Have we knocked you for six with these Sunderland cricket memories?

Boys playing cricket in Osborne Street back lane.
Boys playing cricket in Osborne Street back lane.
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Howzat for a trip down Memory Lane?

Back street cricket has been the backbone of English towns for generations and Wearside is certainly no different.

Thorney Close Secondary Modern cricket team in 1958.

Thorney Close Secondary Modern cricket team in 1958.

Philip Curtis, of the Sunderland Antiquarian Society, takes a look at a tradition most of us will have joined in with.

Back lanes were once the playgrounds of the children of Sunderland who lived in terraced houses.

It does not seem that long ago that they rang out with the shouts of young children playing their games of either skipping, chuckstones, mountikitty, hide and seek or hopscotch.

The most popular game which was played in the back lanes during the winter months was always football but that changed once the summer and cricket season arrived.

Bats and balls were brought out of the cupboards, as eager children across Sunderland got ready for the change to the summer game.

Of course, the sport of cricket required a little more equipment than football did.

But if you had the bare essentials of a bat and a ball, then full-on games could easily be organised.

Back lanes did not take stumps and no one had any anyway.

It was the dustbins that sufficed and these were dragged into the centre of the lanes once the teams had been chosen and a match was ready to begin.

Proper leather-covered cricket balls were never used and usually it was a corky (cork ball), a spongey (sponge ball) or a tennisy (tennis ball) that was played with.

Pads and helmets were never seen in lanes and that meant, if the corky hit you, then you certainly knew about it.

Rules were somewhat tenuous and that means of being out – lbws – was always vehemently argued over. Usually, this was because just about every player felt they were the umpire.

Any bowl which was knocked over a back wall meant you were ‘six and out’ but it came with an added responsibility.

The person who had hit the ball over the wall was the one who would have to walk around to the front street, knock on the door and sheepishly request the return of the ball.

If the ball was struck against the wall then it had to be caught one-handed for a dismissal.

Just like the professional sport of cricket, back street games could go on for hours - or at least until the ball went over a wall into a yard where there was no one at home.

Sometimes, even this wasn’t a reason to pack the game in. One of the more daring players would simply clamber up and over the wall to get the ball back.

It was in the back lanes where skills were honed and boys eagerly practised in the hope that they would be chosen to represent their primary school.

It is not that long ago that Sunderland could boast an extremely competitive primary school cricket league but alas that is no more.

At one time, even schools without playing fields took part in the league with some teams getting the bus to Seaburn where there was an artificial wicket.

Few schools then could field a team in cricket whites and in many cases, the children were asked to turn out in any white top they possessed.

Pads and gloves were at a premium. It was not unusual that, when players were given out, they would have to hand over their batting gloves to the incoming batsman if there was only one set to go round.

Playing cricket for your primary school was, in most cases, the only ever time many children on Wearside would experience competitive cricket – except of course in the back lanes.

Back lanes are now relatively quiet places. Computers and technology seem to have taken over. At least the dustbins are safe.

We would love your own memories of games of cricket in the back street. Were your rules different to Phil’s?

And are there other ‘rules and regulations’ we have forgotten to mention?

Email chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk