The barbecue's over, everyone's sitting around in the heat of a summer afternoon, full and content. The green grass of the backyard is the result of a rigorous regime of sprinkler use over the warm evenings. Someone's lazily bouncing a tennis ball on the hot concrete. From nowhere, a cricket bat appears...

A summer institution, backyard cricket's the perfect way to spend a few hours with friends, family, or both. The shouts and laughing coming from over the fence a couple of hours after Christmas lunch is almost certainly a game of backyard cricket. One of the best things about it, is that if you can't organise your own game, you're almost certainly welcome to join in someone else's.

Now if you thought regular cricket was a game of bizarre rules, then backyard cricket rules will really confuse you. There are a lot of them. The great thing is, that almost every backyard has their own rules, using some well established rules, and some of the lesser used ones. No two games are ever the same.

The Rules

You can't get out first ball - Everybody gets a chance in backyard cricket. And everybody gets to face at least two balls. Not only does this guarantee that nobody gets too hard done by, it provides the opportunity for some spectacular shot making off the first ball, safe in the knowledge that they'll be facing the next ball no matter what happens. Of course, it also lends itself to the ultimate humiliation...out from the first ball, then out from the second.

Over the fence on the full is six and out - A rule designed to stop having to interrupt the play every couple of minutes, to chase the ball down before it disappears into the drain. If you get out this way, you get to retrieve the ball. Not so bad if it's just rolling down the street, but if it ends up in the swimming pool in the next door neighbours backyard, guarded by hungry dogs...well, lets just say it's a pretty good incentive to keep the ball down. It's up to you to decide how balls ending up stuck on the roof fit into this equation!

No LBW - The LBW laws of cricket are confusing enough when the game's played with a skilled and experienced umpire keeping an eagle eye on the game. In backyard cricket, the person with the best view to make an LBW decision is the wisely, this rule isn't used.

Some more rules

One hand, one bounce - Normally, to get someone out caught, you must catch the ball on the full. One hand one bounce is a slight modification on this rule - if the ball bounces once, but you still manage to catch it one handed, the batsman is out. A great rule if your game is suffering through a lack of fieldsmen, as one person can protect more ground. But this rule really comes into it's own due to the fact that you are still able to field effectively, even with a beer in your hand.

Tip and Run - In a game of cricket, if you hit the ball, and think that you don't have any chance to make a run without being run out, you just stay where you are, and await the next delivery. In a tip and run game, if you hit the ball, you've got to run. No matter what. Is your Uncle Bruce sitting in front of the stumps, practicing his defensive shots, boring the hell out of everyone? Tip and run is the answer.

Wicket taker is next in to bat - There are really no teams in backyard cricket. You're either batting, bowling, or fielding. So there's no order of who comes in next. The general rule is that if you get someone out, you take their place batting. The technicalities of who is actually credited with a wicket are forgotten in the backyard - if you take the catch, you got them out. If you throw down the stumps, affecting a brilliant run-out, the bat's all yours. Of course, if you've already had a bat, and someone else hasn't, you have to pass your turn onto someone else who hasn't had one.

Caught behind - Nobody really wants to stand behind the batsman in the backyard, so you can play with the rule that if you edge the ball onto the back fence, you're out.

The Equipment

Tennis balls - Tennis balls are the essence of backyard cricket. Nobody wants to be facing a proper cricket ball, whether with the bat, or having to try catch it when it's slogged straight for your head! You need as many as you can get your hands on, expect to loose balls down the drain, on the roof, in the middle of the grevillea bushes... Basically, your game will be short indeed without spares.

A Bat - Any bat will do. Actually, the older and scrappier your bat is, the more credibility your game will have. New bats just don't belong in backyard cricket, not to even mention the potential damage that can be done to it as your uncoordinated mates hit the ground more than the ball.

Stumps - Many people own a cricket bat, and almost everyone's got a few tennis balls floating around. Stumps aren't so common. This means that you need to improvise. It used to be easy - the garbage bin worked beautifully. These days though, your garbage bin will most likely be a big green thing, provided by the government, and it's a lot bigger than the bins of old - too big to be used as stumps. Other alternatives are a marked part of a tree, or a decent cardboard box. If you're a backyard cricket specialist though, you'd have kept an old garbage bin for this purpose. The bowler's end isn't so important - an esky is perfect. Of course, it's marker function is only secondary to the fact that is should be full of ice and drinks.

Backyard cricket also has some unique etiquette. The rules are the domain of the owner of the backyard - but the most fearsome phrase to be heard in the game is 'it's my bat, and my ball, and I'm going home!' You don't want to hear this...unless someone else has a bat and some more tennis balls. In this case, let them go off in a huff, attempting to time things so that they see the spare bat being produced while they're walking off by themselves. The rules may also have to be modified to suit the fact that most of the players are wearing thongs - not really the best running footwear. If you're a bastard, make games like this tip and run.

It's also considered bad etiquette to take the whole thing too seriously. Nobody has fun when the one decent cricketer in the game bowls as though they were facing down the touring English team, disputes every close run out, and refuses to retire after smashing 100 runs from 25 balls. A good tactic is to get everyone in the field a fresh drink. Suddenly batting doesn't have the same appeal when you can see the beads of condensation on the bottles held in the fielder's hands.

Above all, remember that it's all supposed to be fun. Anyone can run in and bowl - it takes something else to pull off your perfect Merv Hughes imitation while you're bowling. But it's a lot more fun!

A couple more rules... and equipment

Although the above w/u is a masterful description of an icon of Australian and New Zealand upbringing, I thought I would add a couple of rules that I know of, and add a variation that I witnessed for the first time at a recent New Years game.

I was a participant in this game even though the only person at the party who I actually knew was the person  I arrived at the party with. This, as already mentioned is one way to 'get a game'.

Spill the stubbie and you're out.

  • PROBLEM: Ball hitting stubbie causes stubbie to fall over, beverage spillage and tears. 
  • SOLUTION: Apply the "Spill the stubbie and you're out" rule and hopefully the incidence of the "crying over spilt beverages" is reduced.

This rule is very similar to the "Over the fence on the full is six and out" rule mentioned in the preceding writeup. As discussed earlier, various beverages tend to be dispersed around the fielders during the game. However, as I will explain, for the more competitive and athletic participants this can lead to possible disaster.

Picture this...

...the current master batsman who has been in for four overs (far too long) blasts a ball inches off the turf, four feet off your starboard bow. 

What ensues is the reason that the 'stubbie' rule is a good one to apply... 

...Forgetting all time and space (and the stubbie in his hand) the fieldsman launches full length at this projectile, taking an absolute screamer, one handed, low down. 

...The applause is rapturous until it's drowned out by another form of screaming. Those unmistakable shrill cries of agony, the source of which is revealed as all eyes come to rest upon the aforementioned stubbie... lodged in a rather unfortunate (and improper) place

Let's leave that one there. To rectify this situation the answer you say is simple - put your stubbie on the ground.

Hit the garden gnome and you're out.

  • PROBLEM: Ball hitting garden gnome leads to smashed concrete, recriminations and tears.
  • SOLUTION: Apply the "Hit the garden gnome and you're out" rule and hopefully the incidence of the "paying for things you don't want" is reduced.

Ok, so I realise that I am just adding more ways to get out. However, in backyard cricket, that really is the idea: to keep the wickets turning over. This rule, as the previous, is fairly self-explanatory. If you hit the garden gnome (which is, of course, strategically placed) either on the full or on the bounce you are out.  You can happily apply the variation you wish depending on how quickly you would like the wickets, and gnomes, to fall.

In the recent New Year's game I mentioned earlier, this is the rule which was applied. The backyard was particularly minuscule and yet more than one garden gnome was dispersed around it. And they had a striking resemblance to the Seven Dwarfs... ok, so they were the Seven Dwarfs, which I guess means that they weren't actually gnomes. Oh well. This meant an extremely high turnover of batters and much jubilation from the fielders - although I'm not sure if the jubilation could be entirely accredited to the batters getting out - see 'beverages'.

CAUTION: Use inexpensive garden gnomes.  Do not use garden gnomes which belong to a set. Most particularly, don't use your special set of 'Seven Dwarf Garden Gnome ' gnomes. I say this with the benefit of personal experience

...After a glorious, powerfully hit stroke, the ball was heading out to square leg. I heard the spine tingling 'clunk' and turned to see poor little Sleepy resting his lovely, sleepy head on the concrete as the rest of his body stood firm and resolute in the fielding position in which he had been placed. 

You know the funny thing? This illustrates the intense camaraderie that exists in backyard cricket: I was not in the slightest bit of trouble for it despite being a complete stranger before the game had commenced...


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