These days, my friends from Sussex live all over the place. One of my best school friends, Will, has to be the farthest away in Hong Kong. But ridiculous luck would have it that we were both here this weekend and both had a couple of free hours this afternoon.
So I joined him and his mum, Elizabeth, at a charity cricket match in their former home town of Ditchling, East Sussex. The event was held to raise money for motor neurone disease research and crowds of people had gathered on this chilly afternoon to take in the cricket, a Punch & Judy show and ice cream.
The event was also hosting a stoolball net. It was an activity I’d never seen before, so I knew I’d be giving it a go.
As we got chatting to the organizers, we learnt that this centuries-old game preceded cricket and may have even been an early version of it. It dates back to the 15th Century and originated here in Sussex, and now it’s mostly played in ladies’ leagues in the southern counties.
Like cricket, you have 11 players on a team and each team takes turns to field. You similarly score runs by hitting the ball and racing to another wicket, or by whacking the ball out of bounds.
Unlike cricket, the bowler throws the ball underarm, the bat is shorter and has a circular paddle, and the wicket is actually a shoulders-high square on a post.
So Will and I gave it a go.
My batting was pretty consistent – I knocked nearly every one. Although in a real game I’d very likely be caught out by the high balls I was hitting, so I should hit them flatter and lower across the ground. When it came to the bowling, I was an absolute disaster and most of my attempts bounced feebly across the ground. Will did well to knock the ones I got vaguely in his direction.
I’ve grown up in Sussex but I had no idea until today that this game even existed. Now I’m wondering if they have a league in New York…?
After the strains and stresses of my poor bowling, there was only one way to recuperate: Ice cream.
It was great to see you Will and Liz! Hopefully we find ourselves on the same continent again soon.