubs faced off in the first international cricket game in 1844 which Toronto won by 23 runs.[11]

A number of early folk games in England had characteristics that can be seen in modern baseball (as well as in cricket and rounders). Many of these early games involved a ball that was thrown at a target while an opposing player defended the target by attempting to hit the ball away. If the batter successfully hit the ball, he could attempt to score points by running between bases while fielders would attempt to catch or retrieve the ball and put the runner out in some way.
Since they were folk games, the early games had no official, documented rules, and they tended to change over time. To the extent that there were rules, they were generally simple and were not written down. There were many local variations, and varied names.
Many of the early games were not well documented, first, because they were generally peasant games (and perhaps children's games, as well); and second, because they were often discouraged, and sometimes even prohibited, either by the church or by the state, or both.
In 1828, William Clarke of London published the second edition of The Boy’s Own Book, which included rules of rounders, and contains the first printed description in English of a bat and ball base-running game played on a diamond.[8] The following year, the book was published in Boston, Massachusetts.[9] Similar rules were published in Boston in "The Book of Sports," written by Robin Carver in 1834,[7] except the Boston version called the game "Base" or "Goal ball." The rules were identical to those of poison ball, but also added fair and foul balls and strike-outs.

A unique British sport, known as British Baseball, is still played in parts of Wales and England. Although confined mainly to the cities of Cardiff, Newport and Liverpool, the sport boasts an annual international game between representative teams from the two countries.

That baseball is based on English and Gaelic games such as cat, cricket, and rounders is difficult to dispute. On the other hand, baseball has many elements that are uniquely American. The earliest published author to muse on the origin of baseball, John Montgomery Ward, was suspicious of the often-parroted claim that rounders is the direct ancestor of baseball, as both were formalized in the same time period. He concluded, with some amount of patriotism, that baseball evolved separately from town-ball (i.e. rounders), out of children's "safe haven" ball games.[18]
Certainly baseball is related to cricket and rounders, but exactly how, or how closely, has not been established. The only certain thing is that modern cricket is much older than modern baseball.
Games played with bat-and-ball together may all be distant cousins; the same goes for base-and-ball games. Bat, base, and ball games for two teams that alternate in and out, such as baseball, cricket, and rounders, are likely to be close cousins. They all involve throwing a ball to a batsman who attempts to "bat" it away and run safely to a base, while the opponent tries to put the batter-runner out when liable ("liable to be put out" is the baseball term for unsafe).”
What's interesting is that certainly baseball and cricket are closely related: they both involve a bat and a ball. Batsmen hit the ball and fielders attempt to catch it. There are run-outs in both games. Both games are a goldmine for those who love statistics. Both games abound and, indeed, revel in the collation of endless facts and figures.

Difficulties arise when British people assume that American Football is the national game. It is not. Baseball is. The NFL, for all its star attractions and multi-million pound players, is just the winter sport which occupies the time until the next baseball season starts.

We move on to the recreational game.

No-one likes recreational games more than I. Childhood was a constant struggle, Charlie Brown like, to get a place on the Little League baseball team. Unfortunately, I was small, could not hit the ball very far, was only an average fielder and consequently was never picked to play. We made do with endless games on any vacant lot that we could find. We played in the street with a man-hole cover for second base. We challenged kids from other neighbourhoods to games. Summers passed in a blur of side-lot whiffle ball games - where my left-handed curve ball is still the stuff of legend.

In the fall we switched to football – American Football – and Basketball. Like the David Beckham advert, we played one-on-one basketball until it got too dark to see the ball. We played sand-lot football with and against anyone who would turn up.

Of course, we watched sport on TV as well – but never to interfere with the actual playing. The NBA seemed much better in those days and the AFL/NFL rivalry, then in its infancy made compulsive viewing.

In that gentler time there were far less calls on a person's time. TV was confined to a few channels. A trip to the cinema was a real treat and one not often enjoyed. Family life revolved around the home and your relations - with the addition of, perhaps, a small circle of friends.

Recreational cricket has a long and proud history. In the beginning there was the village and every village had a team. Perhaps the local squire or landowner provided the land for a pitch (and Captained the side as well). The game at recreational level revolved around the changing demands of work on the land. So, we start about two in the afternoon, when the farm workers had finished their chores for the day. Teas were provided, for the workers had to be fed.

Things are not so gentle now.

Villages still have teams, but the link with the land has been broken. Players may come from some distance and the local squire may only survive as the owner of the cricket ground – kindly donated or let for a peppercorn rent. Players have a myriad of distractions and commitments that would baffle the agricultural cricketer.

Facebook is used as a organisational tool. But, can also be used to tempt players to other activities. Demands on family time have shifted dramatically. Whereas our grand-parents might view a day at the cricket ground as reward enough in itself– with Mum making the tea and cakes, children playing with bat and ball around the boundary and grand-parents watching from the comfort of the quaint, old pavilion on a comfy chair; modern family life is far different. Is it progress? What's for sure is - it's a fact.

Our modern recreational cricketer is doing a constant juggling act with work, family commitments and many other leisure activities not dreamed of only a generation ago. Not surprisingly his availability for the summer game is more problematical – and getting more problematical every day.

Football too has had an impact. As recently as 1975 the First Division season featured games on the last two Saturdays in August and none in May. Now the season starts about 1 August and lasts until well into May. Cricketers can sit at home and watch football with the family instead of a day out at the cricket ground. Many are choosing to do so.

Family commitments is the number one reason for not being available for cricket next week.

What's to be done?

Local cricket clubs, the ECB and County Boards need to be aware of the needs of their recreational players. Should the format change? Should Saturday or Sunday League cricket have reduced overs (say 30 a side), start at 11:00 and be consequently be over done and dusted by 5? Would this encourage more players to commit?

I think it would.

Should we be encouraging more 20/20 cricket? Yes. That's where I learned the game. In the Yarmouth Mid-week League we had two divisions and lots of very good cricketers played with their local team – even “works teams”. Now we cannot even get six teams to commit to a Mid-week programme in Yarmouth.

How about 20-20 on a Sunday? I know Colin King of the Mid-Norfolk Sunday League is a proponent of this format. His view is Saturday should be “family day”! with very little league cricket and Sunday take over the League cricket – maybe in 20-20 format.

Doing nothing is probably not an option.

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