A few years back I wrote in these pages about the death, or rather enforced euthanasia, of Lewisham cricket, another minor stage in the sport’s retreat from city centres. This was the mournful news that Kent County Cricket club had decided to “merge”, ie disband, the Lewisham district cricket team, handing it over to a neighbouring borough of similar size, with the result that a junior cricketer in a London borough of 350,000 people, the population of Iceland, would have no immediate entry to representative cricket.
It was hardly a surprise or even really anyone’s fault. The counties don’t have much money. The inner cities are increasingly no-go zones for the summer game. Scroll through the county squad lists or recent England Test debutants and the home counties are powerfully present, London largely absent.
Or almost, anyway. Yes, it’s time for an update. The coaches who used to run Lewisham are still there, still committed, still running their outlaw clinics. Kids from eight and up are still getting their first hard-ball drills and being funnelled hopefully into the nearby Greenwich system, where the – equally excellent – coaches there gratefully hoover them up. The nets are full, too, with the same rag-bag of ages and sizes, through which familiar glimpses of that unmistakable, irrepressible commodity called talent still creep in.
At which point enter Joel, a Lewisham lad and a graduate of Lewisham district cricket. Joel, which isn’t his real name because some things are too delicate to parp across the newspaper, has been under the wing of a local cricketing legend, the tracksuited godfather John Palmer, since he was eight years old. Times have occasionally been tough. What he does have, though, is talent and passion. From a young age, Joel has told people he’s going to be a cricketer. This despite very little evidence there was any real opportunity for this to happen.