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An alternative to cudgel-playing

24 May 2013

John Saxbee, a fan of Somerset CC, welcomes the new cricket season with a sermon


CRICKET is a "vulgar pastime entirely unsuited to the clergy". So wrote Thomas Wilson, a Puritan minister. As early as 1611, men were prosecuted for playing cricket instead of going to church.

In the Sussex village of Sidlesham, two men were arrested; at nearby Boxgrove, six players were reprimanded by the churchwardens not only for profaning the sabbath but because "they used to break the Church windows with the ball", and "a little childe had like to have her braynes beaten out with a crickett batt."

Still in Chichester diocese, in 1628, the Archbishop's peculiar court heard how ten men, one of them a systematic adulterer, had been playing in, or watching, a game of cricket at service time. All had to pay the standard fine of 12d. for missing church, and the players had to make a public confession before the whole congregation.

OF COURSE, as readers of the Church Times will know, cricket gradually came in from the ecclesiastical cold - so much so that clergy have played a significant part in the game's history. One of the game's first historians was the Revd James Pycroft. He was able to observe in the 1850s:

It is no small praise of cricket that it occupies the place of less innocent sports. Drinking, gambling, cudgel-playing insensibly disappear before a manly recreation, which draws the labourer from the dark haunts of vice and misery to the open common - where the squire or parson of the parish may raise him without lowering themselves, by taking an interest if not a part in his sport.

Pycroft coined the term "not cricket", and he stands in a long line of cricketing clergy that stretches from the Revd Lord Frederick Beauclerk in the early 19th century to the then Revd David Sheppard (later Bishop of Liverpool), in the late 20th.

Thomas Hughes's claim that "cricket has become more than a game; it is an institution, a passion, one might almost say a religion" rang true at Taunton earlier this month.

The occasion was the fifth annual Cricket Service held at Somerset County Cricket ground in Taunton on a Sunday early in May. More than 200 spectators attended the service, and they were joined by people from St James's, which overlooks the ground. Lessons were read by the Club's president and chief executive, and the service was led by the Vicar, the Revd Tim Jones, and the Somerset CC chaplain, Rob Walrond.

As a supporter of Somerset in past years, I was privileged to preach the sermon.

Rob explained that the service has grown in popularity every year. "In past centuries, people were expected to leave cricket in order to go to church on Sundays; now the church comes to the cricket," he told me. "People attend the service who may have little else to do with organised religion, and this is certainly one way - and a fun way - of bringing them within earshot of the gospel."

And my sermon?

WHAT can cricket teach us about our Christian faith, and what it means to be a disciple of Christ?

Well, let's look at the various formats of the game. Today's match is limited to one innings per side of 40 overs each, and it is being played in the season between Easter and Pentecost.

This season in the Christian year is a bit like the interval between innings in a one-day game. Jesus and his disciples have completed their innings. He has come through undefeated, and by his teaching and example, has set a target for others to aim at.

As Christians, we are those now called to follow the lead we have been given by loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbour as ourselves.

THEN there is the four- or five-day game. This puts me in mind of one of my favourite biblical texts: Jonah 3.1: "And the Lord called Jonah a second time." One of the joys of Test and County cricket is that, if the first innings doesn't go exactly to plan, there is the chance to try again and, hopefully, do better.

Jonah messed up big time when God called him to undertake a challenging task, but God called him a second time. At the heart of our faith is the good news of forgiveness, and renewal. We mess up, but God calls us a second, third, and fourth time, and for that we are eternally grateful.

THE latest form of cricket is arguably the most popular: the 20/20 game. I remember the Somerset and England player, Sir Ian Botham, commenting: "We may not be here for a long time, but we are here for a good time." That sort of sums up the 20/20 game, and gives us a clue to our Christian calling as well.

The gift of life is too precious to waste. Just as the 20/20 player can't simply spend time occupying the crease, but has to make best use of every opportunity to push the score along, so we must do all we can, by God's grace, to make best use of the years entrusted to us in the service of God and one another.

Dr Saxbee is a former Bishop of Lincoln.


THE 2013 Church Times Cricket Cup is already under way, as early birds make the most of the warmer weather, writes Ed Thornton. We are praying that last year's atrocious weather, which forced many matches to be cancelled, will not be repeated.

There are two new developments in this year's tournament: a team of forces chaplains will be playing for the first time, in the south-west group; and the diocese of Edin­burgh in the Scottish Epi­scopal Church has asked to field a team.

The entry criteria are easy: the bulk of each team must be clerks in holy orders, but each team can field up to three non-clerical players who either hold a bishop's licence (in­cluding Readers, Church Army workers, and members of religious orders), or who are full-time church workers in the diocese. This year, it has been decided that these three places can be taken by full-time church workers, clerical or lay, from another denomination whose work falls roughly in the geographical boundaries of the diocese.

Anyone eligible who lives in a diocese that is not fielding a side this year may play for another diocesan team.


BIRMINGHAM: Nick Parker nickthevicparker@btinternet.com, 01675 462188

BRADFORD: Phil Arnold phil@psarnold.plus.com

CANTERBURY: Neville Emslie nemslie@diocant.org, 07921 250901

CARLISLE/BLACKBURN: Sud­harshan Sarvananthan rev.sudharshan@googlemail.com, 01900 269168 

CHESTER: Norman Goodwin norman.goodwin@adoption­matters.nw.org, 01244 390938

CHICHESTER: Steve Gray sgray@Seaford.org

COVENTRY: David Capron canon@caprons.co.uk, 01789 764261

EDINBURGH: Jim Benton Evans jimbentonevans@gmail.com, 07702 842 727

EXETER: John Money john.stpauls@btinternet.com

FORCES: Martin Sheldon martinsheldon@me.com

GLOUCESTER: Robert Pestell stmichaelsvicarage@blueyonder.co.uk, 01242 694985

GUILDFORD: George Newton g@gjsk.prestel.co.uk, 01252 320618

LEICESTER: Mick Norman micknorman@msn.com

LICHFIELD: Matthew Lefroy matthew.lefroy@tiscali.co.uk

LINCOLN: Jeff Heskins jeff.heskins@lincoln.anglican.org

LIVERPOOL: Dennis Hall allsaintsnewton@blueyonder.co.uk, 01925 290545

LONDON: Tim Rose tm_rose@hotmail.co.uk

MANCHESTER: Dave Thompson dvjt64@yahoo.com, 01204 570992

NORWICH: Simon Ward bishops.chaplain@norwich.anglican.org, 01603 614172

OXFORD: Stephen Johnson vicar@ssaparish.org, 01344 873202

PETERBOROUGH: Charles Jefferson revcjefferson@tiscali.co.uk

ST ALBANS: Nick Sharp nick.sharp@xalt.co.uk, 01922 589147

SALISBURY: David Seymour drrseymour@hotmail.co.uk, 01258 471276

SOUTHWARK: Jim Jelley velmajelley@yahoo.co.uk, 020 7703 5587

WINCHESTER: Ian Bentley ianbentley@onetel.com, 01256 474980

WORCESTER: Stephen Agnew revsmagnew@yahoo.com, 01384 395410


First-round matches to be played by 16 June

Quarter-finals on 17 June (al­­ternative in case of bad weather only, 20 June)

Semi-finals on 1 July (alternative in case of bad weather only, 4 July)

The final will be played at the Walker Cricket Ground in Southgate, north London, on 5 September.


There are 26 teams entered for this year's competition. Sadly, we have lost Bath & Wells, Ely, Southwell & Nottingham, and York.

Group 1A: Chester, Liverpool, Manchester, Carlisle/Blackburn

9 May Carlisle/Blackburn v Liverpool (rained off, trying to reschedule)

16 May Manchester v Carlisle/Blackburn (rained off))

23 May Chester v Liverpool

30 May Carlisle/Blackburn v Chester

6 June Liverpool v Manchester

13 June Manchester v Chester

Group 1B: Bradford, Edinburgh

Team secretaries trying to arrange a match in the Newcastle area

Group 2: Leicester, Lincoln, Norwich, Peterborough

13 May Leicester v Lincoln

20 May Leicester v Peterborough

3 June Leicester v Norwich

3 June Peterborough v Lincoln

10 June Peterborough v Norwich

Group 3A: London, Southwark, St Albans

20 May St Albans v Southwark

3 June London v St Albans

10 June Southwark v London

Group 3B: Canterbury, Chichester, Guildford, Winchester

20 May Guildford vs Winchester

20 May Canterbury vs Chichester

3 June Guildford vs Chichester

3 June Winchester vs Canterbury

10 June Guildford vs Canterbury

10 June Chichester vs Winchester

Group 4A: Exeter, Military Chaplains, Oxford, Salisbury

13 May Forces v Oxford

20 May Forces v Exeter

20 May Salisbury v Oxford

20 May Exeter v Forces

3 June Salisbury v Exeter

10 June Exeter v Oxford

10 June Forces v Salisbury

Group 4B: Birmingham, Coventry, Gloucester, Lichfield, Worcester

29 April Coventry v Gloucester (match cancelled)

29 April Birmingham v Lichfield

13 May Worcester v Gloucester

13 May Lichfield v Coventry

20 May Coventry v Birmingham

20 May Lichfield v Worcester

3 June Gloucester v Lichfield

3 June Birmingham v Worcester

10 June Gloucester v Birmingham

10 June Worcester v Coventry

Note to secretaries

Immediately after each game, will someone (usually the winning team's secretary) make sure the result is emailed or phoned to the Church Times? We still need to be told even when games have been postponed or cancelled.

Contact: Ed Thornton at news@churchtimes.co.uk, 020 7776 1065

Forthcoming Events

6-7 September 2022
Preaching as Pilgrimage conference
From the College of Preachers.

8 September 2022
Church Times Cricket Cup: North v. South
Join us to watch the match at the Walker Cricket Ground, in Southgate, north London.

26 September 2022
What am I living for? God
Sam Wells and Lucy Winkett begin the St Martin-in-the-Fields autumn lecture series in partnership with Church Times.

More events

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