‘Revived’: how walking cricket gives over-50s a taste of Bazball

<span>Walking cricket played by a group of over 50s at the Three Hills Sport Center in Folkestone.</span><span>Photo: Andrew Aitchison/The Guardian</span>” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/GYPciezOqTZnIxCq7r0yrQ–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/302dee798d81b7cda20 6d8882e4a0748″ data-src= “https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/GYPciezOqTZnIxCq7r0yrQ–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/302dee798d81b7cda206d88 82e4a0748″/></div>
<p><figcaption class=Walking cricket is played by a group of men aged over 50 at the Three Hills Sport Center in Folkestone.Photo: Andrew Aitchison/The Guardian

In Lawrence Booth and Nick Hoult’s great book on the subject, James Anderson is asked what Bazball means to him. “Bazball is trying to encourage people to get back to the child in you,” he says. “What you imagined the game would be: exciting, fast and fun.”

Some of the purest forms of Bazball are played at recreation centers across the country. Walking cricket has given thousands of older people the chance to reconnect with their inner child, to remember how exciting and fun (okay, maybe not fast) cricket can be and, like any self-respecting Bazballer, to hit sixes. While over-50s cricket is going through a bit of an existential crisis, over-50s cricket is thriving. If he still doesn’t take any wickets at Test level, Anderson will be eligible to play himself in September 2032.

The only fast thing about walking cricket is its growth. The number of participants is increasing rapidly last year The One Show sent Angela Rippon to Yorkshire to make a feature about it. More recently, in March, Lord’s Indoor School hosted the first inter-provincial walking cricket festival. “It was a astonishing day at Lord’s,” said Aimee Illidge, Project Officer at Kent Cricket Community Trust, the charity arm of Kent CCC. “We then realized how big walking cricket is becoming. All provinces have thriving teams.”

Late last month, on a crisp Monday morning, The Spin visited the Three Hills Sports Center in Folkestone, Kent, to see how walking cricket works. As you would expect there are a few adjustments to the official rules, but it is recognisably cricket. The most important thing is that everyone has the same involvement: if you are out, you continue to bat, but the bowling team is awarded five runs. At the local level, the rules are made of plasticine, allowing any group to manipulate them for maximum fun.

Aimee Illidge has a background in community-based theater and immediately recognized the best parts of the game. “Walking cricket,” she says, “is just another form of community involvement.” The group we looked at was made up exclusively of men, but that was a coincidence – there are female players at all the other hubs in Kent – ​​and not a representation of a diverse, testosterone-free sport. The oldest player in any of the Kent hubs is 87, and none of the usual barriers of an implicitly ageist society are in place. The whole has an organic purity and an infectious positivity. In a sense, the most important player is the least talented, because he represents what those involved cherish most: inclusivity. Although everyone uses that word, it is spoken with enthusiasm and pride rather than opportunistic cynicism.

In Kent there are players who are hearing impaired, have mobility problems (they only have to walk half a lap), live with dementia or learning difficulties. No one feels the need to mask or hide. When the BCCI launches the Walking IPL, we hope that every player profile will proudly list the relevant medical abbreviations: R Smyth RHB RM DVT OSD.

“People have limitations that can prevent them from being selected for a cricket team,” says team captain Mark, 62. “I have my own limitations – my natural batting position is number 12. All that matters is that people want to play.”

At first, Graham didn’t really want to play. In 2022, he needed two walking sticks after surgery on both knees. A few months later his wife saw an advertisement on Facebook for the first Folkestone session and suggested he try it. Graham had played only a handful of cricket in his life, but his talent for hitting the ball back over the bowler’s head soon revealed itself. On the day The Spin arrived, he became the first person to hit six sixes in an over. In the 18 months since he joined the group, Graham has lost almost a quarter of his body weight.

For many, it’s a gateway, whether it’s to other forms of exercise, greater health awareness or simply developing the confidence to use public transport. If your first image of walking cricket is Father Ted, specifically the Craggy Island All Priests Indoor Football Challenge Match over 75, delete it. It’s more tiring than it looks and there are some top class players. And while there are certain Father Ted touches, they only add to the charm. The Sittingbourne group has to share the room with an Aerobics group, so the background noise is not polite applause, but pumping, percussive dance music.

Walking cricket offers the perfect hat-trick of health benefits: physical, mental and social. “It gave me a new lease of life after I retired,” says John, a classical technician who opened the batting for Malta during his army days and now plays twice a week. “The chat after the match is just as much fun as the cricket.” Players need a really good excuse to skip the post-match meeting for tea and cake, there are community days with the opportunity for the whole team over 5s to watch Kent play and a WhatsApp group where the moment of the competition is rewarded every week. What no one really talks about is which team won; some people don’t even know.

As the game grows, there will be challenges. The first is the dreaded F-word; one of Kent’s centers is currently inactive due to a lack of funding. The second is the delicate balance between community and competition. At Lord’s, some counties chose their strongest first XIs, while others distributed the best players evenly. “Ultimately there can be two separate streams, one focused on community and the other on competition,” says Aimee. “It’s something that has to evolve.”

At the very end, after playing for a while, I faced the last three balls of the day from Paul, a left-arm bowler. “He’s swinging it in, be careful,” said non-striker Nigel, as I envisioned an elegant drive halfway through. The first ball came to me quicker than I could say ‘high front elbow’, but I managed to fumble it in defense. The next two, replicas of Wasim Akram’s delivery to Chris Lewis in the 1992 World Cup final, made my plastic stumps fly, or at least wobble.

Three balls, minus 10 runs, game over. As we shook hands, I expected to be embarrassed, but I realized I was smiling. Not nervous or clumsy, just natural. Like a child.

  • If you are interested in to walk cricket, please contact your local county or u3a group. Find out more about the great work the Kent Cricket Community Trust has been doing, including their First Change program for refugees, here.

Quote of the week

“Really sad to hear this shocking news. Josh was a great and smart boy who always had a smile on his face” – former Pakistan captain Azhar Ali pays tribute to his Worcestershire teammate Josh Baker, whose death at the age of 20 shocked the cricket world.

Aussies play it safe for T20

During the 1993 Lord’s Test, when Michael Slater hit a charming maiden Test hundred, an MCC member asked Ian Chappell why Australia had so many good young players. “That’s easy,” he said. “We pick them.” It’s a classic Chappelli line, one that remained true throughout his career. But something changed in the late 1990s, and since then, dirty old England has been much more likely to haemorrhage young players.

Chappell’s comment came back to mind when Jake Fraser-McGurk, the most exciting batsman in world cricket at the moment, was left out of Australia’s T20 World Cup squad. It’s not a big scandal; the most likely way to include him was probably to leave out David Warner, and even Fraser-McGurk downplayed it. He might not have been included in the England squad either, even though he would have had a better chance. But his recent form has been so remarkable that it doesn’t quite make sense that he won’t be at the World Cup.

In his debut IPL, called up as a late replacement for Delhi Capitals, Fraser-McGurk has deployed 65 off 18 balls against Sunrisers Hyderabad and 84 off 27 against Mumbai Indians – including 15 off four deliveries from Jasprit Bumrah at a time when most teams can score 15 from his four overs. Fraser-McGurk has also scored a List A ton off 29 balls, a world record, and has a starting ODI strike rate of 222, which makes us wish Richie Benaud was still around. Not just to say it, but to try to make sense of it – and the change in Australia’s approach to youth and risk. They have become the straight men of world cricket. But considering they are world champions in the other two formats, it hasn’t done them much harm.

Memory strip

There’s a lot going on here in September 1979 when Geoffrey Boycott (left) and referee Dickie Bird join English footballer Trevor Francis for a spot at Subbuteo. It won’t surprise you that The Spin was more of a fan of Subbuteo Cricket (and Test Match Cricket, while we’re at it).

Do you want more?

Chris Jordan talks to Ali Martin about the T20 World Cup, his England recall and his little brother Jofra Archer.

Monty Panesar tells Daniel Gallan why he’s entering politics. And Andrew Anthony tells us why he should stay away.

England Women have used AI to help with team selection, and head coach Jon Lewis says it played a role in last summer’s exciting Ashes draw.

And Geoff Lemon on why Australia should have made room in their squad for Jake Fraser-McGurk.


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