Competitive cricket is back and it's BYOT

The village cricket playbook: whites? Check. Drinks? Check. Dodgy action? Check Getty Images

In this instalment of his monthly column, the Light Roller, Alan Gardner is grateful for cricket's return in all its weird and wonderful forms.

It has been said that cricket is "an Indian game discovered by the English", which may very well be true considering our noble tradition of pilfering stuff from other countries. But village cricket, that's a different matter altogether, one for which good old Albion must take full responsibility (with due deference to Australia's club scene, as masterfully portrayed by the subjects of online documentary series/sports betting ad campaign The Grubs).

While West Indies were busy bursting England's bubble down in Southampton, recreational cricketers up and down the nation were dusting off bad banter and dodgy actions following months of pandemic-enforced hiatus. In a sign of priorities, this came a week after the reopening of pubs - and several days after the closure of a number of the same establishments due to customers catching the virus. Yep, when you're being compared unfavourably to the ECB in the field of administrative excellence - the Light Roller is looking at you, UK government - you know things aren't going well.

The ECB, it should be noted, has been playing the archetypal rearguard innings all summer, doggedly fighting its corner even while the prime minister was blithering on about cricket balls being "natural vectors of disease" (as distinct from coughing, spluttering masses of humanity being told to go out to work, drink and shop until someone - preferably not a key worker - drops). It's the economy, stupid - or should that be the stupid economy?

Anyway, club cricketers are once again free to strap on the protective gear, go for risky singles and try not to catch anything. There may well be unexpected benefits: it's much harder to point the finger of blame at a socially distanced slip cordon, while keepers who can't stand too close have a readymade excuse for missed stumpings. Just remember, your opener's ancient box is no longer the only biohazard to look out for.

Having to bring your own tea sounds particularly "village" (universally understood as a synonym for "rubbish"), given that a regal spread of sausage rolls, party rings and Wotsits is one of the fundamental selling points of giving up your day to spend several hours in a field getting sunburn after being bowled for a duck. Missing straight ones can also be blamed on the coronavirus, at least for a while.

Naturally, in these strange times, the sight of quaintly besmocked adherents returning to practise their ritualistic games on the village green has been more than usually comforting, enticing local news crews out to film the pageantry, complete with gratuitous references to maidens, ball-shining and "short backward silly mid-off". Cricket's eccentricities can be both gift and curse, the you-don't-have-to-be-mad-to-work-here-but-it-helps vibe putting off as many as it binds to the cause. But the love is real, and for that we're grateful. New normal, meet same old weird.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Test cricket's comeback behind closed doors could barely have been more shiny and slick. We're used to seeing technological innovations, but asking the captains to give their thoughts at the toss by talking to Ian Ward via "Dave the Robot" - a motorised camera on wheels - took Sky's broadcasting into half-man half-machine territory. Likewise, artificial crowd noise was a sign of the Covid times, while conducting in-game interviews with the players via a Big Brother-esque "diary room" was in keeping with the spirit of locking a group of fame-hungry contestants in a camera-filled environment and asking to them compete for the favour of the public. After being beaten on their own patch, England will be grateful no one is yet suggesting evictions.


With national boards around the world largely engaged in twiddling their thumbs while staring at distressingly bare calendars, it was only a matter of time before one of them attempted to do something proactive and ended up committing a howler. Step forward CSA, which decided to announce a new three-team format of the game without having the event cleared by the government - forcing it to be delayed by a month. The launch of 3TC will now coincide with Mandela Day, but glaringly the team shirts won't feature the Black Lives Matter logo because, in the words of CSA director of cricket Graeme Smith, "The kit has gone to print already." Given South Africa are the only team in world cricket with a transformation target, that might politely be termed an unfortunate oversight.