Just off junction six on the M25, you will find the premier exponent of the “on drive” in world cricket. The on drive is to batsmen what the high C is to sopranos. To perform it well, you have to complement preternatural ability with years of training such that, in execution, your flirtation with danger appears effortless. As you trill the ball back past the bowler, a final impudent flourish will prompt whispers of incredulity from assembled spectators.
The only reason why I have heard of Shareef Hassan – in my book, the world’s best on-driver – is because, since 2016, a man called Dan Allen has uploaded highlights of Sanderstead Cricket Club’s matches to YouTube. With almost 15,000 subscribers, Sanderstead CC TV has managed to spread its appeal far beyond the confines of south Croydon. “Orgasmic sound off the bat,” comments one satisfied customer on a compilation of Shazzie’s shots. “Man like Shareef,” adds Jeeto from Pakistan. Indeed, fans regularly tune in from as far afield as Australia, South Africa, India and the US.
There have been previous attempts to put amateur cricket on YouTube. Isfield CC (Sussex, fifth division) made the mistake of trying to broadcast using a GoPro placed on their wicketkeeper’s head. Three Bridges CC (Sussex, first division) are just a bit too good to win over the public’s affection. But Sanderstead CC (relegated last season to Surrey’s third division) have nailed the format. Usually munching on a chocolate digestive, cinematographer-cum-pundit Dan Allen sets himself up at long-on, and narrates the trials and tribulations of his beloved club with characteristic splutterings of “super stuff”, “and why not?” and “more like a nine than a six!”
The avid viewer comes to know all the characters. There is Simon “the Workhorse” Carter who, with a curtailed run-up and less hair than he once presumably had, still reliably puts the ball on a line and length. There is George “Jacko” Jackson – a violent, slingy brute who famously gained a few yards of extra pace after a winter in Australia. A personal favourite is the underrated “Christie” who, like a gambler working away at a slot machine, pulls anything short and invariably collects the satisfying kerching of a boundary. That’s not to mention the joys of Jonny Longcock, Greg’s mohican and “Tricky” Wilson’s superfluous sleeve.
You might be thinking: doesn’t this Sanderstead CC TV sound a bit… twee? Isn’t this just another example of stuffy, old-fashioned England – all cucumber sandwiches and fruit cake teas?
Well, no. By releasing new ten-minute highlights packages, Allen has proven himself to be an innovator, not a traditionalist. Forget the glitzy Amazon Prime documentary about the Australian national cricket team. Forget the Hundred – a much-maligned new competition peddled by those swindlers at the England and Wales Cricket Board. A small club that has been in operation since 1883 is producing SEO-friendly, exciting, 21st-century cricket for the masses, and it is a joy to behold.
Cricket is a more social game than any other sport. When I woke up in the middle of the night two weeks ago and realised I had come down with a fever (which, during a pandemic, was probably was not a good thing) I escaped into my most comforting memory: the only on drive I have ever played. (To be honest, it was more of a defensive push.)
For a week I could not taste anything, it felt as if my eyes were being poached, and I had all the energy of a sloth on diazepam. Most disconcerting of all was the tightness in my chest. But, as I slowly began to see off a hostile spell from this nasty disease, I felt as though there were a team nodding appreciatively behind me in the pavilion. Sanderstead CC provided me with the sense of community I lacked in isolation. And it was a comfort to know that – as surely as the sun will rise in the east, and blossom will appear in spring – the sound of leather meeting willow will once more ring out. When this is all over, there will be cricket again.