Beach cricket provides all the thrills of an international test match, with the added excitement of catching fish during the drinks break

The official game of Christmas

by Andy Bryenton

Finally, after many decades of pre-eminence as the greatest game on sand, the official international rules of beach cricket have been set down for posterity. If you’re going to take part in the beautiful dance of tennis ball, driftwood and anything shaped like a bat this summer, take a look at the following ‘short version’.

It’s the batsman v everybody else. There are no teams, as this will definitely degenerate into trouble, as both captains will want to have both the most athletic uncle (he could have been an All Black, but he’s got this dodgy knee) and the dog on their team at once. A new batsman is chosen by the oldest player or spectator (usually gran) on the basis of everyone getting a turn.

The bowler is whoever is best at bowling a tennis ball on firm sand unless they have been going ‘for ages’ and someone else wants a throw. Each over has five balls, as this is easy to tally in the sand. If you’re not out after four overs, you have to hand over the bat anyway, but you can add another 10 to your score.

The stumps are best represented with driftwood or failing that, a chilly bin on end. It will give a resounding ‘thunk’ when struck. The batsman is obliged to run to the far end (the other chilly bin) whenever he touches the ball with the bat, even if the bowl was a weird underarm attempt from a random six-year-old who turned up from the next barbecue over. Catchers under the age of 12 may use the ‘one bounce, one hand’ rule to put the batsman out. Anyone who takes a diving catch into the sea can add a free run to their batting total — 10 if they are fully clothed and 20 if they are a passing stranger, caught up in the spirit of the game. A ball retrieved by someone else’s dog definitely counts as ‘out’.

A good crack that lands in the shallows or on the front face of the dunes is a four. One that goes out into the breakers or up in the dunes and needs the dog (or small kids) sending after it is a six and out. Very competitive families can get great-uncle Steve to keep score on a bit of paper tucked into his Dan Brown novel. The winner of the match is the person with the most runs when the barbecue is called, or the sun touches the horizon, adding one’s age from the run total if you’re under 10 and adding a point for each year above 70. Traditionally, they are awarded an extra big slice of pavlova, the one with the strawberry on it. Strangely, these rules are not ratified by the ICC, despite being as ancient and traditional as any game played on the oval at Lord’s.