Cricket for all seasons
This feature was originally published in full in the official programme for the NatWest Series against India - click here to buy England match programmes online
The summer may be drawing to a close, but there are still lots of opportunities to get your cricket fix – come rain or shine.
There’s always a melancholic air to the arrival of autumn, as stumps are drawn for the final time across the country. For the pros, it’s time to pack up the kit and follow the sun, but for the rest of us, it traditionally means the start of that long wait for the post-Christmas nets. But not this winter - because indoor cricket is here and growing bigger by the day.
This fast-paced, action-packed version of the game, first played back in the 1960s, is growing rapidly, and it’s easy for anyone and everyone to join in. As well as being played in traditional sports halls, there are currently nine ECB Indoor Cricket accredited centres across the country running leagues for men, women and boys.
Games – 16 overs a side between teams of eight – are played on a full-length pitch, enclosed by netting sprung from the floor and ceiling, creating a tight playing area for the fielding team and batters.
Each batting pair faces four overs and score runs by hitting the ball to different sections of the court. Every time either is dismissed, the team total loses five runs. The non-striker stands halfway down the wicket, rather than by the bowlers’ stumps, and with catches possible off the nets and the ball in play right up until the bowler begins his run for the next delivery, the game is not only fast and furious, but also tremendous fun.
Mike Gatting, former England captain and now the ECB’s Managing Director of Cricket Partnerships, is a big fan – for a variety of reasons: “The ball is leather on the outside but with a softer middle, so all you need are gloves, a bat and a box,” he says. “The ball does swing, and it turns. All levels can play, and it’s a multi-gender game, families can play. It’s really easy to turn up and enter a team in a league – it could be a club or university team, a work team, whatever you like.
“Or you can play recreationally, too. It’s only an hour and a half to play, and you can have a drink afterwards.”
And as Gatting adds, it’s a real test of your skills. “Because the ball swings, you have to play late and hit it into the ground to get it over the close fielders. That’s exactly what you have to do early season in England when the ball is nipping around – play very late, very straight and let the ball come to you.
“The fielding keeps your arm nice and loose, and catching off the net keeps you sharp. And, if you’re running between the wickets for four overs, it’ll keep you reasonably fit. There are lots of benefits.”
The ECB’s Indoor Cricket Centres can currently be found in Bristol, Nottingham, Derby, Canary Wharf in London, Ipswich, Wolverhampton, Leicester, Gillingham and Liverpool. If you’d like to know more, visit www.ecbic.co.uk
Indoor cricket: how to play
Your at-a-glance guide to the rules of the game
• Teams of eight
• 16 overs per side
• Each pair bats for four overs
• Every player bowls two overs
• Every wicket is a deduction of five runs from the score
• Batsmen can be caught out off the nets
• The non-striker’s crease is halfway down the wicket
• There’s a specially-adapted, soft, leather ball
• Matches last 90 minutes