How cricket is bouncing back

High and dry: London Fields opening batsman Robin Friend fends away a short-pitched delivery at a parched Springfield Park. Photo: Stuart York

High and dry: London Fields opening batsman Robin Friend fends away a short-pitched delivery at a parched Springfield Park. Photo: Stuart York

Cricket is resurgent in London after many years when, despite the huge numbers attending major matches as spectators, it became a virtual minority sport. And in Hackney the game is exploding in popularity, with the number of sides in the borough’s league doubling in just two years.

Pitches in London Fields, Springfield Park and Millfields are a draw for cricketers, many of whom have recently moved to the area – and for casual observers who chance upon a match and find the game can be an ideal complement to a sunny day.

Chris Skinner, captain of London Fields Cricket Club, said an influx of people from outside London to the area was helping the sport. He said: “Cricket is thriving in East London and a lot of that is down to people from other parts of the country moving in and wanting to play.”

Chris added that the borough’s venues were a draw to players and spectators alike – particularly the picturesque London Fields venue which, bordered on one side by a row of plane trees, offers a passable likeness to village green grounds of cliché. He said: “It’s one of my favourite places to play cricket. You see a load of people there who you think aren’t really interested in the cricket until someone takes a spectacular catch or hits a six. Then you get a round of applause or a cheer and realise they are actually paying attention and you’ve got a crowd watching.”

The sport is helping to bring together people from different backgrounds both in terms of nationality – players whose family origins are from a range of different countries play the game – and professions, according to Chris. He said: “We have a good mix at the moment, you could have a barrister opening the batting with a plumber which is one of the reasons the club works so well.”

And the rise in adults playing the game is mirrored among youngsters – inspired in part by Twenty20 and ITV4’s coverage of the Indian Premier League competition.

However, the lack of facilities such as changing rooms and kitchens is driving young players to join clubs in the home counties, according to Shahidul Alam, developmental head coach at Chance to Shine, an organisation dedicated to helping children through cricket. He said: “Lot of kids are going outside London to play. If there were clubs with proper facilities – such as catering facilities and changing rooms – more of them would stay in London.”

The adult players are similarly conscious of the paucity of facilities – but appear to be more grateful for being able to play cricket at all. Chris said: “The groundsman works really hard and looks after the pitch very well but there is no pavilion, no changing room. There was a fear, however, that the ground could be shut down a couple of years ago.”

There will be even more opportunities for cricketers in Hackney to take up the game from next year – when eight pitches are to be put on Hackney Marshes. Three pitches with grass squares – and five with artificial wickets – will be funded by a grant from the England and Wales Cricket Board and be put on the North Marsh. Middlesex County Cricket Club is also co-operating in the Hackney council-led scheme. They are part of a major redevelop-ment of Hackney Marshes which will include new facilities for football and rugby as well as new changing rooms.

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