World Autism Awareness Day - how cricket provides solace for one recreational player

By Callum MatthewsBBC Sport
Andrew Edwards
Andrew Edwards plays for Chirk seconds in the Shropshire County Cricket League

A version of this article was first published on 19 August, 2020. It is being repromoted to mark World Autism Awareness Day

Living with autism can be tough. Among the issues you may face on the broad spectrum are difficulties interacting with other people and anxiety in unfamiliar surroundings or at social events, while bright lights and loud noises can be overwhelming.

For anyone, having a hobby or activity that provides solace and escapism is important. For someone with autism, it is even more so.

Andrew Edwards has cricket.

"It really helps me switch off," he says. "It makes me forget sometimes. If I'm feeling a bit stressed or anxious I can watch the Test and just drift away.

"It doesn't really matter how England get on in the grand scheme of things."

That's not to say cricket - particularly going to games, or calling the ticket office - does not present issues for Andrew.

At limited-overs games, music is often played when a boundary is hit and between overs, and that can be difficult.

"Over the years the actual noise of the tannoy has become intolerable," says Andrew.

"The crowd noise doesn't bother me because that's real but the fake noise over speakers is horrible.

"The music has got louder and people with sensory issues don't like it. There is a line."

Andrew Edwards with nephew Louis Beckley
Andrew (right) with his nephew Louis at Lord’s on the opening day of the only Test versus Ireland in 2019

'I went round the field like Imran Tahir'

Andrew's "lifelong love affair" with cricket began in 1991, when he was six. His mum put him in front of the television to watch the BBC's coverage of England's Test series against West Indies.

However, it was not until he was 33 that he began playing for a recreational side.

"I was just thinking 'you know what, I'm getting a bit more freedom in my life and a bit more confidence'. I changed the gym I was going to, had a new strength and conditioning coach, I'd lost weight and got fitter and I thought I'd try a bit of cricket," he says.

Andrew spent the latter part of 2017 identifying teams who could not field an XI on a regular basis, and that is where his relationship with Chirk seconds began.

"The captain, Ian Skinner, and I had a shared ethos about how to go about playing and behaving on the field," says Andrew. "We want to win, we play to win, but it's not the be-all and end-all.

"I made my debut on the second Bank Holiday in May 2018 at home to Ruthin seconds.

"I didn't bat but when I was in the field I made an inauspicious start, dropping a catch. Then I got my sun hat and two overs later I took a catch - I'll never forget the name of the batsman: Venkatravaghan Sundaram.

"I ran round the field celebrating like Imran Tahir."

He has since been appointed to the club's committee as volunteer officer for diversity, while the club are also planning to commemorate his mum, Hazel Davies, who passed away aged 77 in December 2020, with a plaque at the nets in her memory.

Andrew Edwards with the 'Dave Kelshaw Champagne Moment of the Season' trophy
Andrew won the 'Dave Kelshaw champagne moment of the season award' for his catch

Andrew is now a regular for Chirk seconds and says the weekly Zoom lockdown quizzes were the "highlight of his week", adding: "They made me feel so good, it was just me being me."

He says he finds playing "very calming" but batting makes him "very nervous". He scored his first run for the club, in his third innings - a moment that made him "so excited".

But, just as in everyday life, there are challenges for Andrew too.

"Going out on my own, away from the family, was a challenge at the start but over time that has become second nature," he says.

"I'm open about my autism, I explain it. I think if you don't explain it it creates issues, not only for yourself, but everyone else around you that you're dealing with.

"Usually by the end of the day I'm always remembered, no matter where I go playing cricket. People remember me because I'm very outgoing and amiable, and I don't want to be tribal, I don't see the point in it."

Graeme Swann and The Charlatans

Andrew has been to hundreds of matches - including every Saturday of the Old Trafford Test match since 1998, until this year when supporters have not been allowed in because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 35-year-old has met almost all of his cricketing heroes, but one has got away so far - Wasim Akram.

"I've had chats with all kinds of top cricketers, just randomly talking to them by the pavilion," he says.

Alec Stewart - who he used to twirl his bat like when he was seven, Andrew Flintoff, Brian Lara and Kumar Sangakarra are among his heroes.

England great Flintoff once sponsored Andrew £10 for a run he was doing when the pair met during a one-day international between England and Sri Lanka.

But perhaps his best story centres on England's seventh all-time highest Test wicket-taker, Graeme Swann.

"Swann was a favourite as well. We once sang Tellin' Stories by the Charlatans during a rain-affected game between Lancashire and [Swann's county] Notts," says Andrew.

"We got talking outside the Notts changing room and we were singing by the end. He's a big Charlatans fan."

Andrew Edwards with Joe Root (top left), Nasser Hussain (top right), David Lloyd (bottom left) and Graeme Swann (bottom right).
Andrew Edwards with Joe Root (top left), Nasser Hussain (top right), David Lloyd (bottom left) and Graeme Swann (bottom right)

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