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.
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 bowler...so 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.
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!