Sunday, 12 July 2009

Stands the church clock at ten to three, and is there honey still for tea?

English weekend village cricket is reason enough to love living in this country. Although to be strictly accurate, the players may be drawn from outside of the village and the village itself is probably manfully fighting off the spread of suburbanization, (is that a word?).

Despite this, drive past any village on a summer weekend and there will be a patch of green with 22 slightly overweight and red-faced gentlemen standing and watching two people heft a wedge of willow at a lethally hard leather ball. Sometimes they will exclaim and make unfathomable hand gestures.
Occasionally one will break into a comedic run attempting to field the ball, usually thankfully outpaced by the one or two eager fit young bloods on the team.

Although at my age I no longer play
, it is the perfect spectator sport, not least because at most village games there is only a handful of spectators. No standing in line to buy a ticket for your seat: no tickets, indeed most often no seats--just turn up with your own folding chairs, or watch from your car parked near the edge of the ground.

No need to understand the rules, the rituals or the finer points of the game either. Baseball can entertain people like me who haven't the faintest idea of its niceties and Cricket can do the same. If it doesn't, take a walk round the ground and chat with the players' partners and kids, the handful of senior citizens, their wives and dogs who are probably the only people watching or not watching with you.


The sad thing, to my mind, is that so few visitors from abroad will ever set eyes on this English scene. It's often mocked, as if village cricket were the quaint and private preserve of the squire, the vicar, former prime minister John Major and genteel people eating cream teas in about 1913. Something from Midsomers Murders - not so. It's alive and well--far more so than the professionals' county game--and it is truly English.

Find the time, drag yourself away from lumpish Buckingham Palace and the summer tourist tat of Stratford-on-Avon. Pick a sunny weekend, drive into the country, ask around for a pretty nearby cricket ground, and go see. And, hell, if you don't enjoy it at least your drive will have shown you something of England beyond the raucous (sorry, "vibrant") and often ugly display of its cosmopolitan cities.

A cricket tea.
From left: be-jammed scones, chocolate biscuit cake (in squares), sliced lemon drizzle sandwich cake, clotted cream (in bowl), sandwiches aplenty, more scones and crisps.

If you are very lucky you may well be invited to enjoy a cricket tea, along with both teams and usually taken half way through the match. Did you know that Cricket is the only game in the world that has an official stop for 'tea'? See David Crosbys comment further down the page.....

Cricket teas are legendary.....

They embody the very niceness of English sporting endeavours (no doubt why we rarely lift a major trophy), what with all their 'no no, after you', cucumber sandwiches, china cups and Battenburg slices. All village cricket clubs are very egalitarian about their teas. There is a rota for every home match, and the nominated incumbent of the week (usually a wife, mother or girlfriend or group of the foregoing) goes off and spends their budget on whatever they see fit. Of course, home baked or home made food is relished with a keen eye and held in great esteem.

Just as a footnote, the CSN concert was excellent - an acoustic first set followed by an electrified set. Thoroughly enjoyable and plenty of encouragement to sing along. Graham Nash did mention he had spent the best part of Friday watching cricket, England v Australia, along with David Crosby. All Crosby said was, 'your nice people but you play a weird game'....laughing.

8 comments:

  1. What a lovely post for a summer's day Michael. I love village cricket too - and that stupendous tea - I am pretty sure that even if they scored one hundred each they would never run off enough calories to counteract that lemon drizzle cake.

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  2. Well, I don't know much about cricket, but I could certainly go for a sumptuous cricket tea. Yummity-yum.

    A wedge of willow. Really? I didn't know those bats were made of willow. (not to be confused with a willow wedgie)

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  3. i envy you the cricket tea.
    i have to admit that i equate english village cricket with a scene from midsommer murders. but i am glad to hear that it is alive and well in its own right.

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  4. I have very fond memories of going to Sunday afternoon cricket games with the my Oxford family...dad and two sons...I mostly remember the clothes...the sweaters and white pants...and such gentlemen....it was great fun to sit in canvas lawn chairs...and the tea was not quite as fine as the one you have pictured here....but it was tea all the same.

    Welcome home!

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  5. Hello Michael,

    As it happens, there is a cricket pitch only 5 mins from our house - here in Bonnie Scotland. Have occasionally seen players as we drive past but haven't actually stopped to watch! It's very close to the pub, so not sure if they have a traditional tea or wait for something stronger!

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  6. Oh when you write so descriptively about things so very English, my mind goes back and I become homesick. The many Sunday afternoons I spent in the country away from 'the smoke' and in my earlier years on army camps watching a game I did not understand. I remember now as a teenager home on holiday from boarding school in the UK, watching a match being played by two regiments. I was wearing a sundress and a large very sixties floppy hat. I leaned up against a post on the pavilion veranda, posing with my head tilted thinking that I looked exquisite only to be brought down to earth by my mother who said very sharply: "will you please sit down and stop looking as though you are bored".

    My father tried for many years to explain the rules to me but I was just not interested. I just went for the scrumptious teas and because the people I interacted with either played or followed the cricket.

    It was only when I came to live in Trinidad and I saw Australia play the West Indies right here at the Oval and Brian Lara broke the world record that I suddenly understood the scoring and came to realize how exciting the game can be. You will now find me screaming at the television when there is a match although I do prefer a One Day International to a Test Match. Pity I didn't like cricket when I met Freddie Trueman all those years ago. But the teas made up for it!

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  7. Why don't you sponsor a cricket tea and have us all over to indulge. Wouldn't that be fun?
    Hugs

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