September: It’s a great month for being a boy

Casuals v Upperthong at Upperthong

Upperthong more than 250 for 6 off 35 overs

Casuals 190 all out in 34 overs  (Ollie Platts 44, Dominic Ford 76)

This match was not about a result or performances, though there were some. All that really mattered were the upper reaches of The Holme Valley, bathed in warm Indian summer sunshine, and playing cricket. It has to be said that balmy weather and Upperthong CC do not often go together, exposed as it is to vicious storms that sweep down from Holme Moss.

Two youngsters played for Upperthong that day, one on the pitch with his dad and the other in the car park. It got me thinking of all the young lads over the years that have knocked about at cricket. Strange games reminiscent of those informal pastimes played before rules were invented and written down.

What about the oft wet and uninviting Scarborough, which can also be hot and balmy and attractive, up to a point. They play cricket on the beach here, in front of Corrigan’s Arcade, under the watchful bulk of The Grand Hotel. There’s actually two sorts of cricket, one on hard packed sand, recently vacated by the sea, and one on the fluffy stuff, up near the promenade, invulnerable to all but the highest tide. Playing down by the sea, apart from adjusting for the wind, requires traditional skills. Dry soft sand however, is an altogether different and awkward surface, and demands unusual and distinctive abilities, as many a promenader turned spectator has come to appreciate.

The ball must be a recent purchase from one of the many ‘tat’ shops to be found on the front, and as such will have plenty of knap, albeit not for long. The bat can be made of any material and today, plastic is common and servicable enough. The size is important and small is the rule, because all players must be larger than the equipment to qualify for selection. The stumps similarly, and those the length of your average Havana cigar are ideal, only one being necessary at the non-striker’s end. There is no limit to the number of players and indeed sides are not compulsory. Girls are welcome, but not taken seriously. Two or three dads and older brothers are advisable to see fair play as beach cricket can be emotional and accompanied by tears and an irrational desire by the bat-and-ball owner to return home prematurely. The seniors don’t field as they tend to be breathless and portly, being in receipt of long lunches. Attire varies, but footwear is often discarded. There are as many bowling styles as there are players, but the stock delivery is the full toss. If it is allowed to bounce, it simply stops and nestles inconveniently in a divot. This bowling necessitates a shorter pitch than is customary and about ten yards or less is average. Fielding is random and chaotic and unrelated to the events at the wicket. Diving, catching and running all take place with free abandon and the ball can often be ignored. Runs are taken and a batsman makes his ground by touching the single stump with the bat, accompanied by a clear shout of “stick”. Twos are rare, but if the infield is cleared on a still day, ten or more runs can be scored whilst the youngest or wheeziest child is dispatched down to the sea.

If the smell of hot frying fat or the sound of slot machines and bingo callers does not offend, you can catch a game down in the south bay most days of the week during the summer.

‘Come on Sam, where’ve you been?’ A ginger haired seven year old is a late arrival. Cudworth C of E Primary are playing Barnard Castle Prep in a match reduced to two unlimited ball overs because of the impending high tide. Twenty children of various sizes are shouting or singing and roaming around haphazardly, as they wait their turn to bat and bowl. Haphazard that is, except that they are nearly all on the leg side, the most prevalent shots being the pull and the hook. Apart from two girls that is who are talking and combing their hair at first and second slip.

‘Come on then, where do you want me?’ Sam says to a middle-aged man at cover point. ‘There,’ shouts the man and points to silly mid on, where Sam immediately takes a graceful catch and is next in.

‘I’m rubbish at batting,’ he says.

We’ve all heard this false modesty. He adopts the classic stance: upright, head still, watchful, all concentration. He hits the winning run with sea lapping around the bowler’s legs, nearly decapitating his older sister filing her nails at mid on.

And so Cudworth took the Scarborough Challenge Trophy for the fourth time in five years.

‘I like to give these North Yorkshire puffters a good stuffing,’ said nine year old Sam, celebrating after the game in Corrigan’s amusement arcade. With the likes of Sam at the crease, beach cricket is in safe hands.

Such impromptu occasions are part of the preparation for formal cricket. They are also important lessons in the art of growing up. Take the average domestic backyard or school playground. It is here where juniors sharpen their competitive edge against marauding older brothers and pale fifth formers with nicotine stained fingers.

At school, a minimal set of kit is essential and old and knackered is preferable. Don’t take that dark brown heirloom, signed by Len Hutton, discovered after days of rummaging in the attic, or you will never see it again. Balls must be bald. Stumps are dangerous and on no account must they be used; wall and chalk is quite sufficient. The track will vary from rough and stony to hard uneven clay and there must be no fear of body contact as several hundred matches are played simultaneously, side by side. Bad light and rain-stopped-play are rare. Indeed a wet ball can be an advantage as it leaves a distinctly visible trace on chalk and clean bowled cannot be disputed. LBW’s are however extremely contentious in this style of cricket, as they can be in the more orthodox forms. Its a battleground, where a talent for survival is swiftly rewarded. Being able to play with a plank for a bat and a ball that barely bounces is clearly valuable, but think of the benefits accruing from attempting to retrieve a square cut from an irate 5 Remove psychopath whose knuckles scrape along the floor.

In the back garden, the object of the game is not to lose the ball. Its all about defence and occupying the crease, much to the frustration of older brothers. They in turn respond by changing the rules to suit them.


‘Not out, you dollop.’

‘How come, it ‘it off stump.’

‘It never, look here there’s a mark on’t door frame.’

‘We said door frame were going to be off stump.’

‘Did we ‘eck.’

Another nine year old stamps his feet and walks back to his mark next to the clothes post. Apart from batting for days, his main weapon is the donkey drop, lobbed as high as his bedroom window, pitching as a half volley some thirty seconds later, just outside the line of off stump. But he must choose his time carefully. He must wait for the moment when older brother’s eyes wander and glaze, that instant when concentration has moved internally to Maxine Hargreaves, her with the big charlies down at number seven. What did he see in her?

Got ‘im. The ball sails away to long off, into Mr. Grumps’ potato patch, where it will stay until autumn, that bit of the year when the harvest gives birth to hundreds of chewed moth eaten tennis balls.

‘Six an’ out, you’re out.’ The nine year old does an impression of an aeroplane in an acrobatics display. Older brother stands bemused, wondering whether he’s been had. This is chess, where tactics and planning, capitalising on strengths, minimising weaknesses, patience, a strong nerve and sheer native wit are cultivated. And, when there are no more balls, David and Goliath will go and find another game to play.

One September Sunday, two boys played for Upperthong. One played on the pitch with his dad; a bowler of promise, a first ball duck and a steep learning curve. The other, fully present and correct in whites, helmet, pads and gloves played in the car park between two sets of full sized metal stumps that came up to his shoulder. A left hander, he played alone during the casuals’ innings, straight driving, blocking, square cutting and taking quick singles. Every so often he would pause, and turn and look at the action out in the middle. After a minute or so he would turn away and get back down to the business at hand. In The Holme Valley, bathed in warm Indian summer sunshine, two boys were growing up.

This was published in Brian Levison’s cricket anthology.