Hackney. London Fields Cricket Club take on Slovenia’s national team, the second day of a charity weekend tournament, six-a-side on the Saturday, 35 overs each on Sunday, a 2.15pm start. Cricket was first played in Slovenia during the 1970s after a boy was taught and given some equipment during an exchange trip to Kent.
Ljubljana Cricket Club was established in 1997, and in 2000 the first Slovenian national team took part in a tournament in Vienna.Today’s match takes place in London Fields park. Slovenia bat first. A very fast bowler with a beard limits opportunities for runs. High-bouncing, hard to hit. A four every few overs, the odd single. Regular, unsuccessful calls for LBW. Just beyond the boundary at the north end of the park a man and a young lad are playing with a single set of stumps. Barbecues ooze smoke in gentle wind. Thousands enjoying the park’s sunshine, around a hundred watch the game.
The speed of the bearded fast bowler is troublesome on occasion for the fielders, singles scored from unstruck balls shooting by the wicket keeper’s reach. Then a fielder’s throw drops on the unseeing wicket keeper’s head, a pause while concern is met with reassurances, and back to business. Sunshine becoming scarce now with unending banks of cloud, some tinged with menacing grey.
After half an hour the fours come more often. Barbecue smoke struggles now to escape a building breeze. A six at last, only yards from a splashdown in a nearby lido, and a period of opportunistic singles. No idea of the score, I was yet to see a tiny scoreboard propped up beside a tree. The ball thunders through the air to the boundary, but is caught, a cheered first wicket. Snatches of English being spoken by the waiting batsmen thirty yards away beneath a tree. A new batsman runs back after a few balls, he has forgotten his box. A hamper, a tree, an unsuspecting posterior all halt the progress of balls sent racing past the boundary.
“Come on Latvia!” from a fielder. Sledging? I would later find out that this could have been a reference to London Fields player Karl Lacis, an Australian of Latvian descent. A man pushing a buggy stops and chats to the bearded fast bowler, now fielding by the boundary where I sit. They know each other. The bearded fast bowler says the Slovenian team is getting about six an over, and he struggles to bowl at left-handers. The man with the buggy replies that last night he was participating in a late-finishing final, playing in the dark.
Reefs of cloud so large they could herald the onset of dusk. The wind edges it in a lengthy battle with the sun. The second wicket comes at 4.30pm, and the teams switch over half an hour later. Slovenia playing a few men down, so a few of the fielders stay on. Cans of beer are produced, poured into plastic pint glasses, some taken on the pitch. I discover the scoreboard propped beside a tree. Slovenia’s final score was 223 for 3. Yet to hear any Slovenian being spoken, people passing and talking on mobiles offer considerably more linguistic diversity. Swift Slovenian bowling. Sturdy fielding stops several boundaries being achieved.
“Come on Ljubljana!” from a fielder, pronounced Lhb-lun-ah. At 5.40pm the first wicket of the new innings is taken, a bowling-out. Faint suggestion of European-sounding rolled Rs from a man instructing the field, though the wind prevents me hearing if it was English or Slovenian. Mindful from earlier of how this could end playing in the dark, I wander off half an hour later, and hear the roar of a third wicket on my way out of the park. At home I find a face sunburned magenta in the mirror.
London Fields lost a fair few wickets, I was told later by the team’s captain Chris Skinner, but scraped over the line with five balls left in the match, due in part to a century from Karl Lacis. Slovenia’s captain Mark Oman scored 92 runs, while a young player named Jasa Zidar, playing on grass for the first time, earned praise from all players by hitting an apparently beautiful four. A successful weekend by all accounts, raising more than £500 for a local hospice, and a charming way to spend an afternoon.
First published in July, 2009, in Lucid Magazine; available in This Is The World That We Live In, a collection of Lucid Magazine articles (2010): http://www.lulu.com/gb/en/shop/sylvia-arthur-and-athena-kugblenu-and-paul-knipe-and-james-willsher/this-is-the-world-that-we-live-in/paperback/product-12034251.html