Pass the egg sandwiches, bro…

Andrew Alderson on his longing to play English village cricket, first published in issue 12 of the Nightwatchman


The Spring 2021 edition of the Nightwatchman is out now.


“Playing at Clavering is like a game of cricket in heaven,” my university friend Richard Hadley assured me over a pint in a Cambridge pub one Saturday in August 2007. The next day was to mark my debut on English soil, sating a 30-year craving to play village cricket.

 

Those who regularly don the whites in such idyllic locations might struggle to appreciate how novel the concepts of afternoon tea, one-fixture grounds, centuries-old club histories and playing on Sundays are to Kiwis.

 

Cricket is called “the summer game” in New Zealand but that is a token concept used to paper over the reality that rugby union dominates the sporting landscape throughout the winter and beyond, from March to November. Rare exceptions exist where cricket tempts sports fans away from monogamous oval-ball fidelity.

 

In fact, they can be listed in a paragraph: the first Test series victory over Australia in late 1985; the drawn series against the same opposition in November 2001; the run to the World Cup semi-finals in March 1992; and New Zealand’s advance to their inaugural final this year.

 

Curating rectangles rather than ovals is the priority for New Zealand groundsmen. Wickets – often of the artificial variety because there’s not enough room for a decent block – are wedged between adjacent touchlines.

 

I’ve treasured cricketing experiences in England, having now played for a variety of social teams. They trump anything at home. I’m no Rain Man, yet I experience rare photographic recall when listing venues, results and performances since my Clavering adventure. I’ve played village matches in Beauchief, Berkhamsted, Chorleywood, Farnham, Marlow and Ripley. I’ve scored 69 runs (I could recount the scoring shots if pushed), taken four catches, dropped three catches, enacted two stumpings and remembered every afternoon tea and pavilion as if reviewing for the Michelin guide.

 

This is perhaps a by-product of playing at Grafton United, bang in the middle of Auckland’s central business district, where on Saturdays seven matches would operate on the postage stamp of Victoria Park. Fielding at slip in one match could constitute short third man and long off in others, as part of a cluttered cricketing Venn diagram. It was there that I joined an elite club after one of my gentle off-spinners – or “petals” as a teammate disparagingly referred to them – was hit over the four-lane motorway flyover at the park’s western end. The stroke over long on cleared the bridge without so much as a parp of horn or screech of brakes. The split-second audio vacuum in the aftermath was soon filled by an eruption of applause from both XIs.

 

Such nightmares aggravated my obsession with spatial awareness, a form of claustrophobia assuaged by England’s sole-purpose grounds. Proper cricket must cater for a batsman’s narcissism in fully appreciating the execution of a cover drive via the follow-through, or for a bowler to have suitable boundary cover so their figures are not falsely inflated via nicks and miscues.

 

Fortunately at Grafton, the shortcoming of the club’s limited field acreage was mitigated by the camaraderie. I joined late last century as part of “The Ewen Chatfields”, a social XI that, like the former New Zealand bowler, toiled manfully in the shadow of Sir Richard Hadlee’s greatness. The club consisted of a gregarious melting-pot of members from all socio-demographic strata. Once I dreamed of being a great cricketer, but it’s hard to imagine that career path generating as much joy as playing with workmanlike toilers, statistical boffins and social misfits. The jocularity, loyalty and joie de vivre of the sport’s rank and file made them poster children for inclusiveness. It is a fundamental reason why many of us love the game first, and its finest exponents a distant second.

 

However, as good as cricket can be in New Zealand, the experiences one enjoys playing in English villages are its ultimate embodiment, like scenes from AG Macdonell’s England, Their England leaping from the page. Straight-driving down the slope through the hedge at Beauchief; disturbing a local Hereford herd with late cuts at Berkhamsted; walking from the train station through a meadow to picnic-perfect Chorleywood; edging behind in Marlow while distracted by the aura of playing next to the Thames.

 

Farnham and Ripley deserve special mention through their link as annual fixtures of the London New Zealand club, the perfect venues for Kiwi cricket-lovers to quench their thirst for the quintessential elements of the game. Ripley afternoon-tea highlights included chutney-and-cheese sandwiches, lemon-drizzle cake and hot dogs with caramelised onion and mustard.

 

It is also where this writer lost his middle stump, looking to dispatch a medium pacer into the next county. Appropriately, but of little consolation, was the fable that the club is where the middle stump was invented in 1775. English village clubs always seem to brim with such yarns. Given that the first evidence of the sport in New Zealand dates to 1832, the depth of culture cannot be compared.

 

And so back to Clavering. My new teammates and Hadley piled into a three-vehicle convoy and made the half-hour journey south from Cambridge into Essex. Talk ranged from how to best combat their tall left-arm quick to whether the sponge cake could match last year’s, with its liberal dousing of jam and cream. Bonds between strangers soon formed. The selfishness and in-fighting that can fester in the game’s upper echelons via avarice, superstition and bloody-mindedness tend to be diluted among comrades of lesser talent.

 

Batting on a wicket afflicted by severe late-summer topiary, I tickled a single off my pads to fine leg from the first ball. I got to the non-striker’s end and paused to marvel at the scene before me; the thatched pavilion roof, the pub in the distance, the hedges and willows leading to farmland beyond. I was soon out caught-and-bowled when a drive lodged in the paunch of their 55-year-old off-spinner, but even my exit trudge was imbued with zest.

 

We completed a draw and convened at the Fox and Hounds around the corner to reminisce. The spirit of cricket was maintained, and the England of a colonial fan’s mind’s eye was preserved. It was indeed a game of cricket in heaven.


The Spring 2021 edition of the Nightwatchman is out now.


Issue 33 – Editor’s choice

Managing editor Matt Thacker makes his selection from the Spring 2021 issue, Daniel Lightman’s investigation of Percy Fender’s treatment by the England selectors.

Read more

Issue 32 – out now

The Winter 2020 edition of the Nightwatchman is out now. Managing editor Matt Thacker introduces the latest issue.

Read more

Father’s Day 21st June

Our selection of print and digital editions, bundles and subscriptions are both special and convenient gift options this Father’s Day.

Read more

Christmas gift ideas

Whether you’re buying for an avid subscriber or a Nightwatchman newbie, we’ve got plenty of options for stocking fillers this Christmas.

Read more

Me, my dad and cricket…

With Father’s Day approaching, we’ve selected an extract from Patrick Neate’s essay from issue 1 on character, KP and his dad.

Read more

Editor’s choice – issue 17

Managing Editor Matt Thacker makes his selection from the Spring 2017 issue. Matt has picked Simon Barnes’s piece on KP’s 2005 innings of rare genius.

Read more

Issue 17 – out now

Matt Thacker introduces the latest issue of The Nightwatchman. The Oval is the focal point of this special edition.

Read more

Barbados Special – out now

Ahead of Barbados’s 50th anniversary of independence celebrations, we’ve created a special issue of The Nightwatchman focusing on the island’s rich cricketing history.

Read more

Issue 14 – out now

Issue 14 of The Nightwatchman is out now. Tanya Aldred introduces another eclectic and enchanting array of contributions.

Read more

Free sampler

New to The Nightwatchman? We’ve put together an anthology of extracts from our first three years. Click the headline above to find out more and download a PDF for free.

Read more

Issue 13 – out now

Issue 13 of The Nightwatchman is a county cricket special, featuring contributions relating to all of the first-class counties.

Read more

Issue 11

The eleventh issue of The Nightwatchman is out now. This issue may, using batting order parlance, be last man in for our first XI but we trust its contribution to the total will be no less significant for that fact…

Read more

Editor’s choice

Editor Tanya Aldred makes her selection from the Autumn 2015 issue: Hugh Chevalier’s piece reflecting on the similarities between the sad tales of Ben Stroud and Philip Hughes.

Read more

Fun and fundraising

June 3 saw The Nightwatchman host our latest, devilishly tricky quiz, this time in aid of the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation.

Read more

Issue 10

The tenth issue of The Nightwatchman is out now. Having made it to double figures, we’re starting to play a little more expansively…

Read more

Issue 9

The ninth issue of The Nightwatchman is out now. Our first effort of 2015 includes 19 contributions on topics as diverse as Willy Quaife, cricket’s political leanings and Wasim Akram’s jumper. As usual there’s plenty of wit and frivolity, but…

Read more

Editor’s choice

Editor Anjali Doshi makes her selection from Issue 9. We’ll only publish one article from each edition on the website, but you can see the rest if you subscribe or buy an individual issue or bundle. Anjali has selected Tunku…

Read more

Editor’s choice

Managing editor Matt Thacker makes his selection from Issue 8. We’ll only publish one article from each edition on the website, but you can see the rest if you subscribe or buy an individual issue or bundle. Matt has selected…

Read more

Issue 8

The eighth issue of The Nightwatchman is out now. Our latest issues is a green ‘un and a good ‘un. Conifer-coloured cover detail aside, we have 19 new contributors who – despite being on debut – have put together an…

Read more

Puttin’ on a quiz

January 7 will see The Nightwatchman hold a quiz in aid of Chance to Shine. While many people celebrate a famous epiphany on January 6, the participants at The Nightwatchman’s inaugural quiz night will be hoping that their own moment…

Read more

All killer, great stocking filler

Our 4- and 8-issues bundles make the perfect stocking filler for sports fans… It probably won’t have escaped your attention that it won’t be long until Santa will be squeezing his way down your chimney and rooting around your Christmas…

Read more

Editor’s choice

Managing editor Matt Thacker makes his selection from Issue 7. We’ll only publish one article from each edition on the website, but you can see the rest if you subscribe or buy an individual issue or bundle. Matt has selected…

Read more

Nightwatchman heads to Cheltenham!

The Nightwatchman is off on its travels, with 25 or so of its contributors appearing in the Waitrose tent at the Cheltenham Literature Festival between 3 and 12 October. Marcus Berkmann, Rob Steen, David Tossell, Nick Hogg, David Franklin, Mike…

Read more

Our survey

We’d really like to know what you think of The Nightwatchman. If you’ve read any issues, or even if you’ve just bought for a friend, we’d like to know what you think of our publication and our customer service. It just takes a few minutes and you could win a copy of Issue 1, signed by Shiv Chanderpaul, plus a free subscription.

Read more

Third issue

In the third (Autumn 2013) issue of The Nightwatchman, out on 10th September 2013, John Crace suddenly finds he retired a year ago, Chloe Saltau discusses the curious case of Fawad Ahmed, Aakash Chopra gives an insider’s view of the IPL, Rob Steen celebrates…

Read more

The perfect gift

The Nightwatchman is the perfect gift for a cricket-loving friend or family member. It’s easy to buy a single copy, a bundle of 4 issues or a recurring subscription for someone you love. Just enter their name and address in…

Read more

Second issue

In the second (June 2013) issue of The Nightwatchman Gideon Haigh describes how culture and cricket bind together in Papua New Guinea, Suresh Menon gets out of the press box and into the stands, Andy Zaltzman explores the myths and legends…

Read more

Editor’s choice

Our co-editor Tanya Aldred makes her selection from Issue 2 and tells us why. We’ll only publish one article from each edition on the website, but you can see the rest if you subscribe or buy an individual issue. Tanya…

Read more

Out and about

The first issue of The Nightwatchman has arrived in selected WHSmith stores in the UK for a limited time only. So if you’d like to see what the new Wisden cricket quarterly looks like in all its material splendour before…

Read more

New recruits

Andy Zaltzman, David Foot, Rahul Bhattacharya, Lawrence Booth and Jonathan Wilson (editor of the peerless football quarterly The Blizzard) are writing pieces for our second issue, out in June 2013. Andy tells us why a batsman in the 90s should…

Read more

Editor’s choice

Every quarter, one of our editorial board will choose an article from the latest issue. We asked the evil genius who masterminded The Nightwatchman, Matt Thacker, to make his selection from Issue 1 and to tell us why. We’ll only…

Read more