Sunday cricket is a friendly affair at Middleton Stoney near Bicester in Oxfordshire. The season starts towards the end of April and typically runs until the end of September although fixtures have been known to slip into October.
Hidden away in the grounds of Middleton Park, the club aims to be an oasis of pleasure, fun and memorable sport away from the cacophony of demanding jobs, depressing news headlines and wall to wall reality TV.
Typically, you will witness a slightly worn middle aged man who thinks he is still twenty but runs like he’s nearer seventy. Memories of athletic achievement save him from being embarrassed when overtaken by the youthful member of the team chasing one to the boundary, even when he has had a generous start on him. Secretly, he’s happy as he can save his breath for the serious business of batting later and anyway, it’s been years since he could outsprint his son.
Middleton Stoney players come from a wide cricketing background. Sides are made up of those who are no longer (or never have been) attracted to league cricket; a handful who would like to play every Sunday; those who are happy to play two or three times a season; fathers and sons; and a spattering of current league players who enjoy a more relaxed approach away from the league (when persuaded to play against stronger opponents). One side a few summers ago included an eight-year-old and an eighty-year-old, both called George. That’s probably some kind of record but normally teams have an average age of around forty; a teenager or two to patrol the boundaries and some ‘senior pros’ manning the slips.
Players will often drive or walk to the ground wondering whether they will bowl, open the batting or be on BBQ duty. All are possible and likely repeatable the following week following success but if anyone gets too good an average, they may well find themselves down the order to give someone else a chance. Nothing is guaranteed other than the fact that everyone will be given the chance to influence the result at some stage. The newcomer who is reportedly a fast bowler will be welcome even if he turns out to be as useful as a set of zinger bails minus their batteries.
Behind the scenes, the committee discuss such matters as potential opponents; the quality of umpiring within our ranks; winter social events and who can be persuaded to help on the bar this year. The groundsman nurses the mowers back to life every year; keeps the moss at bay and the square ready for battle. The tea rota is prepared pre-season (everyone is expected to take a turn) and the fixture card prepared and mailed out. Finally, the selection committee will meet in late March to chase availability, discuss the first few games and decide whether or not X, Y and Z are best suited to batting at the top of the order or bowling a few more overs this year.
Sunday cricket at Middleton is played differently to the leagues. It’s strictly declaration cricket for a start with twenty overs from 6:30. That said, a boring draw involving numbers six and seven blocking everything is very tedious. Batsmen that risk a loss in an attempt to become legends are far more welcome and Sunday cricket is set up to encourage this. If one team block, the other brings on a pie chucker and number nine potentially leaves with his highest ever score and a smile on his face. No-one remembers a draw.
Yes, Sunday cricket can involve last minute cancellations, mismatches and poor umpiring but equally it has a far higher potential for involving everyone, unexpected brilliance, young Vs. old and the discovery of a future star. Prithvi Shaw of India played against Middleton when he was just 13. Some say it was the making of him. In addition, there’s a lot less admin than league teams must deal with and fewer people get upset if a close finish is engineered. On Sunday, there is time to recount tales of remembered glories although this can be counterbalanced by the league obsessive who thinks we’re interested in how many points some team in the Cherwell or OCA (Oxfordshire Cricket Association) league scored the day before.
Captaincy and the balance of winning Vs. everyone getting a game is truly one of the fine arts and essential in bringing on the next generation. Would the young spinner even get the opportunity to bowl at the oppositions star batsman if it wasn’t for Sunday cricket? The youngster gets the biggest cheer of the day when he gets him out and falls in love with the game quickly and hungrily. Would this happen batting at eight and bowling two overs at the tail on a Saturday when making up the numbers for the 2nd XI?
Sunday cricket is like going to war with rusty medieval weapons and untested prototypes that can prove to be utterly effective or disintegrate in a moment. Players don’t need points, they want memories of a hard-fought game with everyone involved; a stunning catch; an individual’s determination which destroys the myth of the non-competitive nature of Sunday cricket; and of players enjoying the moment ahead of the result.
League cricket allows a team to find its level and compete against sides of similar strength, but this is often at a cost as the focus becomes win at all costs point scoring. This in turn can lead to verbal abuse and the necessity to allow your star players to perform week after week with bat and ball plus the necessity to be young and fit. Fringe players can be limited to fielding and living in the shadows. Youngsters put off by a scolding after a poor performance and players who can’t dedicate an entire Saturday to the game drive people away from cricket, especially when in their teenage years. Maybe this is over-exaggerated but the much reported falling participation numbers perhaps suggest otherwise.
Local derby matches can also disappear, and the miles rack up as journey times increase the more successful the team is. Sunday cricket tries to remember the much-vaunted Spirit of Cricket and whilst it doesn’t always succeed, it creates the environment in which it can be rediscovered and thrive.
The ECB talks about increasing player numbers and helps clubs with grants for facilities and encouragement to build up youth sides but maybe an injection of funds into an attractive version of the game would attract the fringe players. Less 100 ball competitions and more friendly cricket please.
Middleton Stoney’s fixtures can be found here: www.middletonstoneycc.co.uk/fixtures-results/2020. The club has been playing cricket on this ground since 1801, there is even the scorecard to prove it.
There is no official Sunday cricket in Oxfordshire but there are a handful of clubs who can raise a Sunday side.
Middleton play most of them already, but you will see from the fixture list that we also play touring sides from elsewhere in the UK plus the occasional Australian touring side (especially in Ashes years). We would welcome more touring sides but please get in touch with us early (via firstname.lastname@example.org) so that we can find a date in the calendar.
Middleton will always try to match your strength and we love close games. The ground is private, quiet and picturesque and you can stop for lunch in the village pub before arriving. Young cricketers are made to feel welcome and the talented and not so much are encouraged whatever age they are. Teas are home-made and something Middleton are very proud of. The players each take a turn throughout the season to produce a cricket tea and the players see it as a highlight of the day! If you’re not full up however, there is a BBQ following every game with fresh sausages and burgers from the local butcher.
So, whether or not you are a seasoned campaigner, a casual player, like to take wickets, build big scores, prepare the wicket, are just starting out or returning to the game, Middleton offer a rich experience and a first-class introduction to senior cricket for youngsters. You will also be welcomed with open arms if you like to umpire or score.
Enjoy the journey, it’s not all about the destination. The slow train to Middleton is better than the fast train to Winatallcosts.
If you're looking for Sunday cricket in Oxfordshire, get in touch now.