A Sporting Life

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Now, here’s a thing – Cricket can be quite a brutal game. We tend to think that is most true when fast bowlers are hurling the ball down at 90 mph+ and batsmen are jumping out of the way or getting hit hard.  As a boy living in Nottingham I grew up with tails of the infamous ‘bodyline’ tour Australia in 1932-33 when two Nottinghamshire fast bowlers (”Larwood and Voce”) terrorised the Australian batsmen, neutralised their star player, Don Bradman and cause a diplomatic incident that threatened the relationship between the two countries.

But cricket can be a brutal game in other ways – teams sometimes speak of trying to incite the ‘mental disintegration;’ of the opposition i.e. undermining the confidence and mindset of the opposition batsmen to the point that they are unsure where the next run is coming from and unlikely to be at the crease very long.

Even without the efforts of the opposition some cricketers can struggle with the nature of their day-to-day existence. Over the summer they are often constantly travelling from place to place and seeing very little of home and family.  Overseas tours can also be somewhat sterile experiences, especially in pandemic ‘lockdown’ bubbles as at present.

(However, they do tend to be shorter than they were. The test matches in the ‘Bodyline’ tour started in early December and ended in early March – with warm up matches and long sea journeys either side of that!

There  is a growing concern about mental health problems in cricket – one noted voice on it being that of Graham Fowler, Accrington-born past player for Lancashire and England who suffers from clinical depression and admits to living outside in a tent as much as possible because of the effect being indoors has on him.

So, recently I read the obituary of Graham Cowdrey, a cricketer. The name may be familiar, but probably not because of Graham, or his brother Chris (both cricketers), but because of their much more famous father Colin Cowdrey who played 114 times for England as an elegant batsmen and wonderful slip-catcher.  He was also a great ‘establishment’ man and was later both knighted and ennobled for services to cricket.

On top of the shadow of his father, Graham apparently found the cricket dressing room a difficult place to be as a Christian. He was quoted as saying[1]  ‘I struggled with the conditions inherent in dressing-room life, the swearing and the pornography’. Nonetheless, impressionist Rory Bremner, a good friend, described him as ‘the funniest person I know’

Things went badly for Graham later in life. He suffered from depression, his marriage broke up, and a business venture did not do well. he had nowhere to live for a while and did bits and pieces of jobs inside cricket and elsewhere. Reading between the lines alcohol may have become a problem for him.

What do we make of this?  I have no idea of Graham Cowdrey’s spiritual standing at the end of his life, but I hope he had retained his faith. However, like him, we all face trials and tribulations in our everyday lives, even if we don’t have a life in cricket or have fathers with a great reputation to live with.  The Bible has a lot to say about perseverance – Ephesians 6:18 is particularly helpful because it reminds us to pray for each other:

‘And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.’

Philippians 1:6 reminds us of Christ’s work coming to completion in us.

‘And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.’

[1] ‘The Times, Obituary, 16 November, 2020).