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The Church Times cricket cup

23 January 2015

THE coldest week of the year, and so, naturally, our thoughts turn to cricket. Although play in the 65th season of the Church Times Cricket Competition does not start till May, now is the time when captains start booking up fixtures and players start blocking off dates in the diary.

The competition is not, in any way, experiencing a crisis. And yet, in many ways, it mirrors the fortunes of the C of E. In recent years, we have seen a slow decline in the number of dioceses able to field a team. Each year, one or two dioceses come into the competition, but usually more drop out. Something has to be done.

In the absence of an official report from an Archbishops' Council task force, the Editor consulted a group of interested clergy cricketers at the end of last year.

The first thing that emerged was an overwhelming affirmation of the value of playing. The competition led to fitter, less stressed clergy; it encouraged networking within dioceses and across church tradition. It enhanced diocesan identity, and provided sources of good publicity. Most of all, it was a source of joy (see panel, below).

The Editor was enjoined to communicate this message to bishops and senior diocesan clergy, not just for their own benefit, but also to encourage them to become recruiting officers for their diocesan teams.

Another point made early on was that increasing numbers of women are playing. Thanks, in part, to the success of the England women's team, cricket is no longer seen as an all-male sport.

Here are the other main points:

More dioceses needed

These are the teams that took part last year: Birmingham, Canterbury, Carlisle/Blackburn, Chester, Chichester, Coventry, Exeter, Gloucester, Guildford, Leicester, Lichfield, Lincoln, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Norwich, Oxford, Peterborough, St Albans, Salisbury, Southwark, West Yorkshire & the Dales, Winchester, and Worcester.

If your diocese is not on the list, it might just be that the Great Selector has chosen you to organise something. Do you feel the call? (NB: reading this article constitutes a call.)

What to do: simply email the Editor, editor@churchtimes.co.uk, to express your interest and be put in touch with a captain or secretary in a diocese near by. They will tell you things about how to get your bishop's endorsement, the value of the bishop's PA, how to use diocesan networks, how to source a friendly ground, etc.

If dioceses fear that they cannot raise a full team, they might contemplate combining with a neighbouring diocese, as Carlisle and Blackburn have (and, of course, Bradford, Ripon & Leeds, and Wakefield have in a very real sense).

Rule change to help new sides

Under current rules, each side can contain up to three non-clerical players of any denomination, as long as they are full-time church workers or hold a bishop's licence (e.g. Readers). From 2015, for their first season only, this restriction is waived for teams newly entering the competition. Thus, in theory, a new team could be wholly made up of lay workers, or Methodists - just for this year.

Other rule changes that might be pertinent

Hitherto, a player could play for another diocesan team only if his or her diocese was not putting a team into the competition. In future, any cleric can play for any team that will have him or her, but must stick with them for the whole season.

Shorter games: from now on, all games will consist of 40 overs. Only the final will be 50. If, in advance, or even on the day, captains wish to negotiate a shorter game, especially owing to distance or weather, this will be permissible. Forty overs remains the norm, and also where there is disagreement.

Not rules, but to be attended to

The Editor inherited a strange north-south divide. Teams in the south tend to play on Mondays, teams in the north on Thursdays. Taking a lead from the Synod of Whitby, he thinks that this should be ironed out, and that the tonsured tribes from the south should prevail - not just because there are more of them, but because it means that we can get match reports in time for that week's paper.

Second, teams say that the more they play, the easier it is to get a team together. Counter-intuitive, but true. The Editor suggests blocking out Mondays in late May and June. He also recommends that non-Church Times Cup Mondays be spent playing secular teams or those of other faiths.

Third, distance is an object. This year we will attempt to compile a list of neutral grounds, so that travel can be eased.

Fourth, the Editor would like to hear from any interested umpires who would be prepared to make themselves available, for a small fee.

Fifth, the larger dioceses might consider entering a B team in the competition, perhaps to play in a neighbouring group.

Time is of the essence

The Editor would like to fix the groups by mid-February at the latest, so that fixtures can be arranged. He would therefore welcome volunteers, suggestions, etc., by Monday 9 February. Established teams can pencil in fixtures if they wish, but there is a possibility that the groups might change substantially.


THE value of sport, its relation­ship with faith, the potential clash with secular sporting culture, and how Jesus might play are all explored in a video of a panel discussion that took place just before the historic match between a Vatican XI and the Archbishop of Canterbury's XI last Sept­ember. It lasts a little more than 15 minutes, and is well worth watching: bit.ly/faithsport

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