Another Sunday spent watching County Cricket instead of blogging, or, indeed, going to Church. It did occur to me, in a week when no-one with an ounce of sense has been debating the relationship between cricket and religion, that Jack Hobbs would have felt unable to appear in the County Championship at all under the current arrangements. As an expiation of sorts, here is an XI who might have felt equally uneasy about turning out on the Sabbath. What we are looking for here is cricketing ability combined with a more than purely conventional Christian observance. I did think of including Yousuf Youhana, but I believe he is no longer available.
1. Jack Hobbs (Surrey, England & C. of E.)
Described by John Arlott as “the best man I ever knew in my life … There was something almost Christ-like about him, there really was.” His faith was generally unobtrusive and only came into conflict with his profession when touring India and Ceylon with the Maharajah of Vizianagram’s XI, when he declined to play on a Sunday. The Maharajah respected his wishes and rescheduled the games so that Sunday was a rest day. “I owe him a tremendous debt for his kindness” commented Hobbs.
2. Louis Hall (Yorkshire & the Methodists)
When Lord Hawke took over the Captaincy of Yorkshire in 1886 he inherited “nine drunks and one Methodist lay preacher“. That man was the marvellously lugubrious Louis Hall, described by Hawke as “a strict teetotaller, the first who ever played for Yorkshire”. “Of angular build, painfully thin and severe of expression, Hall stood apart from his fellows” (according to Hawke’s biographer). He was known (for some reason) as “the Batley Giant”, stood 5’10” tall and was the first of a long line of obdurate Yorkshire openers. (Some might opt for Matthew Hayden as an opening partner for Hobbs, but that wouldn’t allow me to reproduce this wonderful portrait …)
3. Right Revd. David Sheppard (Sussex, England & C. of E.)
Might not necessarily qualify for the side on the grounds on playing ability alone, but assuming that we are playing against representatives of some other religion, I feel his emollient and open-minded approach might help to cast oil on troubled waters, should the need arise. “He was the subject of ‘This is your life” in 1960 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the Islington Boys’ Club” according to Wikipedia. He would also be my Captain.
4. Ted Dexter (Sussex, England & C. of E. (?))
Needs no introduction as a cricketer. A “born-again Christian”, I have him down as a member of the Established Church, though I suspect that his beliefs tend towards the syncretic. Will not be allowed to lead the team in any renditions of specially adapted hymns.
5. Hanse Cronje (Leicestershire, South Africa & some kind of South African church)
A controversial selection, perhaps, but what is Christianity about if not the redemption of sinners? Wore a wristband asking WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?), though some of his answers to this question seem to have been a bit wide of the mark.
6. Albert Knight (Leicestershire, England & the Methodists)
Deserves a book to himself, and would have one if some enterprising publisher thought to reprint his “The Complete Cricketer” (1906). Educated at Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys (the same school as David Attenborough, Simon Hoggart and Dan Cole), he was described by E.E. Snow as “a widely read man and a keen student of the classics which he would often quote during a game, to the astonishment of friend and foe alike“. Another lay preacher, he was given to praying loudly for success during his innings, a practice which Walter Brearley considered unfair and for which he reported him to the M.C.C.. Gavin Ewart quite unfairly described him as mad in a poem, though he perversely retracted the slur in a footnote.
7. C.T. Studd (Middlesex, England & C. of E.)
Born in Spratton, Studd played in the Test against Australia that led to the invention of The Ashes, but gave the game up in favour of missionary work in China and the Belgian Congo, where he died in 1931. Firmly of the belief that anyone who had not been baptised was condemned to hellfire, he might have to be restrained from proselytising too forcefully in the field. A useful fast-medium bowler and a competent bat.
8. J.R.T. Barclay (Sussex, Hong Kong & C. of E. (?))
In here because I have a vague idea he is a churchgoer and I need a spinner. Could also act as Vice-Captain.
9. Herbert Strudwick (Surrey, England & C. of E.)
England’s leading wicket-keeper for many years, he was discreetly devout and usually accompanied his friend Hobbs to Church on Sundays.
10. Wes Hall (Barbados, West Indies & the Pentecostalist Church)
The most fearsome fast bowler of his generation, he is always described as coming into bowl “with his crucifix flying”, which I hope won’t be found offensive. Later in life he was ordained as a Minister in the Pentecostalist Church. Would form a formidable new ball partnership with …
11. Rev. Walter Marcon (Eton, Oxford University & C. of E.)
A bit of a wildcard selection, Marcon specialised in bowling ferociously fast round arm full tosses. He once broke a batsman’s leg with one of his deliveries and W.G. Grace reported that his father remembered him bowling to a field with three backstops and no fieldsman in front of the wicket. One batsman tried to take him on by driving him, but the bat was knocked from his hands and broke his wicket. After graduating, he took Holy Orders and became the Rector of Edgefield in Norfolk.
12th Man and Spiritual Advisor. Rev. Andrew Wingfield Digby (Oxford, Dorset & C. of E.)
Experienced in the role.
Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night …