Batting for Jesus on a rough wicket

The teacher set the class the common task of designing their own respective coats of arms and matching life mottos. Our son’s motto was simple and to the point:

Cricket. Nothing more, nothing less.

Cricket always was a metaphor of life, and that includes the Christian life surely. Listening to the commentary, one learns that there are many types of wickets. Flat wickets, grassy wickets, crumbling wickets (and that’s quite apart from the dreaded and proverbial ‘sticky wicket’).

Another is the rough wicket. The kind you might get on day 3 of a test match, but never ever for T20. Spin bowlers relish it. No one wants to bat on it. But alas, that was just the kind of pitch prepared by the curators down at the ABC for last Monday’s test match under lights, otherwise known as Q&A. And a handpicked Christian side were sent in to bat. No one saw a pink ball, but it was tough out in the middle.

But as often happens at the cricket, the crowd reaction was at least as interesting and varied as anything on the ground. The reaction of fans was richly varied; everything from those who rated the batting side’s performance a raging success to the ones who felt utterly let down by a singular lack of courage and not a single boundary.

Now one can understand the disappointment, the sense of lost opportunity. But here’s a thought … Maybe the most dejected fans were the ones who hadn’t thought carefully enough about the batting conditions. Nowadays rough pitches are the norm for Christian batting in what has become a very secular game, in which we’re by and large the minnows. That’s a frustration for those who recall the glory days of Christian ascendancy in the public sphere. And it’s a bore for those who now think the real action is in T20, where every second balls is lofted into the stand.

On my take, the batting conditions for Christian engagement in public discourse today (of which Monday’s match was but a single session in a very long game) are like this: The program’s brief was to evaluate Christianity’s contribution to modern Australia. A utilitarian approach, in other words. That means the secular world’s asking the questions, and we’re answering on its terms. That’s a big determinant of what can possibly be said (what kinds of strokes can be played). I thought the panel did pretty well with the rough wicket they were batting on.

Or to put it another way — The Q&A setup is more a test match pitch with mainly spin bowling, meaning a batsman who expects to hit 4s and 6s won’t last long. 2 runs an over and maybe the occasional 3 all run is a good strategy, even if the crowd does get bored and start throwing beach balls. 

I suspect many Christian critiques of the program come from folks who’ve gotten a little too used to T20.

Sleepless on the sofa

Geez, mate. We’ve reached a pretty pass when a bloke can’t get some kip in front of the box watching the cricket, without the nippers scarpering and the cops getting involved. I reckon that’s why they invented T20. Between the hit-and-giggle gameplay and the yank-style ghetto-blasting between overs, a bloke wouldn’t get a wink.

Relativity in sport

As erstwhile founding father of the Anti-Football League, Keith Dunstan (Opinion, 29/12) is well placed to comment on some of the excesses of Australian sporting fandom. However he, like Guy Thevenet (Letters, 29/12), might do well to recognise that the true thinking behind some of the more flowery commentary on Australia’s Ashes performance is far more varied than meets the eye.

To be sure there are some Australian sports fans – too many probably, for whom life itself is worth living, or not, according to the colour of the medal or which captain finally holds aloft the trophy. The sooner they get over it, the better for us all. But many who share their vocabulary do not share their myopic passions. We join in the collective banter, the language of the herd, not because the scoreboard ultimately matters but because our sense of mutual belonging matters profoundly.

Sport is one of the great levellers of our culture. There are probably few subjects that so quickly and painlessly make friends out of strangers, regardless of estate. Ignore the language. It’s just sport.