FRESH EXPRESSIONS OF CRICKET
English cricket and the Church of England have a lot in common.
To outsiders they are impenetrable, seem boring and irrelevant and are for posh white people wearing weird white clothes.
English cricket is beginning to face up to some disturbingly racist pointers, fronted by former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq. One third of recreational cricketers in the UK are of Asian origin but only four percent make it to professional level. Meanwhile, nine of the eleven England Test players who faced Pakistan at Southampton in 2020 were privately educated; compared with eight percent nationally.
The Church of England, in common with other denominations, has invented and promoted fresh expressions of church, to reach new people. These may take a more informal style like café church or messy church; meet at a different time of week to cater for people who are busy on Sundays; or embrace a specific theme, say biker church or death metal church.
Cricket has created its own fresh expressions to attract new supporters. It was George Bernard Shaw who observed:
The English are nor a very spiritual people, so they invented cricket to give them some idea of eternity.
And Robin Williams said the cricket is baseball on Valium.
Not any more, it isn’t.
The T20 revolution – a short form of the game taking three hours and involving vast hitting from improvising batters protected by helmets – has swept the world. India leads the field with its Premier League of franchise teams but every cricket playing country has its own tournament and is attracting new customers.
A key test for fresh expressions of church is that they make disciples – people who learn to love Jesus and follow him daily. Inherited forms of church that go back a long way can be sniffy about fresh expressions, alleging they are entertainment rather than divine worship. This is unfair and also unself-aware. The Church generally has a job helping people to follow Jesus daily and fresh expressions of church are making the right connections to help people with this.
And now English cricket has invented The Hundred. Abandoning the county identities that have been the bedrock of the game, city-based franchises have been set up to play a game measured in blocks of five ball overs, not six. Two seasons in, the game is popular, but it is a big evolution and many fans are unconvinced.
Will these fresh expressions of cricket kill the longer form of the game? For now, they are adding to its value, as big aspirations and big hitting gravitate from the shorter form.
Do T20 and The Hundred create followers of cricket on a daily basis in all its forms? The evidence is unclear and the indications are it may not. Converts to the odd game do not necessarily become daily fans. Welcome to the Church’s challenge.
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