While Pakistani cricket lurks under the shadow of corruption and international cricket’s integrity looks in jeopardy, one match, played in the lean shadow of Christ Church spire, Southgate, boasts a certain purity. On a sunny afternoon in late summer in that most cosy, leafy north London suburb, yesterday’s Church Times cricket final restored some faith.
In this, the Cup’s sixtieth year, virgin finalists Lichfield took on the diocese that lost in the first final in 1951, Bath & Wells, a side seven times the bridesmaid at this competition. And it is a competition. “Don’t be fooled,” says Church Times editor Paul Handley. “Today you’re watching sportsmen first, parsons second.” And you can see that. You wouldn’t guess that you’re watching assorted vicars, bishops and archdeacons tense as springs in the slips, striding down the track to dispatch a loose ball for four. You wouldn’t think that the good-natured, greying turn-out would be so (politely) partisan. Would you?
As Lichfield tentatively notch up 195 for eight from their allotted 50 overs, there is competitive bustle in the field, there are canny and minute adjustments from Minister Brian Pearson of Langport, captain of Bath & Wells, there is a lot of appealing and chat and some surprisingly slippery bowling from John Samways (ret’d) of St John the Baptist, Keynsham.
Between the innings, as Pearson’s men pad up, he smilingly confides, “Both teams want to win, you know. Charity stops at the boundary rope.” While the first Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians might disagree on the substantive role of charity, the minister’s wry line on inter-Parson competition could have been the main thrust of his team talk, too.
As Bath & Wells’ confident chase falters in an attempt to see off the unerring, laser-straight bowling of Reverend Peter Hart, vicar of Cannock and Huntington, and as the crowd move their deckchairs and rugs to stay under the early evening sun, this grass theatre and its flannelled actors are a world away from the sad skulduggery of recent days. The Bishop of Wolverhampton, opening bat for Lichfield, talks of the game’s unifying qualities: diocese play diocese, argue over LBWs at tea and go for a pint in the rickety pavilion bar after the game.
Cricket casts a revealing light on the clergy, too – it’s a life unlike most others but in a sense it’s just a job, too. In whites the players play hard, swear when they’re out, and finish their match watching and chatting on the boundary. In robes that’s perhaps not so easy.
As Lichfield lift their first Cup in their first final and the long shadows are giraffe-ish and watery, this green field has acted as an advertisement for amateurism: when the peak of the sport can be the pits, thank God there’s always a corner of a not-so-foreign field that is forever fair.