© Getty Images (representational photo)
© Getty Images (representational photo)

Cricket and the church have gone hand in hand since its early days. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the holy men were among the earliest to be really addicted to the sport.

For example, Bartholomew Wyatt and Richard Latter of Sidlesham Church bunked service to play cricket on an Easter Sunday — as early as in 1611. The practice was later adopted by schoolchildren. They were fined 12p each: playing cricket on a Sunday was, after all, unacceptable for Christians. As late as in 1930, Jack Hobbs refused to play cricket on a Sunday.

In 1622 Richard Martin Sr and Thomas West, two churchwardens of Boxgrove, were fined for playing cricket with their children on a Sunday — in the churchyard. They should perhaps have chosen the venue more wisely.

Then, in 1628, Henry Cuffin of Ruckinge, Kent actually faced a trial for playing cricket “persons of repute and fashion” (it is not clear who) immediately after service. In 1837 a group did the same during evening prayer at Midhurst, Sussex.

This was followed by a deluge of such offences, all of them at Kent — at Maidstone (1640), Coxheath (1646), Cranbrook (1652), and Eltham (1654). The sport moved ahead, but the interest of the church never wore off.

The story may or may not be apocryphal (it is a Brian Johnston anecdote anyway, so should ideally be taken with a pinch of — er, blessed salt), but is definitely worth a mention.

At some point of time (presumably around 1960, given the characters involved), the Roman Catholics challenged the Church of England to a cricket match at Lord’s. The Archbishop of Canterbury, obviously concerned, sought advice from Rev. David Sheppard, the only cricketer in history to have played Test cricket after being ordained. Sheppard would later become Bishop of Liverpool.

Sheppard had no problem with the challenge. However, he laid down one condition: as a precautionary measure, he recommended ordaining Ken Barrington as a special case so that the latter could represent the Church of England.

So Barrington was summoned. He did not have any reservation, and was immediately ordained (if the story is indeed true, Barrington might have played Test cricket after being ordained as well, but then, this was a special case — and this is a Johnners story anyway).

The Archbishop was obviously anxious on the day of the match at Lord’s. He was not there, but he was desperate for updates. At 1.30 he could not take it any longer and called Lord’s. To his surprise, Sheppard was available to talk.

The Archbishop naturally asked for the score.

“I’m sorry, your Grace,” apologised Sheppard, “but we are 49 for 9.”

This was certainly not what The Archbishop had expected. Then he remembered that the Church of England had a star batsman in their line-up.

“What happened to the Reverend Kenneth Barrington?” he asked.

“Out first ball, I’m afraid,” came the response.

The initial shock had passed. Now The Archbishop got really inquisitive: “Who is doing all the damage, then?”

And Sheppard responded: “A bowler they’ve got, called Father Trueman.”