Cricket has always been a hotspot of content and creativity; now the world beyond the boundary is coming to the fore to entertain and inspire match-starved fans
Rain is cricket’s traditional enemy, but this year it is the coronavirus pandemic that has stopped play, put the covers on and ceremonially sent the ground staff home.
No domestic or international matches are due to be played in England or Wales until July at the earliest, at least nine rounds of County Championship fixtures have been lost and the launch of the much-awaited new competition The Hundred – designed to engage a broader audience and grow the game’s fan base – has been pushed back until 2021.
But all is not lost. In the absence of live matches, broadcasters including Sky Sports and BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra have been replaying amazing past games and commentary in full, as well as posting highlights on social media. More than 183,000 people have so far watched Sky Sports Cricket’s video of the last hour of the Ben Stokes and Jack Leach match-winning partnership of the 2019 third Ashes Test, while more than 28,000 have watched highlights of then-captain Michael Vaughan and opening bowler Steve Harmison reliving the dramatic two-run victory at Edgbaston during the nail-biting 2005 Ashes.
Reliving the past, however, can only fill the void so far. Luckily the world of cricket has always attracted an amazing array of writers and ranters, thinkers and poets, commentators and analysts. This means that, from books and blogs to the social media of stars and streaming services, cricket fans still have a huge amount of content to enjoy this season as they attempt to fill the hole caused by lack of play. Here is an eclectic XI of the best to feast on:
The double act: weCricket
Dan and Kez – the pair behind weCricket – are the Ant and Dec of backyard cricket vlogging and podcasts, cheeky chappies who clearly have a great rapport and a rare ability to communicate a rollicking sense of fun. Their self-effacing motto is: “We make YouTube videos. Some are interesting.” And they are. Very. Since 2017 the pair of Sussex amateur cricketers, who clearly love everything about the game, have attracted more than 36 million views and 192K subscribers on their channel, weCricket. They make and test bats, face bowling machines at top speed (nearly) and comment on cricket news. They also recreate games from their back garden, claiming the first game from this year’s IPL was better than the real thing. The Golden Ducks podcast is fun, too, and this year, keeping up with the times, they’ve thrown a brand new lockdown quiz into the mix.
The grassroots game: Sanderstead Cricket Club
The magic of club cricket is captured beautifully on Sanderstead Cricket Club TV, an unusual and engaging YouTube channel with 15K subscribers packed with fly-on-the-wall action from the relatively serious first XI, who play in the Surrey league, and the decidedly less skilful but far more relaxed Sunday sides. True, there’s no cricket this year, but it’s regularly updated with stories, reviews and nuggets from the archive. The commentary is dry and deadpan, perfect in the context of the odd cracking drive, dodgy batting wickets, terrible bowling, bizarre umpiring and anarchic net sessions. Launched in 2016, it has already had many more than three million views. A new strand is in the GoggleCricketBox section in which players video themselves watching themselves play games from their own archive. And let’s not forget the Silly Point podcast. It’s multi-platform content from the village green.
Cricketing drama: The Test
In 2018 Australian cricket changed forever. The captain, Steve Smith, and vice-captain, David Warner, were found guilty of ball tampering and banned for a year. The Test, an Amazon documentary series, is based on amazing fly-on-the-wall access that reveals how the Australian men’s cricket team survived the next 18 dark months and rebuilt its integrity. It’s like a classic morality play. Only much more exciting!
Getting personal: the stars on Twitter and Instagram
Even when there’s no cricket at all, the lives of the sport’s superstars provide a mind-boggling array of content. England star Ben Stokes (747K Twitter followers) has run his first half marathon for charity in lockdown, as well as completing the press-up challenge, while Indian legend M S Dhoni (23.1 million followers on Instagram) has been photographing tigers in Khanha, India. Meanwhile, former Aussie captain Steve Smith (1.6 million followers on Twitter) enjoyed the premiere of The Test with wife Danni Willis. Simply choose your favourite players and enjoy the carefully curated representations of their lives. And, if you’re really lucky, you might even enjoy a controversial outburst if one of them has had a few too many drinks before posting online.
A fan’s eye view from The Full Toss
The players have their Twitter and Instagram accounts, but what about the long-suffering fans? Yes, they can always join a Twitter storm, but suppose they want to write considered in-depth stories about the sport they love? Step forward The Full Toss. “We’re a platform for cricket lovers to express their emotions – whether it’s about the team selection, management, officialdom, the spectator experience or the many problems facing our brilliant sport,” says James Morgan, who founded the site in 2009. He adds: “The lockdown is beginning to take its toll here – home schooling the kids isn’t much fun – but at least the cricketing hiatus gives us time to take stock!” True, we all have some time to debate the key issues of the day. Who, for example, is England’s greatest all-rounder? It’s still Beefy for me! Comments please.
Nearly men: The Grade Cricketer
The most compelling content has a distinctive voice. The Grade Cricketer – a pen name for Aussies Sam Perry, Dave Edwards and Ian Higgins – has three. The friends – all dry, witty, satirical, intelligent and insightful – played grade cricket but were never good enough to make the test team. And as their website reveals, it is where their “dreams were swiftly extinguished; their cricketing careers laid to rest”. They are better content creators than run compilers. Their Twitter account, @gradecricketer, was launched in 2012 and blossomed into a huge success. Today they host a weekly podcast, have a growing social media presence, write books and do live shows. Novelist Thomas Keneally is a fan. “The Grade Cricketer is the finest tribute to a sport since Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch,” he says. “It’s belly-laughing funny but it’s also a hymn to the grand and complex game delivered with a narrative pace and ability I’m afraid most Test players don’t have.”
Statistics and more statistics from Redballdata.com
The average cricketer and cricket fan love statistics. But there are also stattos who elevate cricket’s numbers to a whole new level of analysis. Take Edmund Bayliss, the maths guru behind Red Ball Data. His site uses all sorts of lists and numbers in the most bewitching way possible to predict matches, select perfect teams, devise optimal strategies and lots more. The information is new and timeless so perfect for any cricket fan who needs a cricket fix. It may not be the loveliest looking site, but it is packed with ideas and theories you will find nowhere else. @edmundbayliss tweets well, too. Check this dynamic map that shows the number of test centuries scored at UK cricket grounds over time. Ed interprets: “It’s fun watching the centuries at Lord’s pile up after 2000…”
On the road with The Barmy Army
It started in 1994 when a small group of backpackers living the dream in Australia began to cheer (very loudly) for England on the Ashes tour and it has evolved into the world’s most famous sport supporters’ club. The Barmy Army is present at every international England game, from the 10,000 baying nutters at the MCG to the 50 hard-core foot-soldiers who trekked to Abu Dhabi when Pakistan couldn’t play at home. And today it is present online so we can all enjoy illuminating cricket stories even though we’re being grimly denied live action. The website is packed with news, podcasts, songs and lots more. A taster? Ian Bell reminisces about the brilliant 2005 Ashes series. And sharing an insight into a drunken post-match karaoke night in Pakistan here’s England legend Marcus Trescothick on Instagram…
You decide with YouTube
Choose cricketing moments to relive on YouTube. Like Ian Botham hitting Aussie fast bowler Craig McDermott for six first ball at Edgbaston in 1985?. Or the whole of Ben Stokes and Jack Leach’s vital third Test partnership in the 2019 Ashes? Or, for a change of pace, why not sit back and enjoy the quirkier side of the game, like the bowling of Pavel Florin, the Transylvanian bodyguard turned cricketer who last year unveiled the world’s worst ever delivery action. It’s addictive.
Join the club: at home with the MCC
The pavilion at Lord’s may be empty but if you are a proud owner of the bacon-and-egg tie then you will get a new email series from the MCC called At Home With Cricket. It includes video clips, features on historical items in the MCC Collections, archive commentaries and submissions from members. A recent highlight was a video exclusive of the play When the Eye Has Gone by former Kent and Derbyshire cricketer James Graham-Brown. In return the MCC is asking for a £10 donation from each member to buy food for the homeless in Westminster, London.
Reading the wicket – or a good book!
Cricket captains will be reading few cricket wickets this summer (before deciding to bat anyway), so they may as well read cricket books instead. Cricket has always held a fascination for novelists – as far back as the 19th century the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle and JM Barrie played for the Authors cricket club – while the long and languid nature of the game lends itself to fantastic reporting and analysis. So much strategy and technique to consider and so much time to do it. So much cultural diversity, too. For inspiration there is a huge variety of books to choose from on cricketworld.com, while the Guardian has an interesting top ten filled with great titles. An opener? How about Beyond a Boundary by Trinidadian CLR James – a blend of memoir, history book and polemic with cricket at its heart or, coming on July 9, Morgan’s Men, the inside story of England’s rise from Cricket World Cup humiliation to glory, by the Telegraph’s chief cricket correspondent Nick Hoult and Times sports journalist, and former Glamorgan player, Steve James.
Like every good team, we’ve also got a twelfth man – in this case, The Hundred. True, there will not be any real action this year for the new, shorter, 100-ball competition with its snazzy franchises, but it’s already a digital phenomenon. The website, thehundred.com, is packed with news and videos about the teams and the players, as well as interactive sections including polls and team selection games. Sign up and enjoy the notification blitz. And an excellent content story is that, when it does hopefully take place next year, both the men’s and the women’s teams will enjoy the same prize money.
So while hope continues to reign eternal that some internationals, at least, will still take place, there’s more than enough cricket-inspired content online and off to tide over the most ardent fan until the covers come off and play can once again resume.