Village cricket may be down but it’s not out

On a wet spring day in Newenden, a group of local cricketers sit in the offices of Peter Bourne’s landscaping company; among them are Bourne, his son Jonathan, who works in the business and is a batsman for the club, Garry Smith, a prolific medium-pacer, and Åke Nilson, a management consultant. Nilson, from Sweden, has taken to cricket, though as a supporter and not a player. His wife is the club secretary.

Newenden’s ground is alongside the road from Tenterden to Hastings; on the other side of it is the White Hart pub, a focal point for players and spectators, and on the far side the ground is bordered by the River Rother. ‘Because the ground is a little small,’ Jonathan tells me, ‘we have a local rule that to hit a six you must hit the ball in, or over, the river.’

As at Preston, Newenden has a strong family atmosphere. ‘Newenden had its core local families when I started playing,’ Bourne tells me, ‘and men would play, and then their sons, and their sons.’ Those who play tend to stay for a long time. Smith, who is 47, has played for the club for 35 years. ‘He is our leading wicket-taker,’ Jonathan tells me. Things in Newenden started to change around the turn of the century, as property prices rose. ‘We had to recruit from outside – but if you can not get that family atmosphere going, if you have a lot of single guys who just want to come and play cricket, and do not bring wives or girlfriends and get them involved, then you do not have that sense of community. ‘

Nilson, a local historian, discloses that Newenden has a seminal part in cricket’s history – allegedly. ‘Our club logo says we were founded in 1301,’ he says. ‘If you look in Wisden you will see a reference to Edward II, who was Prince of Wales in 1301, playing “creag” at Newenden. It is claimed that that was the forerunner of cricket, and that this is the first written evidence of cricket. But of course it’s probably almost entirely rubbish, because it is another 200 years before you find any other reference to it. ‘ The club does, however, have scorebooks going back almost 150 years.

Peter Bourne played in the XI at Tonbridge School and first played for Newenden as a schoolboy. ‘When I was younger, the pub was effectively part of the cricket ground, and we were in and out of it all day during a game.’ Smith recalls sitting on the ground roller on a Sunday afternoon, and started to play in 1986, when he was 10.

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