No Rest For The Wicket



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Most Saturdays in the summer you’ll find me standing on a patch of mown grass at one of four locations in Hackney. If it’s around 1 p.m. I’ll be about to run towards a 22-yard strip of earth that has hardly any grass on it. I’ll run and I’ll contort my body in an unnatural but suitably elegant way, releasing a spherical red leather object from my hand, aimed towards three rods of wood at the other end of this aforementioned strip. I’ll do this six times, with oohs and aahs coming out the mouths of my fellow men standing on patches of mown grass. Men with pads on will try to hit the ball with a wider wooden rod. Two other men called “umps” will count my six deliveries and make semaphore style signals to a man sitting on a chair on the other side of a white line: a picayune boundary that separates our patch of mown grass with his. Later I will be drinking a can of Kronenburg where this man was sitting, waiting to put my own pads on and hit someone else’s ball.

Cricket: The finest game the world has ever seen. Apart from Scrabble, maybe.

The North East London Cricket League is 40 overs a side. This means a game takes six to seven hours to play. If I’m not bowling I can stand in the sun for a long time, doing nothing. Moments of fleeting action may come my way at point, or extra cover, rarely at fine leg. As an opening bowler, all your action is in the first hour or so of the game. Then you’ve got plenty of time to stand around in your whites admiring the scenery.

The North East London Cricket League is 40 overs a side. This means a game takes six to seven hours to play.

I play for a team called The Camel. We are all regulars at a pub in Bethnal Green called, you guessed it, The Camel. Half of our team are self-employed types: vagabond writers, gigging musicians, or “out of work” actors. The other half have real jobs. The captain, Guy, is a trade unionist and a social worker. We’re a rag tag bunch, cobbled together through a mutual love of booze, cricket and east London. Other teams in the North East London League are The Royal Sovereign, a team of West Indian players who drink in an eponymous pub in Upper Clapton, and the Coach And Horses, another pub team in Stoke Newington. Pubs and cricket go hand in hand in this part of London. In fact, the North East London League official website even states, “The standard is reasonable but this is not club cricket – it is more pub than club standard. In accordance with this, the games are played in a friendly spirit. Teams want to win, but not at the cost of cheating.”

Aside from the pubs we are associated with – which everyone should visit – the four grounds we play at are situated in the four great parks of Hackney.

London Fields is currently synonymous with the word “hipster”. However, it still has some decent things to offer the common man or woman. There’s an outdoor swimming pool, The Lido, situated at deep midwicket. One day someone will hoik a long hop into the pool, but don’t let that put you off a quick dip. Past the cover point boundary is a lovely children’s play area and then the very popular Pub in the Park, which will show test matches and football on television. Over the bowler’s arm is the rest of the park, which has a basketball court, a barbecue area and beyond that the hyped up, bourgeois fantasy-land of Broadway Market. Whenever we play in London Fields there is always a good-sized crowd of the bold and the beautiful watching the game. Short boundaries and a fast outfield guarantee a good match.

London Fields West Side, Hackney, London E8 3EU

Millfields Park is my favourite ground to bowl on. The pitch is always immaculate, because absolutely no one plays in this park. Stuck between the roaring traffic of Lea Bridge Road and the part of Chatsworth Road no one likes, Millfields is a non-interfered with masterpiece of a public cricket pitch.

The beauty of Millfields is that you can really feel like you’re playing in a metropolis. The sneeze of lorry breaks punctuate yelps of “howzat?” The buses belch and rumble as leather hits willow. Police sirens drown out that gentle call from the scorer of “Bowler’s name, please?” There is very little around the Millfields ground to protect it from the noise of the city. At the other parks there are trees and space between the cricket pitch and the roads, but Millfields is in the thick of it. It’s not a pretty place, but if you want to watch cricket unhampered by moustaches, ice cream vendors, ’50s throw backs or lads getting on the piss, this is the place to come to.

Whenever we play in London Fields there is always a good-sized crowd of the bold and the beautiful watching the game.

Millfields Park, Lea Bridge Road, London E5 0AR

The Hackney Marshes was once a proper marsh. It has been substantially drained since medieval times, but after the Second World War, rubble from the bombed out houses of the east end was dumped there, leading to the creation of a huge area of land for recreation. It is one of the largest common lands in Greater London. For that, we cherish it. It is here that over 100 matches of Sunday League football are played. It is here that Jay-Z headlined a massive concert in 2013. It is here that dog walkers, ravers, campers, doggers, couples and families all come to spend their weekends, getting away from the pressures of concrete and glass. It is here that we play on the two worst cricket pitches London has to offer.

After that Jay-Z concert, the marshes were subject to some serious abuse, and the cricket pitches haven’t quite recovered yet. Uneven bounce, scuffed outfields and no pub within a short walk make the marshes The Camel Cricket Club’s least favourite ground. Perhaps it is the sheer size of space around us that overwhelms. Perhaps it is the Olympic stadium in the background or Anish Kapoor’s red helter skelter looming over us that inspires our traditional middle order collapse. Who knows, all I know is that a visit to the marshes is quite easily one of the best things you can do in Hackney – but when you see the ground on your fixture list, you got 99 problems and the pitch is one.

Hackney Marshes, Homerton Road, London E9 5PF

Springfield Park is the great Hackney secret, a marvelous, beautiful park set on the rolling Spring Hill that takes you from Upper Clapton Road to the banks of the Lea Navigation. Somehow, only those of us that live in the borough seem to know it exists. It is part recreation (tennis courts, outdoor fitness area, rugby club), part sculptured garden, part child friendly. Most importantly, though, it is part cricket ground. The pitch is often excellent, and with a slight slope offering the same sort of conditions as Lord’s (albeit with cheaper attendance tickets and no old white men in stupid coloured ties snoring into the Daily Telegraph). Playing at Springfield is always a joy.

It’s a very family oriented park, so you can walk past many parties and barbecues adding a carnival atmosphere to the green grass. Tall plane trees dominate the skyline, there’s a small community orchard, allotments, many narrow boats on the river and more characters here than Dickens could have written in 10 lifetimes. Springfield Park is also home to the best, and smallest, pub in all of Hackney – The Anchor & Hope. A visit to The Anchor & Hope is necessary after every match. You’ll find cheap booze, brilliant regulars such as John the Poacher to tell you stories you’ll never believe and a good spot to watch the sun set over the east London marshes.

Springfield Park, Springfield Mansion, London E5 9EF


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