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Sunday, 13 July 2014

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World's first underground cricket match held in Lake District

The whites were spattered with mud. The boundaries were made of jagged rock. And even at noon there was every chance of bad light stopping play.

Honister cricket photo
Underground cricket

Welcome to extreme cricket. The sport’s genteel image took a battering when two Cumbrian village teams met in the rugged arena of a cavern inside a Lake District mountain.

Threlkeld and Caldbeck proved that England are not the only cricket team playing Down Under this week.

As the Ashes second Test was underway in Adelaide, these Eden Valley League sides met inside Fleetwith Pike. The hollowed out arena is part of Honister Slate Mine.

The match was organised by Threlkeld club treasurer Michael Webster. Eighteen months ago Threlkeld were flooded out of their home ground.

The club has produced a fundraising calendar showing them playing in unusual places, from the top of a mountain to the bottom of a river.

Michael said: “This feels a good way to finish 18 months of extreme cricket, with something completely random. Playing cricket in a mountain has never been done before.”

Matthew Burbury, of Caldbeck, said: “It’s a tremendous idea. Threlkeld have done a great job with their calendar and Caldbeck are happy to support them.”

Both sides had concerns about the pitch. Matthew added: “We’re used to playing on some pitches that aren’t first class. We’re used to uneven bounces.”

Was he confident about his team’s chances? “Absolutely not. I’m never confident. I like to think we’ll win but we’ll probably get slated.”

This statement received nearly as many groans as it deserved.

The umpire was Norman Shuttleworth from Penrith. “We’re not going to be looking for balls in rivers or long grass, not like normal Eden Valley League cricket.”

A plastic wicket had been laid out in the cavern, with spotlights on the walls.

The teams were competing for a slate trophy. The bails were two pieces of slate.

It was cold, dark and damp. Much like the English summer days these players are used to. Still, the conditions were calm compared with the ferocious weather outside.

So how would underground cricket differ from the open-air variety?

The answer arrived as early as the second ball. Caldbeck’s Graham Wetherell bowled to Threlkeld’s Ben Jefferson.

Ben smashed the ball for what might normally have been a boundary. Instead it hit the wall and was caught on the rebound. Out!

Threlkeld’s batsmen quickly worked out a better tactic: hit the ball down the tunnel at the far end and chalk up runs while your opponents search for it in the gloom.

Caldeck play in the Premier Division while Threlkeld are in Division Two. But in a tight match the only chasm was the one they were playing in.

After six overs, Caldbeck emerged as narrow winners.

Threlkeld also hope to claim victory, by returning to their home ground next summer.

It felt like a triumph for all concerned and for the spirit of English eccentricity.

Honister Slate Mine owner Jan Wilkinson said: “It’s a good cause and a nice group of people.”

She added a few words which will be applauded by cricketers everywhere: “We like pushing boundaries.”

To buy a copy of Threlkeld Cricket Club’s fundraising calendar visit www.rainstoppedplay.org

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