Logic from the backyard

by Patrick O’Keeffe

Some of the hardest fought cricket matches I ever played took place in backyards and driveways. And I’m not just saying that. As pleasantries were dispensed with, friends became bitter enemies. Every ball was delivered with ferocity, while the batsmen rarely gave their wicket away cheaply. When they did, they would channel that anger into a sustained assault with the ball.

The pitches always had something in them. Browny’s pitch had the infamous ‘ridge’. Of course, the ‘ridge’ was just short of a good length, and would either cause the ball to skid through onto the stumps, or rear up violently at the batsman. Dobba was a big quick, who took great pleasure in hurting batsman. As a result, his wicket was about 7 metres long. The ball was smothered in gaffer tape which I’m sure was reinforced with concrete, and the bat was about the size of a billiard cue. At the conclusion of each innings, we would go for a swim, to ensure that when the batsman commenced their innings, they would feel maximum pain when struck. Pedro bowled quick off cutters, which were helped by his well grassed wicket. A wily campaigner, Pedro always left a vacant area through cover which invited scoring through this region. However, this opened up unsuspecting batsman who were frequently bowled through the gate. Undemonstratively, Pedro would grin. Foolish batsman, he would think. I was the curator of the driveway pitch at my place. This was a relatively flat wicket, however some strategic placement of gravel just outside off stump spiced things up. Scoring options were limited square of the wicket, however a well timed, lofted on drive onto Fairmont Avenue always brought plenty of runs. An attacking captain, I never bowled without a bat pad, a task which was filled by a bin, otherwise known as ‘Boony’. A rebound tennis net filled in as keeper, and judging by the size of the net, we assumed that auto-wickie had a skill level on a par with that of Jeffrey Dujon.

The cricket was exciting. The pitches constantly asked batsmen to summon powers of concentration which had previously remained untapped. As a bowler, you were always in the game.

This might seem like a bit of a stretch, however I think that for test cricket to survive, some facets of backyard cricket have to be adopted. It is a stretch, but there is method in the madness. Flat wickets are causing the game a slow death. The advent of Twenty20 undoubtedly presents a challenge to test cricket. Even still, I’m not convinced that Twenty20 is a long term prospect. As a cricket follower, I’m constantly being told that I’m not interested in dreary, old, five day games anymore; I need something new, vibrant and entertaining. Apparently, I need some top 40 trash being blasted at me in between deliveries. I also hear that my attention span has dwindled dramatically, to the extent that I need to see a six hit every few balls to prevent my interest from drifting towards my ipod. Despite all this, I’m not convinced the idea has legs.

I understand that a recent survey has suggested that many people within test playing nations have indicated that they prefer shortened forms of the game. Interestingly, this survey indicated that Indian cricket supporters prefer Twenty20 to test cricket. Given that, Twenty20 has been hugely supported by the board room players in this country. However, the test strips in India have recently bordered on the farcical, creating games of cricket that appear destined to end as high scoring draws. In India’s last two home tests, they have reached 1 for 370 and 1 for 458. In the previous test, Sri Lanka made 760, while India topped 400 in both their innings. This is completely ridiculous and must not continue.

The West Indies defeated England in the Caribbean earlier this year, pulling off a remarkable victory, before hanging on to win through a series of drawn tests played on benign pitches. While cricket supporters are being told that they no longer have the patience for the five day game, through continuously bland pitches and subsequently bland cricket, cricket administrators are telling us that test cricket isn’t worth saving. Administrators have to start treating the game with respect. Certainly, scheduling is an issue; however, the pitches need some flavour. The beauty of test cricket has always been enhanced by the intricacies of the respective wickets. I always love how Ian Chappell is ready to come in off the long run and have a go at faceless ‘administrators’, but I feel such criticisms are warranted in this instance. Worldwide, administrators are plumping for pitches which cause matches to carry the full five days, thus maximising revenue. It can’t just be a coincidence that groundsmen everywhere are suddenly churning out pitches resembling highways.

Perhaps Australia should take the lead. The Gabba wicket is sensational. The bowlers are rewarded for effort and skill, as are the batsmen, provided they are prepared to tough it out early. Perth needs to regain its pace and bounce. Shield results indicate that the WACA wicket is far too docile this season. Melbourne could offer the bowlers a little more though it is a good wicket, while Sydney hasn’t quite produced in recent times. As a proud South Australian, I’m a big Les Burdett fan and don’t mind that one wicket in the country is a batting paradise. Even still, Les could allow the wicket to break up on the fourth and fifth days.  

Recently, Cricinfo put together a team of experts to assemble their greatest Australian test team of all time. Of the top six, only Greg Chappell and Allan Border have played the game in the past 50 years. The top 3: Morris, Trumper and Bradman, all made their name when pitches gave the bowlers plenty, bats didn’t resemble clubs, and inconclusive television replays didn’t offer batsmen extra lives. This tells us a great deal. The capacity to succeed against the odds commands great respect. Virender Sehwag made 290 odd off 230 balls this week. All well and good. But when every facet of the game, in particular the pitch, is designed to assist the person with a lump of willow, my response to such an innings is nothing more than one of indifference.


  1. Great stuff, Patrick. Love the variations between the backyards. Real “home” ground advantages!

    I agree about the pitches that produce mammoth scores, although in India’s defence, they won the last two matches and you can’t do much more than that. Having said that, a stronger challenger may have resulted in three drawn Tests.

    And while I understand your point about Sehwag’s innings, I think that any batsman who can maintain concentration for long enough to make nearly 300 on any surface deserves SOME plaudits.

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