East Kent’s cricket scene was a hilarious joy for former player Alex Claridge

“Russia? Forget Russia! You wanna haul your a**e down here…”

I remember it like it was yesterday. I’d literally just returned to the UK after a year studying in Russia and was enjoying the company of my girlfriend Daniela near her Kensington home on a warm Saturday afternoon.

“Hang on, I’ve just got to call someone,” I said heading over to a payphone on Ken High Street.

The call was to Peter Smith, my club captain at Bekesbourne Cricket Club. I explained to him that I’d returned that day from Russia and would be available for next week’s match.

“Russia? Forget Russia! You wanna haul your a**e down here tomorrow,” was Peter’s reply. It was a typical reaction from this doughty Worcestershire builder who lived in Dover.

I turned to Daniela and said I would be returning to Canterbury first thing the next morning as “I had to play cricket”. Her reaction was the one expected.

But most importantly, it was typical of Bekesbourne: getting an XI out was always a struggle. Mates of players were pressed into giving up their Sundays to play at village cricket pitches across the county.

It was a far cry from the highly professional Kent outfit who warm up for the start of their County Championship season with a match against Surrey at the St Lawrence ground today. It was a lot more like the “Village cricket fail” video above.

Playing in a men’s team at the age of 16 was quite an eye opener. I’d been playing for the Simon Langton side since starting there in 1986 and by 1990 was in the first XI.

I opened the bowling for a game in May and took a wicket early on. Instead of congratulating me, most of the players stood in their spots while one, Dave Hill, lit up a Superking cigarette and joked about needing a lager.

Later, I realised the rattling I could hear coming from Peter Smith as he ran in to bowl was a box of matches in his pocket.

Another time, I turned up for an all day six-a-side tournament at Bekesbourne to see Peter’s son Simon pouring himself a beer at 9am.

My vocal surprise was met with: “Well, what do you expect? I’ve been here since 8.30am!”

In one game against a team called Commuters, Dave Hill and I bowled them out for 30 in about 12 overs. All that seemed to do was increase the amount of drinking time available for players, at least two of whom had to be driven home as a result of being smashed.

I remember one game when an eight-year-old Stuart Drakeley, who matured into a very good player for Canterbury, opened the bowling and took two wickets.

It wasn’t all like this on east Kent’s cricket scene. I later joined Canterbury Alliance, who played in the Brett League and were managed by Alan Price.

The team had a lot of good players: Mark Bradley, Paul Steer, Bob Bowman, Lee Betteridge, Bob Drakeley.

And there were a slew of decent players around the scene: Pete Barnes, Stewart Winchester, Peter Carey, Sacha Azizi, Andy Coleman, Wayne Smith, Ross Jarvis, Dickie Durrant, Lee Swinerd.

The only day I really look back unhappily on was a match for Alliance at Northdown Park against Cliftonville.

We were hopelessly out of it needing about 80 off 10 overs when I went in at number 10. As I reached the wicket, I was met with a volley of abuse.

It was nasty, stupid and utterly uncalled for.

But most of the time the cricket was and the sociability were great. It’s a shame that cricket clubs across Kent are folding these days because they can’t get the players. I stopped playing about 10 years ago and Bekesbourne is no more.

This comes at a time when many countries across the world – Nepal, Oman, Afghanistan – are waking up to this wonderful British export.

I hear they’re playing it in Russia now, too…

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