Having toured Rome last year to strengthen Anglican/Catholic relations, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s cricket team has had a focus on interfaith relations in 2018. On July 6th a combined xi made up of Anglicans and Catholic cricketers faced a multi faith team at Lord’s with cricketers from of Sikh, Jewish and Muslim faiths. At the end of August, the team were part of a two day interfaith festival playing against a Jewish, Skih and Afghan refugee team in North London.
A tournament was devised of lots of different 20twenty games. Unfortunately the Sikh team were unable to get a team together, so on the first day the Archbishop’s xi played two games against Maccabi Vale xi – a Jewish team in North London. The games were hard fought with Maccabi winning the first game batting first, hitting 141-4. We fell just short reaching 134- 3. However, in the second game, a century from the late arriving Sam Rylands, an ordinand at Trinity, Bristol, meant we reached 175-5. Maccabi could only muster 130-7. On a personal note, I bowled the last over and almost got a hat trick, taking two wickets and a run out off the last three balls of the game.
A highlight of the day, came during an evening of interfaith dialogue, fueled generously by Maccabi Vale. The Revd Chris Kennedy (ABC XI captain) hosted a discussion that involved Rabbi Nicki Liss (Highgate Synagogue), Esmond Rosen (Barnet Interfaith forum), the Revd Laurence Hillel (London Inter Faith Centre), and David Hampshire (Inter Faith Network UK).
Revd Kennedy asked, how can we truly love one another whilst acknowledging and cherishing our differences? Many answers were given, but Mr Hampshire argued that sport provided the perfect opportunity for camaraderie and friendship, uniting people with differences through a common passion. Mr Rosen concluded by arguing that, as all religions share a goal of peace, joint action to bless the whole community was the best way to promote interfaith understanding.
On the second day we were immensely privileged to play against a team made of Afghan refugees. This is a team that was set up by the refugee council and is based in Croydon, South London. The team is made up of boys aged 14-18 who clearly had a huge passion for cricket. The boys lived with foster families and spent their days in school before meeting every afternoon for training and practice. Their enthusiasm was inspirational. When we mentioned Rashid Khan – a young Afghan spinner who has burst onto the international cricket scene – you could see that he was their complete inspiration. They were also very good at cricket. When they batted, they played with reckless abandon, running like whippets between the wickets. They bowled with pace and control. I was umpiring for the first over of our innings – their opening bowler delivered one of the best balls I have seen live – swinging into the batsman, pitching on middle stump before curving away to hit the top of off stump. The batsman just stood there perplexed! It was a wonderful game of cricket – the refugee team hit 144-6, beating us by 7 runs as we dragged our way to 137-4.
This was a game of cricket you really didn’t mind losing. We gave the boys a lift back to the station after the game and were able to hear some of the moving stories of their lives. The refugee cricket project-leader, Antonia Cohen, explained: “Cricket has provided a significant number of our individuals with many benefits and opportunities. The warmth and respect with which they are often welcomed on the cricket pitch, where they are seen as players rather than refugees, means an enormous amount to them. At the same time, playing cricket has provided an almost unique opportunity to introduce them to the diversity of the UK and its communities.”
As a team we have endeavored to raise £2000 to support the project by buying equipment for them to use. All Saints have given a donation but if you would like to support the cause personally you can donate here: https://mydonate.bt.com/teams/abcxi
The festival having finished, our tour ended on a very different note. The first captain of the Archbishop’s xi is now the chaplain at Eton College. On the final day we were invited to Morning Prayer in the chapel and dinner in the evening. In the day we were given a tour around St George’s chapel at Windsor before playing the Royal Household xi in the grounds of Windsor castle. A fantastic setting – although I was disappointed with tea, I did expect some smoked salmon. A cracking game of cricket ensued with us needing 3 runs off the final ball. Unfortunately, we could only hit a single and so lost by 1 run.
Like last year, under the guise of playing cricket, it was a wonderful opportunity to forge friendships with different people from lots of different backgrounds. It was most moving in seeing the faith of my team mates as well as those we were playing against. Sport has the ability to be a great equalizer, on the pitch you are all players unified in your desire to play. It is through this lens that sport and indeed cricket becomes a powerful tool for creating conversations and relationships that may not have happened otherwise.