Isn’t it striking how naturally cricket lends itself to wheezes, curios, and unusual variations? There’s something about our game which inclines its practitioners to devise unorthodox or bizarre ways of playing it, and impractical – often uncomfortable – situations in which to play it.
I’ve always loved the story – and alas, research has been unable to unearth the names – of the former county cricketers who staged a match which began a few seconds after midnight on 1st January 2000. Their (successful) aim was to play the first cricket fixture of the the new millennium. It took place outdoors, with the makeshift wicket lit by car headlights. After only one ball, these were switched off, prompting the umpire to declare bad light stopped play – at which point everyone went back to the pub.
The late Harry Thompson’s Captain Scott CC famously played a cricket match in Antarctica, and every winter the Ice Cricket World Cup is contested on Estonia’s frozen lake Harku. Like grass growing through concrete, cricket irrepressibly finds a way to exist even in the most alien environments.
Not as cold, and closer to home, but eminently worthwhile, is the annual February Fools charity cricket match, held at the Bank of England sportsground in Roehampton, south west London.
As the name implies, the game takes place – outdoors – in February, whatever the weather. It began in the mid-1960s (the precise origins are slightly lost in the mists of time) as a result of a wager by the late Bertie Joel, a legendary stalwart of London club cricket, about whether it was either possible or endurable to play cricket in the snow.
In the fifty or so years since then, February Fools has indeed been staged in the snow, as well as hail, fog, sleet, freezing temperatures, and torrential rain. Whatever the meteorology, the players remain on the field throughout.
These days, Fools is run by Bertie’s daughter Mandie Adams McGuire, in aid of the David Adams Leukaemia Appeal Fund, a charity she established in the memory of her eponymous late husband. Over the last thirteen years, the Fund has raised more than £1 million to pay for leukaemia treatment and facilities at London’s Royal Marsden Hospital – the institution which had been able to prolong David’s life by two years after his diagnosis with the disease.
February Fools is loosely contested between a team of actors, and a team of broadcasters, and I have the privilege of captaining the latter in the 2014 match, this Sunday, 23rd February. There are always some notable names in action, who over the years have included Peter O’Toole, Chris Tarrant, Robert Powell, Nicholas Parsons, Steve Mangan, Greg James, Jim Carter, Colin Salmon, and Max Rushden from Sky’s Soccer AM. So if you’re in south west London this Sunday afternoon, do drop by to take a look.
But while we’re on the subject of cricket in odd places or strange times of the year, we’d love to hear your own stories. Where’s the most unlikely or inauspicious venue in which you’ve played a cricket match? When did you witness odds being overcome to get a match on? And what was the worst weather you played through? Our game would be much poorer without its curios, so do tell us about yours.