It was late on Friday 3rd July. I was sitting at home, feet-up, tele on, reflecting on another week of working from home and another weekend ahead without any cricket to play. Just earlier that day, the Prime Minister had confirmed, live on radio, that cricket would not be returning anytime soon. Teas and changing rooms were deemed a risk, even the ball considered a “natural vector for the disease”. Then suddenly my phone vibrated. It was a message from a mate - “Cricket is back!”
It’s safe to say that the past few months haven’t been easy. The coronavirus pandemic has led to the deaths of thousands, the lockdown has brought our economy to a virtual standstill with many businesses left in a perilous position and their staff either unemployed or furloughed. Add to that the social cost of lockdown, the loneliness for those isolating alone, the loss of three months at school for millions of children, and the temporary closure of frontline services for the most vulnerable - it’s been an extremely difficult time for many.
In light of all that, the temporary suspension of recreational cricket pales in comparison. Nevertheless, for me and the hundreds of thousands of other cricketers, not being able to play the sport we love over these past couple of months has been incredibly frustrating. Day after day of blazing sunshine in May only rubbed salt into wounds. What should have been a glorious summer of cricket was vanishing before our eyes…
To keep myself sane during lockdown, I watched a lot of old cricket matches, read a book about cricket, started a podcast about cricket, even achieved glittering success as coach of Northamptonshire and then England on a popular cricket computer game! But none of those things are quite the same as playing cricket.
There are few things I enjoy more in life than playing cricket. Running into bowl, taking guard when batting, completely losing concentration in the field…I’m made for it, I love it! I really am born to play cricket.
And I’m not just born to play cricket because I was born in 20th century England into a cricket-loving family. As a Christian, I believe that God made me. He made me to enjoy His world and enjoy the body He has given me. Specifically, He made me tall and lanky and not brilliantly athletic - perfect to be a slightly-slower-than-you’d hope-for opening bowler in club cricket. I’ve been wired by God to play this sport I love and so in return I just want to play it in a way that brings honour to Him.
So when the announcement came that recreational cricket would start from the 11th July, it wasn’t just the return of another hobby. It was the return of the sport God made me to play.
But I haven’t just been excited to play cricket again. I’ve also been excited to get down to my cricket club again, to rekindle friendships, catch-up with those I haven’t seen since last September, and enjoy the ups-and-downs of being part of a sports team.
We’ve got 7 weeks of competitive cricket ahead and there will be highs-and-lows. From match-winning innings’ and 5-wicket hauls to dropped catches and ignominious batting collapses. And experiencing all of this with the same ten blokes is what club cricket, and indeed team sport, is all about.
However, what I’m most looking forward to are the conversations on the boundary and at the bar that go beyond cricket. I’m the only Christian in my team and I’d love that to change! Speaking to teammates about life, my faith and the good news of Jesus is something I’ve loved to do at school, university and now club cricket. I’ll be praying for more opportunities over this shortened season and am excited to see what the Lord will do!
Rob Stileman lives in London, attends The Vineyard Life Church in Richmond and plays for Maori Oxshott Cricket Club in Surrey.
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