Things that shout out in the night

When spirits are down and the pubs are shut, nothing quite lifts the heart like a game of night cricket. This is decided by Razors at about two or three in the morning - due to the amount we've been drinking I'm not really sure what day of the week it is any more, let alone what time of day - and it seems like a splendid idea. Besides, it's been a long time since we've played it, and I want to see how the new Kookaburra ball I bought the other day performs when it's been scuffed up a bit.

There's a lovely square by the church in the street where I live and sometimes the boys and I play against its wall with a tennis ball. One bowls from the sign that advises against ball games, just to let one's children know that rules are more like guidelines than hard and fast injunctions. Surely only the most joyless, officious jerk would not warm to the sight of a man playing cricket with his young sons in the summer sunshine. Sometimes passers-by join us, once even a group of backpackers from some eastern European country - Slovakia, perhaps - and I like to think that when they go back to their homeland they say something along the lines of, "What a wonderful, eccentric and idyllic game we played that afternoon with that silly little man and his delightful boys. Let's learn the rules properly and thrash the English at it in ten years' time."

But real night cricket, I concede, is another matter. To be fully appreciated, it is best played with a proper hard, red ball, a real bat, and with no sissy stuff like helmets, pads, boxes or gloves. Now you begin to see why it's only played well after licensing hours.

The stumps I chalked up in April are beginning to fade, but if you stare at the wall long and hard enough you can see them faintly and take some
sort of guard. Not that there's much point in doing so. I have always found that, after about midnight, one's radar goes and the aim becomes as erratic as Steve Harmison's on one of his worse days. Razors, whose bowling action was apparently learned from watching the Aussie cricketer Jeff Thomson in 1975 and has only been modified by the addition of a suspect bend of the elbow, which would make the finicky umpire no-ball him with every delivery, tends not to get the ball anywhere near the bat - which is just as well, as it is awfully hard at the best of times to pick out the red ball against the sodium-lit night, and even harder after a bottle or two of Shiraz. In fact, when he is bowling, the safest place to stand is bang in front of the stumps.

Eventually I weary of flailing at an invisible target and hand the bat to Razors so he can have a go. After all, hitting things is what he loves doing above almost everything else, and I like to see him happy.

Karma police

Funnily enough, my bowling has sharpened up. I contracted a bad case of the yips a couple of years ago when it came to bowling, to the extent that I am reluctant to do it even in the nets, but sometimes a wee drinkie helps loosen up the muscles and build confidence.

I clean-bowl Razors a few times - I am convinced of it - but let him carry on until he starts connecting and wellying the ball all over the place with
a vengeance. It is at about this point that we notice the police helicopter hovering overhead. I also notice that there are some tramps, or maybe Slovakian backpackers, asleep on the steps of the church, and even in my state I think that they might not appreciate being woken up or possibly killed by a rogue shot, so I halt proceedings while I suggest we look for another pitch. And besides, that helicopter is really beginning
to get on our tits. (I'm not that worried about the Old Bill. The last time they stopped us from playing in the middle of the street at three in the morning, I waved my MCC hankie at them, and they just told Razors to get me home safely, as I seemed a little tired.)

We find a charming mews that has a nice line in acoustics. As everyone except us who lives in Marylebone has far too much money for their own good, I'm fairly insouciant about this. Anyway, one can imagine someone waking up and thinking, "As only a pair of certifiable maniacs would be playing cricket out there now, I must be dreaming."

In the end, the ball rolls irretrievably between the steel bars of the underground car park. Razors gives the police helicopter one last V-sign, and
I reflect that the two of us have a combined age of 93.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 12 July 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Behind the mask