Campground Ashes

Christmas is fast approaching, which means a sad anniversary is nearly upon me. I will try to be strong, but I can’t guarantee I’ll be okay. Dear reader, it’s been almost one year since I was clean bowled by a 12-year-old boy in a game of campground cricket at Porepunkah Bridge Holiday Park.

I’m not sure how it happened, no matter how many times I replay that horrible moment in my head. I’m not sure how the delivery beat my forward defence. Maybe I didn’t get to the pitch of the ball and it deviated off a bindi. It doesn’t really matter how it happened; all I remember is hearing that horrid sound of tennis ball against wheelie bin. Oh, the shame.

Campground cricket is probably one of my favourite summer rituals. It brings together kids of all ages (including 40+) and games last until bad light stops play. Just like real cricket, there are meal breaks. American-born author Bill Bryson once remarked that cricket was the only sport in the world that had this rather genteel arrangement. He also pondered if “…the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavours look interesting and lively”.

Look, the man has a point. I will freely admit cricket is one of the stupidest games ever invented – utterly bewildering for the uninitiated (such as Bryson) and full of bizarrely specialised terminology, deliveries, strokes, fielding positions and equipment. I know them all, because as a cricket-obsessed child I was entranced by the minutiae of the game. But I found the real game pretty boring to be honest (quelle surprise!). My love for cricket was instilled in the casual forms of the game: backyard cricket, beach cricket and, of course, the Ashes of the genre, campground cricket.

I’ve been playing in this annual tournament that tours campgrounds around Australia and New Zealand since I could hold a plastic bat. The best campgrounds have a spacious field, although you don’t want it too big as it encourages people to hit too hard and you spend the game chasing after the ball. There are several constants. The ball will get repeatedly lost under caravans and in bushes. The ball will sometimes be hit into an open tent, causing much hilarity. One kid will get hit in the eye. There will be arguments about whose turn it is to bat or bowl, and whether you have to run when you hit the ball. I’ve always been against this rule as I feel it discourages development of defensive strokes and encourages inelegant slogging. There will always be kids who have never learned to bowl and will throw the ball (this makes me very sad). There will be constant appeals for leg before wicket even though no game of campground cricket in history has ever seen a single player dismissed by way of LBW.

The thing I love most about campground cricket, other than the game itself, is how it brings people together. It’s easy for a shy kid to join the game, because you don’t have to be allocated a team or do anything other than stand on the margins looking vaguely interested. Congratulations, you’re now a fielder. An older kid will then ask you if want to bowl, and soon after you’ll have a bunch of new friends.

I can’t wait for this season’s instalment: the smell of sizzling sausages, the collection of thongs behind the wickets, the summer light slowly fading as the younger kids get called from the pitch for bedtime. It’s as recognisably summer as sunscreen in the eyes, as burning hot bitumen and saltwater in the hair. I might be the oldest kid still playing, but this year I’ve got a point to prove. A silly sport, yes, but it’s our silly sport. It’s our summer.

By Ricky French (@FrenchRicky), s a writer, musician and one happy camper.

This article first appeared in The Big Issue Ed#651.