One of the most famous and evocative Australian paintings; Russell Drysdale’s The Cricketers depicts three boys playing a game of street cricket in a country town.
Painted in the 1940s the image was almost the polar opposite of the archetypal English-village-green depiction of cricket or the teeming playing fields of the subcontinent.
This was sparse, ramshackle and make-do but the vitality and concentration are palpable and it is the imagination of the participants that provides the hidden energy; in their minds the empty lot against the wall of a building could be the MCG or Lord’s.
Street or backyard cricket and football are the great democratic games of childhood; rules are invented, adapted or discarded on the fly to take into account the differing physical abilities of the participants.
Wonderful and unique conventions such as automatic wicket keeper or first slip, one hand one bounce, six and out, house on the full and ‘lives’ enable the game to be elastic, participant numbers can range from two to a thronging mass and different skill levels and abilities can be easily accommodated without a break in play.
Democratic or child directed play and the value of it to social and physical development is increasingly being recognized.
By not encouraging children to work it out themselves, preferably in the company of other children, we are more than likely preventing them from developing the building blocks to reach their full potential.
Anyone who has watched kindergarten kids at play will recognise the importance of time spent negotiating and setting out the boundaries of the game about to be embarked upon.
This period of negotiation is the basis of democratic play; if other children don’t accept the rules the game doesn’t happen.
It is also, without doubt, of singular importance to the social development of our children and their ability to wield the most powerful tool we possess; our imagination.
So pack the cricket bat, or footy or torches for the after dark games of spotlight; this is important and complex business.