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.

31 Oct

There speaks a leader of men

England have lost a Test Match to the minnows Bangladesh. This is, to say the least, disappointing.

But at the inevitable press conference, the England captain Alistair Cook said, “I fear for my players. They are hurting.”

This before a five-Test series in India who are the  best team in the world rankings

Does it come any more pathetic in this touchy-feely world of delicate (and highly-paid) sportsmen?

Can you imagine Brian Close, Ray Illingworth, Douglas Jardine or Alan Border speaking so effeminately?

Or Mike Brearley – who would have surely said: “Well, that was a setback. Let’s put it right by going out and beating the Indians!”

07 Jun

O brave new world that hath such people in it

There is nothing more heavenly than a summer day spent at a county cricket match. The only problem is that you may have to go through purgatory and halfway through hell to get there.

Yesterday I took the train from Eastbourne to Hove to watch the Sussex-Essex game. Opposite me sat three obese, shouty, fully tattooed and trashily bejewelled representatives of the underclass. I should say they sat only intermittently, for they kept getting out of their seats and running about in pursuit of their offspring, a lad aged six or seven.

To say that the boy was unruly would, I suppose, be an insult to what his minders would describe as his right do just as he bloody well liked. Or rather they would surely have said, what he f****** well liked, for the F-word was the predominant feature of their social intercourse: the carriage was, for instance, “…too f****** hot and too f****** crowded.”

The boy expressed his freewill and exercised his right to do as he f****** well pleased by running up and down and kicking passengers randomly. He had clearly been taught the merits of inclusivity and non-discrimination, for he was perfectly non-selective in those he chose to kick: old ladies, that posh-looking young woman trying to read The Guardian, other of his contemporary oiks – and me.

He even poked a nearby baby in the eye.

His minders were hugely entertained by his antics and cheered him on vigorously. The three of them and their kick-boxer offspring ate noisily, endlessly, crisps, chocolate bars other slimy, runny sweet stuff and some provender which I couldn’t identify but which smelled of sick.

Only their latitude concerning the boy’s foul conduct was not consistent. From time to time their approval would be withdrawn and, in their robust and stentorian vernacular, they would rise up – or rather waddle up sweatily – and assume the proper dignity of responsible parenthood, as in, “Cum ’ere you little f*****! Why woz you kicking that Mrs?”

Then one of the minders would smack him. The next minute another of them would say, “You’re your mam’s little prince, int yer!”

It was the boy himself I felt most sorry for. Alternately doted on and reprimanded, caught between cloying sentiment and sheer brutality, there was no possibility of his learning how to interpret human responses to his behaviour.

A little boy already facing a life totally demoralised.

Lurching from indulgence to terror and back again inside two minutes. And this pattern repeated, world without end.

What would he be like in fifteen years’ time? Like his parents, of course: his fat-legged dad, his savage, loud-mouthed mam and her chav of a sister – if it was her sister.

The whole carriage knew they weren’t underprivileged or socially-excluded or deprived – or, as we used to say, poor – for they announced several times to the whole carriage that they were going on a fortnight’s seaside holiday.

No, they weren’t poor. They were the products of our secularised educashun and welfare system.