Bat and Trap is a traditional pub game played in some parts of Kent, a county in the south-east of England. Broadly speaking it is a forerunner to the modern game of cricket, except that being a Kentish pub game there is a little less running around and a lot more beer involved.
The game is similar to a number of other regional pub games such as Nipsy or Knur and Spell, and they all probably share a common lineage. Sadly, the actual origins of the game are most likely lost to history, but there is some evidence that monks played the game as early as the 13th Century. A pub in Canterbury called Ye Olde Beverlie also claims to have records of the game being played around 1740 when it first opened.
Today there are a number of leagues of varying sizes in the Kent area, and although it is a competitive sport, it is usually played informally with the social aspects playing a major part in the proceedings. For example it is usual to offer a friendly bet at the start of a match, with the losing team buying a drink for the winners. Most leagues play each team against each other twice - once at home and once away. They also normally run a number of separate knock-out tournaments, so teams generally get to know each other quite well. There is often plenty of heckling and banter during matches.
The ball is heavy and rubber, a bit like a dog's toy, and sometimes that's exactly what it actually is. A couple of spares are useful in case one gets lost over a fence, knocked onto a roof, or is pilfered by a passing pooch.
The trap is a small mechanical seesaw with a wooden flap on the front. The seesaw is used by the batsman to launch the ball upwards into the air before hitting it along the length of the pitch, and the flap is a target for the bowlers to aim for in order to bowl the batsman out. The trap itself should be secured to the floor with screws to avoid it being knocked around by the batsman, while still leaving enough room for the flap to move freely.
The pitch is a strip of grass around 21 yards long by 10-12 feet wide. Different pubs will take different amounts of care of their pitch so quality can range from something the Dutch would be jealous of, right through to a miniature mountain range. Arriving early to a match for a few practice shots is essential to judge how the pitch plays, and this applies as much for the home team as the away.
The pitch is marked out with a tramline along its length and has two concrete-based posts at the bowling end which stand about eight feet high, the purpose of which is described in the rules section below.
Most pitches are located in the gardens of a pub local to the home team for convenience of access to beer. The landlord will look after the pitch in exchange for increased mid-week sales of drinks to visiting teams, and will normally provide food (sometimes gratis, others at a minor cost to the home team).
Bat and trap is a team game and is played over three legs. Each leg is started by flipping a coin to decide which team will bat first - the batting team stay at the trap end of the pitch while the bowling team stand at the other end behind the line made by the corner posts.
The game is played with two teams of eight players (cryptically called an Eights game) or two teams of four players if bodies are in short supply (called a Fours game).
Teams are normally mixed sex (although all-male or all-female teams can play) since the game makes very little physical demand and as a result there isn't much difference between the ability of the two sexes. The game does not pit bowlers and batters in active competition like the more modern game of cricket - instead players take turns to bat or bowl independently from each other, with players unable to affect their opponent's performance. The result is that a lot of teams are made of couples, which makes for a more family-friendly atmosphere.
The only exception is normally in tournaments, where a men's singles knockout may be played separately to a women's singles knockout, and a mixed doubles may also be played.
The first player on the batting team approaches the trap, places the ball on the front end of the seesaw, hits the back end with the bat to launch the ball about 18-24 inches into the air, and then attempts to knock the ball down to the other end of the pitch between the two posts.
If the ball goes outside the tramlines at any point, fails to cross the end of the pitch, or passes the back line higher than the top of the corner posts, then the batsman has 'batted out' and the next player in the batting team approaches the trap. (Note: the absence of a crossbar between the posts means an element of trust is required when declaring out for hitting over the posts. When there is any doubt it is usual to allow the player to stay in).
For each run the batsman has three attempts at striking the trap, but if they start to swing for the ball on any attempt then they must take the shot, or be deemed to have batted out, even if it was their first attempt, or they missed the ball completely.
There are two main batting stances which are fiercely contested as 'the best'. In the first method the player stands to the left of the trap (or the right of it if they are left-handed) and holds the bat in their leading hand, striking down on the trap, and then swinging the bat sideways. The second method is to straddle the trap and hold the bat in both hands with the top of the bat pointing downwards, striking the trap down and swinging the bat forwards from between the legs.
Both methods have advantages and disadvantages, but that doesn't stop people believing that their preference is superior. For example, the first method has less control and power, but the second has a distinct opportunity for the batsman to knock the ball up and hit themselves in the head. As a general rule, women tend to prefer the straddle approach because two hands can hit the ball harder than one. The men tend to be more evenly split.
If the ball successfully crosses the back line, the bowling team then try to roll it or throw it back underarm down the pitch and hit the flap on the front of the trap. If they hit the trap and knock it down the batsman has been 'bowled out' and the next batting team player approaches the trap.
If the batsman hits the ball across the back line without it bouncing he may also be 'caught out' by a deft catch from a bowler. Bowling teams generally stand clear of the bowling area and leave just one or two of the more athletic players to make a rare heroic catch. The ball can be caught before it crosses the line, but the catcher must have at least one of their feet behind the line when they catch it.
The bowling team all take turns to bowl in the same order that they will be batting in, and rotate through the team after each bowling attempt to ensure that no players are left standing around being bored.
If the bowling team fail to bowl the batsman out (or catch the ball) then the batsman is awarded one run. He continues to bat until he bats out, is bowled or caught out, or until the batting team's total score reaches a predetermined limit. This is normally 75 for Eights or 30 for Fours.
Once all of the batting team are out the teams swap roles and repeat play for the second half of the leg.
A leg is won by the team which scores the most runs in that leg before all of their batsmen are out. If both teams manage to reach the scoring limit in the same leg, then the team that achieved it with the least number of batsmen wins that leg. In the case of an equal number of batsman the teams are awarded half a leg each.
The game is won by the team that wins the most legs out of three. In the case of a draw (eg, one leg each and a drawn leg), a fourth leg may be played as a sudden death round.
In addition to the main Eights game, some leagues also operate a Fours competition and the teams will play both matches when they meet. This gives more teams an opportunity to win something else if they don't top the league at the end of the season.
Additional singles and doubles knockout tournaments may also be played on pre-arranged nights when the entire league turns up at a single pub. Depending on the number of competitors, these tournaments may be run across several meetings, and offer a chance for the better players to go head-to-head for trophies, bottles of wine, or just plain bragging rights.