Playing cricket at 4.43am may sound like a strange idea to a lot of people, but playing cricket at all seems to baffle a hefty proportion of people in this country – and this is England, the home of cricket, after all.
Cricket, like most things, is what you make of it. It can be played as a straight-out rough’n’tumble competitive sport; or an excuse for 22 blokes to celebrate their love of the game and their friendship. The inaugural Sefton Park Cricket Club Solstice Cup was undoubtedly the latter.
SevenStreets was a little concerned. Would all of the players turn up on time? Would someone have the keys, the stumps, a scorebook? Would the promised media bother to get out of bed, or the spectators brave the early morning dew? Would the weather hold?
The portents were not good. What can only be described as a vortex of seagulls, numbering in their thousands, swirled around Sefton Park, feasting on goat curry from the previous day’s Africa Oye festival.
Headlights were required. SevenStreets was bleary-eyed. There were fewer cars than expected in the club car-park.
But, steadily, familiar faces arrived. Tension soon gave way to the heady feeling of getting up for an early-morning flight to warmer climes. The sun came out, and people beamed at one another in the recognition of doing something so utterly ridiculous.
The match itself seemed almost incidental. Two teams, The Long Shadows and The Early Risers, contested the Cup tightly. SevenStreets’ short innings was undone by a great catch from the cricket chairman, but a couple of overs of whirling off-breaks brought some reward, and the dewy outfield brought a painful graze on the elbow.
People, inevitably, played silly shots and bowled filthy deliveries – but no-one cared. As the sun got higher, the shadows shorter, the sky changed from cobalt blue to salmon to cyan; and with the sun hazily shining through the trees Sefton Park CC looked so beautiful it could have brought a tear to the eye.
Afterwards some people had a pint and then went to work. Others wrote the day off, and enjoyed the glow of pulling off one of cricket’s most unlikely matches.
People turned up to watch cricket being played at five o’clock in the morning – how brilliantly English.
And the media loved it. There were live BBC Radio Merseyside interviews, a great-looking package on North-West Tonight and reporters filing copy for Wisden, Spin and the Liverpool Echo.
Several photographers and film-makers turned up, just because they thought it was a lark. “I like it when people do quirky things,” said a spectator when asked why she’d turned up. There you have it.
What is it Costner was told in Field of Dreams? ‘If you build it, they will come’? Although that was about baseball, a horrifying bastardisation of cricket, the sentiment was true for the Solstice Cup.
Cricket, admittedly a strange sport at the best of times – with legions of strange players and followers, was the perfect accompaniment to the longest day.
It was a game played with impeccable spirit, if not talent, and was as pure a celebration of the game, the club, the area and the city as you’re likely to see this summer.
Set alarm clocks for 21 June 2011.