Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Cricket: Short game is a stand out

The Long Boxes' Steve Gallaugher hits for the boundary in a match against the Journeymen at Auckland Domain. Photo / Chris Loufte
The Long Boxes' Steve Gallaugher hits for the boundary in a match against the Journeymen at Auckland Domain. Photo / Chris Loufte

They have close to 17,000 players worldwide. The participants have global rankings; it has been played at Lord's - and yet the players of Last Man Stands cricket are never happier than in their shorts with a beer and barbecue at Auckland's Domain.

Welcome to the latest version of 'quick cricket' for the time-poor but enthusiasm-rich grassroots player who can spare only a couple of hours before the call of the amber liquid and the hot coals gets too much.

But don't think this is mugs' cricket either. The new form has grown into a serious business after being conceived as a way for those who can't devote Saturdays to their favourite sport. This way they enjoy two hours' cricket on a weeknight, followed by the barbecue and a beverage.

The quality of cricket is sound. Yes, cow corner is a specialist field position for the regular wogging across the line; yes, the bowling run-ups are more shuffle-and-shoulder than pace-and-penetration; and yes, thigh pads are strapped on to the outside of the shorts for that 'casual' look.

But then there is the odd sparkling cover drive or deviating delivery to catch the edge on the tamest of artificial pitches.

The rules are simple and perhaps best described as a happy middle ground between back yard and club cricket.

Each team has eight players and eight wickets - which justifies the concept name. If you're last in and your partner gets out, you can bat on your own until the end of the 20 five-ball-over innings, running twos and hitting boundaries.

At that point singles aren't allowed because the batsman must return to the same end. It's all about saving time. Bowlers operate from one end to save cricketers ambling slowly from end to end after each over. The next batsman in also stands at square leg to speed things up. A wide requires the bowling of an extra ball an over - any more than that and teams are penalised three runs per wide. If you score a half-century, you retire; a double-play rule allows players to catch a batsman out and run out his partner in the same movement; and if the last ball of an innings clears the boundary, it is worth 12.

Another motivation for those gracing the fields of England, South Africa, Australia, Dubai and New Zealand since the LMS debut in 2005 is the global rankings. After every game, players are graded on their performance with bat or ball. Batting rankings take into account runs scored, strike rates, league difficulty and field size.

Bowlers have economy rates and wickets added to the equation, while wicketkeepers get judged on catches, stumpings and runs scored.

The best players from each competition are listed in a "dream team". It all adds to a competitive environment where statistics are updated promptly online.

Johannesburg-born Ross Cawood (32) runs the New Zealand operation as a full-time job for half the year, having helped a mate set up the original league in London six years ago.

It's become quite a business. Teams play $199 to join a league and then each player pays $13 per person per match.

When Cawood's season wraps up in New Zealand, he goes to England and does it all over again there.

Cawood says for most the key lures are the socialising and the rankings: "When the leagues got big enough, we went full-time; there was always a lot of interest from Kiwis playing in London so we thought it would work here. Our company hires the Domain for a fee per season and my job is to grow the league through marketing and franchising, organise the logistics and accounts, help with team queries and network with the players to ensure they enjoy themselves.

"Guys love the social element. Our target market is those who can't devote a whole Saturday playing club cricket because of families or work. We try to organise everything but gear; like umpires and statistics on the website. Guys love having a global ranking."

Steve Gallaugher (32) is an Auckland-based lawyer who played four seasons of premier cricket for Parnell. He turns out for The Long Boxes each Wednesday. A young family and a high pressure job mean Last Man Stands is the ideal outlet to satisfy his cricketing urge.

"I got into it with a bunch of rag-tag Kiwis in London. It got really popular during long summer evenings in Regent's Park.

"In fact, last year our team, The Pringles [Chris Pringle], were No 1 in the world and we won the English championship at Lord's. I was thinking of hanging up the boots after that game following our haka on the sacred turf.

"The format is designed to incorporate the social side afterwards. You bump into people you used to play with. A couple of hours on a weeknight is perfect."

Former New Zealand captain Martin Crowe has used the format as part of his return to the game this summer, joining Marc Ellis' Southern team.

He has a particular affinity for what Cawood is doing after launching his own abbreviated form called Cricket Max in 1996.

"The concept's excellent; it's global and it's online," Crowe says. "The world rankings software which churns out scores and strike rates each week is superb."

- Herald on Sunday

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