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Last Updated: Monday, 5 February 2007, 12:48 GMT
Life's a Beach for England
Action at Maroubra Beach in Sydney
Players and fans are encouraged to have fun on the beach

By Nick Bryant
BBC News in Sydney

England have finally discovered a version of cricket at which they can triumph over Australia on a regular basis.

It takes place on the beach, involves some of the world's greatest ever players and has infuriated cricketing purists.

For the past three weekends, a cast of legends from Australia, England and the West Indies have been taking part in the inaugural beach cricket tri-nations series.

Maybe there's a future in England if you can find a few more beaches

Mark Waugh
Between them, the players could boast 80,000 runs and more than 2,300 wickets. Sixteen of them have been named Wisden Cricketer of the Year.

But these were statistics gathered in more illustrious times in a much more illustrious version of the game.

Now they took on the appearance of beach-combers, in search of one, last sun-drenched pay day.

606 DEBATE: Should the ECB give beach cricket a whirl?

The game itself? An eight-over thrash, featuring two teams of six, with each member of the fielding side expected to bowl at least one over.

The batting side bats in pairs, facing two overs each. If a batsman is out, five runs is deducted from the team score.

It is all played out on a golden mat in the middle of a stand-enclosed area of sand about half the size of a football pitch.


Some packaging ideas are borrowed from Twenty20 cricket: microphones on players and umpires - in this instance, the great Dickie Bird - and regular blasts of rock music.

Then there are innovations, most notably a troupe of pom-pom waving "Angels", who gyrate between innings and form a scantily-clad honour guard at the change-over of each batting pair.

England captain Graham Gooch receives the trophy
You get mums and dads here with their kids - hopefully they'll go on and play the proper version of the game

Graham Gooch
Here, the Mexican Wave and beach balls were actively encouraged, a far cry from Test grounds, where an increasingly censorious Cricket Australia has so controversially banned both.

Seemingly the only stipulation from the organisers is for families to have a fun-filled day out.

"Look at it for what it is," says Andrew Coates, the director of beach cricket.

"It's a bunch of cricketing legends getting out on the paddock and having a bit of a game. We're not talking about the Olympics here or a Test match.

"There are always going to be detractors from any new concept and, overwhelmingly, the feedback is positive."

Australian great Mark Waugh is certainly a fan, saying: "The players have enjoyed it, the crowds have been good. The concept is new, but it's got potential.

"It's entertainment, which is the main thing. People are having a good time watching some great players run around on the sand very slowly.

"Maybe there's a future in England if you can find a few more beaches."

Swigging an ice-cold lager, his Australian colleague Dean Jones ruminated on how the spirit of beach cricket evoked the salad days of a bygone cricketing era.

Mark Waugh and Dean Jones tease Darren Gough
Jones (right) believes much of the friendship has gone from the game
"The players today make great money but they don't make great friendships.

"When I go to England I can ring up Lamby or Beefy and I can go around to their homes, but I don't think that happens today."

Much to the delight of the marketeers, the tournament reached it climax with a final between England and Australia.

The surprisingly absorbing contest went to the very last ball, with Australia needing a boundary to win.

Waugh went for the big one, but the ball landed in the sand and stopped short of the boundary.

It was a morale-boosting victory for England and their tanned captain Graham Gooch.

"England took a bit of a hammering in the other form of the game," he told BBC Sport, gripping the trophy in his hand and nursing the pain of a pulled calf muscle.

"So it's nice to win this one. The standard of cricket has gone up and up, and we had a really competitive finish at the end."

As for the concept itself, Gooch believes it's a winner: "You get mums and dads here with their kids, creating interest in the game.

"Hopefully they'll go on and play the proper version of the game."

Australia: Alan Border (capt), Mark Waugh, Dean Jones, Kim Hughes, Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Damien Fleming
England: Graham Gooch (capt), Robin Smith, Adam Hollioake, Allan Lamb, Graeme Hick, Gladstone Small, Darren Gough
West Indies: Courtney Walsh (capt), Richie Richardson, Desmond Haynes, Viv Richards, Phil Simonds, Jimmy Adams, Curtly Ambrose, Joel Garner
From a commercial perspective, beach cricket has created a sand-storm of controversy.

XXXX Gold has been accused of trying to muscle-in on the real tri-nations tournament, and to steal the thunder of VB beer, one of Cricket Australia's main sponsors.

Border reportedly resigned as a Test selector because of the supposed conflict of interest, with accusations of ambush marketing.

Tournament director Coates rejects those criticisms, saying: "Ambush marketing is when you try and leverage someone else's property. We're not doing that at all.

"We've started our own version of the game with our own rules. We're not using anybody else's intellectual property and not using anyone else's players.

"We don't have [Ricky] Ponting and [Glenn] McGrath. We've got a very different form of the game going on."

My own verdict? With the sun on your back and a cold beer in your hand, it was definitely a bit of Sunday afternoon fun.

But, at the same time, there was something slightly sad about seeing great legends like Viv Richards reduced to playing this form of the game.

It is proof perhaps of the old adage that nostalgia just ain't what it used to be.



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