January 30, 2012

Nice view, but can we play here?

Unusual (and often sub-zero) venues where people endeavoured to play cricket

Mount Everest
A group including the Essex allrounder Graham Napier and Nottinghamshire batsman Mark Wagh played a six-a-side eight-over game at the Everest base camp late in 2007. Two years later another intrepid group contested an 11-a-side match up the mountain, on a plateau called Gorak Shep, 17,000 feet (5165 metres) above sea level.

A frozen lake
The lake at St Moritz in Switzerland has staged several cricket matches since 1988, often for charity, to the probable bemusement of passing goatherds. After one such game the former England captain David Gower returned to his car, which he had parked on the frozen lake, to find a hole in the ice and no car.

The South Pole
Early in 2012 the 100th anniversary of Captain Scott's ultimately tragic polar expedition was marked by a game of cricket at the end of an expedition by a team of British adventurers led by former SAS officer Neil Laughton. "I thought it was quintessentially British," he told the BBC, "and I wanted to do something that does not happen down here very often." Britain beat the Rest of the World by two wickets in the match, which was played in temperatures touching -35°C.

Two teams that have staged Yuletide matches in various unlikely places planned to play one underground, in a cave in a Lake District slate mine, at the end of 2011. They thought it was impossible that the weather could intervene - but were prevented from entering the mine by heavy snow.

In the sea
The Brambles sandbank between Southampton and the Isle of Wight emerges above the water only once a year, for about an hour. When it surfaces, a flotilla of small boats, carrying members of two local yacht clubs, descend upon it and play a game of cricket.

On all seven continents
Harry Thompson's amusing book Penguins Stopped Play, which was published shortly after his untimely death from cancer in 2005, chronicles the attempts by his wandering side, the Captain Scott XI, to undertake a world tour that involved matches on every continent. The title rather gives the game away about what happened when Thompson tried to play in Antarctica.

In the woods in Moscow
The 1951 Wisden records how the future British prime minister Harold Wilson - then the president of the Board of Trade - took part in an impromptu game of cricket in the woods during a break in a meeting in Moscow. Wilson recalled, during a speech to mark the centenary of John Wisden & Co: "My second over was interrupted by a gentleman from the NKVD [the Soviet secret police], who was appointed to follow us around and see that we came to no harm. He stood in the middle of the pitch and remonstrated with us in a very long Russian speech... He was supported by two men who came up on horseback with rifles. I persuaded him, after some negotiation, to take up his position at square leg, out of the way of even my bowling."

The Natural History Museum
A charity match to raise money for the Ben Hollioake Fund (commemorating the England cricketer who died in a car crash in 2002) was held on an ice rink outside London's Natural History Museum in December 2006.

A frozen river in Sweden
One of the most remarkable of cricket pictures features a match on a frozen river in Sweden, with what looks like a ferry ready for the catch at long-on. One company specialises in insurance for ice cricket, but points out: "While playing on ice makes the game more exciting, varied and unpredictable, it also means that it is easier to sustain an injury whilst playing it. It also comes with the inherent risk of problems such as hypothermia."

The North Pole
Forget that boring travelling to cricket matches by car business. In 1991 several intrepid souls emerged from their submarines - the British Tireless and the Pargo from the United States - after breaking through the ice near the North Pole. They had spent the previous month studying the ice for research on global warming. They staged an impromptu cricket match, but the result of the game was classified information, according to the US Department of Defense. A source close to the British team, however, leaked the news that they had won.

A lake in Beijing
The British Embassy in Beijing used to organise an annual cricket match on the frozen lake near the Summer Palace in the north of the city. "The track gave a lot of help to the batsmen," a man who witnessed the game one year told the BBC. "Come to that, the outfield gave a lot of help to the batsmen. The locals were suitably bemused."

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2012.