Black Caps and White Ferns pick their top backyard cricket spots

Photo: File
Photo: File
Backyard cricket (n): an impromptu version of cricket, played by all ages and abilities in backyards, parks, on the street or beaches, typically with tree trunks, chilly bins, driftwood or rubbish bins used as stumps.

It's a marvellous thing, backyard cricket. A staple of many childhood summers for Kiwis, it provides a wonderful opportunity for families, friends and neighbours to catch up each summer at a beach or park, while rolling the arm over in a friendly match. It's one of the few games where age and skill need not be relevant, where it's not only acceptable, but encouraged that a 7-year-old be bowling to an 87-year-old, with the family dog in the field at mid-wicket. Two players, five players or 20 - there's a place for everyone in a BYC match.

There's usually someone offering a running commentary of the game, including classic household cricket sayings such as "chew for chwenty-chew" and other phrases made famous by Billy Birmingham's impressions of late commentating great Richie Benaud. In my family, a full toss to a large inanimate object such as a tree trunk or rubbish bin usually results in at least a couple of siblings crying out in unison, "What a catch! What. A. Catch!"

Backyard cricket (n): an impromptu version of cricket, played by all ages and abilities in backyards, parks, on the street or beaches, typically with tree trunks, chilly bins, driftwood or rubbish bins used as stumps.

It's a marvellous thing, backyard cricket. A staple of many childhood summers for Kiwis, it provides a wonderful opportunity for families, friends and neighbours to catch up each summer at a beach or park, while rolling the arm over in a friendly match. It's one of the few games where age and skill need not be relevant, where it's not only acceptable, but encouraged that a 7-year-old be bowling to an 87-year-old, with the family dog in the field at mid-wicket. Two players, five players or 20 - there's a place for everyone in a BYC match.

There's usually someone offering a running commentary of the game, including classic household cricket sayings such as "chew for chwenty-chew" and other phrases made famous by Billy Birmingham's impressions of late commentating great Richie Benaud. In my family, a full toss to a large inanimate object such as a tree trunk or rubbish bin usually results in at least a couple of siblings crying out in unison, "What a catch! What. A. Catch!"

Growing up, we were fortunate to have enough space in our actual backyard for the odd game - although that came with frequent dents in the fence, smashed windows and neighbours telling us off for being too noisy. After one too many broken windows in the house, Mum banished us to the park across the road for future games.

Regardless of your preference for pitch location - home, the park, the street or the beach - here are some of the favourite spaces around New Zealand to bowl 'em out, according to the country's top cricketers and commentators.

Tom Latham - Hagley Park, Christchurch
Black Caps opening batsman

Hagley Park is very much the lifeblood of Christchurch; its vast, wide-open spaces allowing locals and tourists alike to find some quiet time in this city oasis. As youngsters, our time at Hagley was far from quiet, by order of heated games of backyard cricket. No two games were the same.

Whether it was an extra-wide tree trunk giving the bowlers about five stumps to aim at or a rubbish bin proving the perfect gully fielder, there was always a competitive game of cricket to be had at Hagley Park on those lazy, summer days at home in the Garden City.

Elliott Smith - Pohara Beach, Tasman
Newstalk ZB Sport Journalist

There are pictures in family albums of me as a youngster holding a bat with some older kids as we holidayed at Pohara Beach in the South Island's Golden Bay. I would have been only 3 or so at the time, but the beach, sun and a spot of cricket certainly makes for the idyllic Kiwi summer.

I'm sure the radio was on with cricket commentary at the same time too. More recently, the beauty of a lot of New Zealand international cricket grounds like Hagley Oval lends itself to a spot of cricket with some mates and any willing passers-by behind the bank as the play slows down on the third or fourth day of a test; rolling the arm over or playing an utterly exaggerated slog-sweep under the sun, never gets old.

Sumner Beach. Photo: Getty
Sumner Beach. Photo: Getty
Lesley Murdoch - Sumner Beach, Christchurch
Commentator and former White Ferns captain

Those endless sultry summer evenings at Bryndwr's Hooker Ave on dusty, scruffy, dirt covered strips of weedy grass.

The continuous backyard cricket duels, where a million runs were scored, heaps of wickets captured and a whole lot of cracked windows, fence palings, lost balls and a load of fun-but not without a lot of dispute as we all sought for dominance of some sort with either the bat or the ball.

These innocent days soon gave way to an upgrade in conditions but just as tricky, the driftwood-strewn Sumner Beach on any day we were brave enough to thumb our noses at the gnarly easterly.

Tippeny runs, can't be out first ball, one-hand-one-bounce is out, and if you hit anyone on the full you are permanently retired.

Papamoa in the Bay of Plenty is known for having plenty of beach and grassy areas ideal for...
Papamoa in the Bay of Plenty is known for having plenty of beach and grassy areas ideal for backyard cricket. Photo: Supplied
Neil Wagner - Papamoa Beach, Bay of Plenty
Black Caps pace bowler

When I first moved to New Zealand, I always enjoyed coming to the Bay of Plenty for cricket matches, so to make the community of Papamoa Beach my permanent home is a dream come true. In recent years, I've loved getting out on to Taylor's Reserve in front of our house to roll the arm over with a few of the neighbouring boys and girls.

Often you will see locals mowing a cricket pitch on the reserve and getting into some backyard cricket. The games always have a bit of spice to them and it's just great to see youngsters out there enjoying their cricket.

Sometimes, after some gentle persuasion, I get talked into playing for a few overs. I remember I was bowling to a kid one day and I bowled a full ball that swung a bit. He said to me "that can't be Neil Wagner, that ball swung and you only bowl short balls!" I had a good chuckle at that.

There's no better way to finish a game of backyard cricket than with a barbecue and a couple of refreshments among this tight-knit, welcoming community. I love it here!

Suzie Bates - St Kilda, Dunedin
White Ferns all-rounder

When I think of cricket spots around the country, it's hard to go past Saint Kilda Beach in the peak of summer. I remember heading along John Wilson Drive as a youngster with my brothers, scoping out the best spot on the beach to play. Once an area with hard sand and a decent pull shot to the water was found, it was a quick hunt around for some makeshift driftwood wickets and we were into it.

I haven't been able to get down there in recent years but Saint Kilda will also hold a special place for me. Gotta love a Dunner stunner and a bit of BYC!

Sophie Devine - Lyall Bay, Wellington
White Ferns captain and all-rounder

They say you can't beat Wellington on a good day and they are right. I have the fondest memories of heading to Lyall Bay for a spot of backyard cricket with friends and family.

If the cricket wasn't going so well, you could always rely on a few waves and a feed of fish and chips on the beach to soak in that glorious Wellington weather - not a breath of wind to speak of.

Possible rules for backyard cricket:
*One-hand-one-bounce applies (also applies if ball bounces first on another surface i.e. fence, roof, car)
*Not Out on the first ball
*Running between wickets is optional
*S/he who hits it over the fence must fetch from the neighbour
*Broken windows = instant dismissal
*Any catch should be followed with exclamations of 'What a catch! What. A. Catch'
*Bowlers should always shine the ball, even if it's a tennis ball
*A straight playing pitch is optional
*Duct tape may be used to tape up the ball
*Strong players are encouraged to "accidentally" drop a catch from the youngest or oldest batters
*Batters should always check for their middle and leg stumps at the crease despite wickets being a tree stump or other large immovable object.

For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newzealand.com

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