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The ECB with its usual old-fart pomposity claims to have invented Twenty20 cricket. Not to be outdone, Lalit Modi and Co argue that they subsequently “reinvented” the format, creating the cricketing-acid-trip extravaganza that is the IPL. In which occasionally, between mid-over adverts, 90s pop anthems, dancing girls and commentary clichés, one might be lucky enough to discern cricket balls being dispatched to all parts of the subcontinent, owing largely to the fact that the wickets are about as lively as a mass funeral. Every self-respecting club cricketer will know, of course, that both Lalit Modi and the ECB are wrong. Twenty-over cricket - admittedly minus dancing girls and all the other jazzed-up surrounding fanfare - has been around at grassroots level for decades.
Aberdeenshire, which boasts more cricketers per capita than any other region in the UK (except possibly Yorkshire), is the site of a long-running 20-over league: the illustrious Aberdeen Evening Cricket League (AECL). Apart from the format, the AECL and the IPL share very few other similarities. The AECL is played predominantly on local council-owned pitches, where “rolling” is a verb associated with cigarettes, not wickets. Sightscreens are provided by the backdrop of public toilets, junkies, military fitness groups, cyclists and other assorted local Aberdonian flora, fauna and fungi. Covers… well, why anyone would need covers with our arid north-east climate is beyond me. Apparently the council shares that opinion.
Not that I am complaining. It’s not everywhere that a whole league can be run on cricket pitches that are basically used for free, and to be honest, all these factors just add to the charm of the AECL. The league is consequently traditionally won by the, shall I say, more “experienced” teams. The old (sorry, “experienced”) boys of Aberdonian cricket know how to play these wickets.
It’s no good running in full pelt, putting your young back and shoulder muscles into a short-pitched delivery in a hostile attempt to give the geezer at the crease a good scare. Inevitably the ball is going to stop on impact with the wicket and sit up nicely to be delivered to your cousins on the continent by a short-sighted pensioner wearing football boots and using a piece of driftwood older than, well, himself.
Light may also add certain complications. The matches usually start at any point after six on a Tuesday night, and thus may sometimes not finish until well after nine. It is therefore imperative that captains win the toss and bat first, as we would never dream of stopping a game for lack of light. Many a match has been finished in gloom that would make the 2000 Karachi Test seem like a Las Vegas lightshow.
This league epitomises all that is great about casual cricket. I have played in a game where overthrows top-scored, seen a batsman stumped after being dragged off the wicket with glass shards in his eye (top-edged one into his specs), and witnessed batsmen run six runs when fielders lost the ball in the murky fog. The AECL never fails to provide extraordinary feats of genuine cricketing idiosyncrasy, which no amount of IPL television-rights money could ever buy. I would much rather be standing out in gale force winds, stinging precipitation and gathering gloom fielding for the Inn At The Park XI against the Gentlemen Players of Rubislaw XI at Duthie Park Stadium than watch a crass, corporate, callous, plastic, pretentious, pompous, over-sponsored, overpaid, overkilled International-Mega-Ultra-Premier Twenty20 concoction.
Still, I’d gladly sell my cricketing soul for one of those dancing girls.
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