03 May

Gresham, Cricket and Saying Our Prayers

“Good money drives out bad” is a law formulated by the City of London financier Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579). Good money is money that shows little difference between its nominal value (the face value of the coin) and its commodity value – the value of the metal of which it is made, often precious metals, nickel or copper.

For example, silver coins were widely circulated in Canada until 1968 and in the United States, until 1964 for dimes and quarters and 1970 for half-dollars. when the Coinage Act of 1965 was passed. These countries debased their coins by switching to cheaper metals thereby inflating the new debased currency in relation to the supply of the former silver coins. The silver coins disappeared from circulation as citizens retained them to capture the steady current and future intrinsic value of the metal content over the newly inflated and therefore devalued coins, using the newer coins in daily transactions.

This law has application in areas of life away from financial concerns: in unlike subjects such as professional cricket and the way we say our prayers in church.

When I was a boy in the 1950s, professional cricket in England was the county game and the Test Matches. There were seventeen counties in competition and each played twenty-eight three-day games in the season and points were awarded according to win. lose, draw or tie. At the end of the season the team which had amassed the most points were declared County Champions. Test Match cricket was the international game. Seven national teams – England, Australia, West Indies, South Africa, India, New Zealand and Pakistan – arranged Test Match series, usually of five five-day games. So there would be, for example, a Test series between England and Australia and another between New Zealand and South Africa and so on. The best players were chosen from the county sides to represent England in the Tests.

For decades this was the form taken by the professional game.

Beginning in the 1960s, the county game saw some innovations. There began a one-day competition featuring  sixty-overs-a-side matches played by all the counties. It was a knockout competition with the final held towards the end of the season at Lords. In time the sixty overs were reduced to fifty and a Sunday League of forty overs games was set up

The reasons offered by the cricket authorities for these changes were, first, that spectators liked the one day game because they were guaranteed a result for the entrance fee and the time expenditure on a single visit. Secondly, it was said that many found the three-day game “boring” and “long-drawn out.” They wanted more sixes and fours struck and wickets tumbling regularly. Even this new, fast form of cricket did not satisfy the crowds’ craving for yet more of the smash, bang, wallop stuff. So twenty overs matches – Twenty20 – were introduced to the accompaniment of most un-cricket-like razzmatazz: dancing girls, fireworks and loud blasts of rock music every time the batsman struck a boundary

As Gresham would have predicted, this bad cricket began to drive out the good. County matches nowadays play to empty grounds and attendances at Test Matches have decreased. In their latest wheeze, the authorities have decided to take this dumbing down of the great game to extreme and absurd lengths. Twenty20 provides the sort of cricket that could be enjoyed only by those with minds like the grasshopper’s, but it has been adjudged too long. So there is to be a new competition in which teams will face a mere one hundred balls and no match shall last longer than three hours. The deleterious results are piling up thick and fast: attendances at “real” cricket are falling further and some of the best international players have decided that they will play only in the far more remunerative short forms of the game. The catalyst for further radical change is the monstrous pantomime of the Indian Premier League which is funded by commercial sponsorship and attracts gambling on a cosmic scale. Is the IPL a vast vehicle for rampant corruption? Is there water in the Indian Ocean? For decades India has been renowned as a country of cricketing fanatics with crowds of 100,000 turning up for five day test Matches. Now the Test Matches are neglected and some have suggested the previously unthinkable: that first class cricket in India will cease to be played.

Does any of this matter? Millions are still turning out to watch cricket matches. Only dinosaurs and fuddy-duddies reject change. The point is that the new forms of instant cricket cannot supply the subtleties of the traditional, longer forms of the game: there is the world of physical, intellectual and aesthetic difference between a contest fought over four or five days in which each side bats twice and a slog-fest which is begun and ended in an evening. Inevitably, and soon, the skills required to play proper cricket will be forgotten. There is only one thing wrong with the new game: it’s not cricket. 

From cricket, I turn for a minute to the form of Anglican worship. For four hundred years this was conducted from The Book of Common Prayer (1662) and The King James Bible (1611). All Anglican churches – High, Low and Broad – used these books which were composed when the English language was at its freshest and richest: the age of Shakespeare and Donne, of Richard Hooker and Lancelot Andrewes. But then in the 1960s, bishops, synods and the like decided that the church needed to provide alternatives to these texts. First there was The New English Bible (1961) and various forms of liturgy in booklet form which pretended to be written in modern English: but it was neither the English we speak in the street nor the good modern English written by the best 20th century poets. In short, it is the verbal equivalent of Twenty20 and the IPL. The new forms of service do not contain the substance to carry the religious weight of the BCP and the KJV. And so in the Church of England, there began that process of decay and decline that was being paralleled in the game of cricket. In 1980 the Church gathered the contents of all these booklets into a single bulbous excrescence – three times as long as the BCP – called The Alternative Service Book (1980). The Church of England authorities publicised the ASB as “the greatest publishing event in four hundred years.” Twenty years later they banned it. Yes, banned it! It makes a fine headline, doesn’t it: CHURCH BANS BOOKS. Just like the Nazis. Anyhow, the ASB was replaced by something even longer called Common Worship which – like the shape-shifting monster of the horror films – comes in a great variety of forms. You can buy a copy. You can download bits of it at will. You can adapt and edit as you please – no one will mind. What passes for liturgical texts in today’s Church of England is something that would be adequately described by the title Prayers for the New Babel .

I haven’t the space here to compare the new texts with the KJV and the BCP. If anyone seeks such a comparison, it can be found in my book A Partial Vision. But I will give one example to let you have the flavour. In The Solemnisation of Matrimony, the bridegroom utters the words “With this ring I thee wed.” Six words which exactly fit the rhythm of his placing the ring on his bride’s finger. The new version has instead, “I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage.” Eleven words for six. And the sentence must have been composed by an idiot: for, if the groom has to tell his bride that the ring is a sign, it just means the sign isn’t working!

The comparison with what has happened to cricket over the same period is pretty exact. in neither cricket nor in liturgy do the new forms bear the weight, the richness and the subtlety of the traditional forms. Bad prayers and bad cricket have driven out the good.

Predictably, the churches – like the cricket grounds – have emptied.