The sweet sound of summer is here

Forget the Black Caps. The summer's most titanic cricket contest is about to take place and it has nothing to do with the national team or Port Elizabeth where tonight's Twenty20 clash with South Africa will be played.

The game we are talking about will be played in backyards, on beaches and anywhere a bare patch of ground can be found.

It will pit fathers against sons and daughters, wives against husbands, brothers against sisters and neighbours against neighbours. Sticks of driftwood, chilly bins and council rubbish tins will double as wickets.

The batsmen (and women) will wield plastic bats, bits of four by two and tennis rackets. The bowlers will commence their spells on the boundary, charging in with the menace of Jeff Thomson or Waqar Younis, but, fitness being an issue, will, after a couple of deliveries, resort to bowling spin off a couple of paces. The fielders will be complemented by the family dog, and the lemon tree.

Snick the ball into the tree and you're out, caught at first slip.

For those lucky enough to be on holiday, it is the time to shed suits, overalls and work-a-day cares and don shorts , T-shirts and a carefree demeanour.

The pre-Christmas rush to buy presents and feed the extended family is over, the fridge is groaning with leftovers and, for those who have decamped to a favourite holiday spot, the lawns and other household chores are beyond reach.

There's nothing to do, but read, lounge in the sun - appropriately lathered in sun screen - cool off in the sea or a lake and enjoy once again the pursuits of childhood.

New Zealand's international cricketers are testing the loyalty of even their most devoted fans and ball-by-ball commentaries are no longer as familiar a backdrop to summer as the chirping of cicadas and the splashing of water, but Kiwis still relish the opportunity to try to emulate their heroes, even if they are as likely now to be fiery South African pacemen or wristy Indian batsmen as the stuttering Black Caps.

We might lack the concentration and technique to prosper at the highest level, but when it comes to pick-up games where invention is more important than a straight bat and banter is the most important skill of all we're a match for anybody.

There's a joy to be had from belting the ball back over dad's head, making mum splash into the water to retrieve it or cunningly guiding it past the corner of the house for an extra run.

The pleasure is all the greater when a dismissal is an opportunity to cool off in the sea or lake and drinks breaks feature cordial for the kids and a beer or gin and tonic for mum and dad.

Just remember to lay in a plentiful supply of tennis balls. They have a habit of floating out to sea and disappearing over neighbours' fences and into the shrubbery.

And, for those who want a taste of the real thing (sort of), remember there's a Twenty20 match between the Wellington Firebirds and the Central Stags at New Zealand's best cricket ground - the Basin Reserve - this afternoon.

The Dominion Post