KEEPING LORD'S WORLD CLASS
Founded in 1787, Marylebone Cricket Club is the most active and famous cricket club in the world and owner of Lord's Cricket Ground - the Home of Cricket.
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Thank you, Mr President, for your very kind words of welcome and introduction. Chairperson, ladies and gentlemen, cricket lovers all.
I sent a copy of my intended address and – can you believe it? – they said, no, it’s too short. Can you imagine a preacher missing out on this opportunity, standing on a rostrum and with a captive audience? Well, you are in trouble. So I have a few additions to fill out my original address.
Thank you so very much for the honour you have done me by inviting me to give this year’s Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey lecture and thank you to the family for not opposing it, I think; I hope not.
I am something of a snob, you know, nonchalantly dropping names, like "The other day when I was in the Oval Office." I don’t know whether you remember the story of someone who was quite an inveterate name dropper. One day his friend got a little narked and said "John, why you are so fond of name dropping?" and John replies "Oh, that’s strange. Yesterday when I was in Buckingham Palace the Queen asked me the same question."
I am very greatly privileged to be here, 45 years after I first came to Lord's with Martin Kenyon, the English friend who introduced our family to so much of British life. I remember when I first came to England in 1962 he took me to his club, The Travellers, and I hadn’t eaten this kind of game fowl where you had to keep spitting shotgun pellets out. But I do have a confession. I was ever so slightly miffed to see your lecturer described in some report as the first Cowdrey lecturer to be drawn from outside the circle of international cricket. As the President has already indicated, you can put this down to the influence of the BBC’s John Arlott on a 15-year-old schoolboy in 1947. I was living in the community of Sofiatown to the west of Johannesburg, where Father Trevor Huddleston and his celebrated brother monks from Yorkshire ministered. When I was diagnosed with tuberculosis, the fathers found me a hospital bed at Rietfontein, a hospital on the eastern outskirts of Johannesburg, to which I was confined for 21 months. It was a long way from my home, public transport was not very good and my family couldn’t visit me very often, but a fellow patient, a teacher, introduced me to the cricket commentary on the radio for the first time. So John Arlott, with his distinctive voice and inimitable word pictures, drew me into the circle of international cricket 60 years ago.
As a fan, I feel doubly privileged to have been asked to give a lecture named for Colin Cowdrey. When Martin Kenyon first brought me to sit in the Warner Stand it was for the fourth day’s play of the second test of the West Indies’ 1963 tour. At the time I was a theology student at King’s College in the Strand, and that day I believe I was actually supposed to have gone to see the Dean of the College about my finances, something over which I was constantly getting into trouble. I can’t claim to have remembered this – my memory is awful – but someone who was researching my life a few years ago found that I was at Lord’s on the day that Wes Hall, he who used to strike fear into the hearts of batsmen everywhere when bowling in tandem with, I think, Charlie Griffith, broke Colin Cowdrey’s left arm with one of his first balls. Colin Cowdrey retired hurt, but become the stuff of legend when later in the day he returned to the wicket, prepared if necessary to bat despite having a broken arm. Perhaps I didn’t remember this because he didn’t broadcast it. I think it would have been in keeping with who he was, but it seems that, unwittingly, I experienced that day the sight of Colin Cowdrey epitomising the Spirit of Cricket.
In that series – here is another confession – I have to admit I that I supported the West Indies against England, and what a year it was, in which black cricketers and the fans, who had preceded them here, showed you somewhat stiff upper-lipped English men and women how much fun it is to celebrate cricket and to celebrate it exuberantly. I recall sitting and seeing maybe Ted Dexter execute an exquisite cover drive, and the gentlemen around just nodded and said "Well played, well played" rather sedately, not quite the kind of thing you see now when Panesar does something extraordinary in the field: the outbursts are fantastic. I suppose there must be some who are turning in their grave thinking about the extraordinary change that has come over the face of cricket.
But in 1966 I changed my allegiance to England, and that was when Basil D’Oliveira, denied the chance to represent our country because of the colour of his skin, was first selected for England. Basil had originally been brought here by John Arlott to replace Wes Hall in the Central Lancashire league club Middleton before going on to play for Worcestershire. How we thrilled to see our compatriot stride out, also here at Lord’s, to play in the second Test against the West Indies for the nation that had adopted him.
For us South Africans perhaps England’s finest demonstration of the Spirit of Cricket in those years came ahead of the 1968-69 tour to South Africa. After initially shying at the hurdle, to borrow a metaphor from another sport, the selectors went ahead and named Basil D’Oliveira as a member of the touring team. In response, the unbending John Vorster, the South African Prime Minister, who had been interned during World War II for his Nazi sympathies, presumed to know cricket better than you did by declaring that your team was not the MCC team but the team of the anti-apartheid movement. The rest, as they usually say, is history. The tour was cancelled, as was the 1970 South African tour to England. In 1970 we were also expelled from the Olympics, and we spent 25 years in sporting isolation.
May I pay a posthumous tribute to a dear friend, David Shepherd, who was quite amazing in being willing to turn down an offer to captain the MCC because he didn’t want to go and play in South Africa; and to Peter Hain and all those who followed him, those who were fantastic people in making it quite clear to the South Africans that they were going to be pariahs as long as they continued their vicious apartheid policy.
Many of you will remember how effective the sports boycott of the 1970s and 1980s was in conveying to sport-crazy South Africans that our society had placed itself beyond the pale by continuing to organise its life on the basis of racial discrimination. Your refusal to kow-tow to racism was the sanction that hurt the supporters of apartheid the most, and for those of us who suffered the effects of discrimination nothing could have shown us more vividly the principal value enshrined in the preamble to the Spirit of Cricket, which Lord Cowdrey and Ted Dexter later helped to introduce to the laws of the game, the value of which is all the more powerful for the simplicity of its statement, and that of course is fair play. For 20 years, as the sports boycott tightened and apartheid stopped generations of South African sportsmen and women, both white and black, realising their full potential, you and others like you drummed into us what the world saw as fair play and what it saw as unfair play. I have not the slightest doubt that what you did played a major role in persuading the supporters of apartheid to change their ways and, in the negotiations that followed F.W. de Klerk’s courageous decision to release Nelson Mandela in 1990, to agree on a constitution based on the principle, also enshrined in the Spirit of Cricket, of respect for others.
It was again here at Lord’s that we acknowledged your and our joint victory when our boys returned to play yours in the first Test in 1994, the first Test between us in 29 years. True, the match did have some difficult moments. I seem to recall a captain with dirt in his pockets and an archbishop who was thought to be improperly dressed for the Pavilion. But most importantly we celebrated together; we celebrated in the spirit of cricket, even if we South Africans did so a little too exuberantly for the MCC’s regulations. You might remember our players getting into trouble by insisting on waving from their balcony our brand new South African flag, the one that represented our new identity as the rainbow nation.
There have been those who have loved the dichotomies that try to divide life into watertight compartments – religion, politics, sport – imagining fondly that they were watertight and impervious to one another. But we know differently: politics impinges on sport as much as on any other aspect of life. We know what has happened recently with the Olympic torch and its relevance to China’s policies, especially with regard to Tibet and the Dalai Lama’s pleas for autonomy for Tibet, for putting pressure on the rather unpleasant men running Myanmar – Burma – who callously have been quite unmoved as many Burmese, devastated by cyclone Nargis, are languishing without aid, when the international community has offered aid which the junta is opposing, seeking to pressure China to use its leverage with the Sudanese government and, having done so, persuading them to accept a larger peace-keeping force in Dafur and, unbelievably, China seeking to arm Mr Mugabe, who is terrorising his own people. So you are going to have to make decisions about whether to play cricket with that particular regime. The Chinese have not been unmindful about what their policies might mean, what repercussions they might have for the Beijing Olympics, and I certainly hope that world political leaders will heed our call to boycott the opening ceremony, as your Prime Minister will be doing.
We know that politics and sport have an important relationship. We indicated that the sports boycott played a crucial part in our liberation, and now sport is playing a pivotal part in helping to build South Africa up to be the rainbow nation. Monochrome national sporting teams are a thing of the past. Non-racial teams are catalytic, helping to speed up the process of nation building, iconic as they show up what we can be. Isn’t it fantastic – certainly it is for us – that Makhaya Ntini, our black fast bowler, the first South African to take 10 wickets in a Test match here at Lord’s and so to have his name inscribed on your hallowed walls, that he, a cricketer in a South Africa that is soccer mad and maybe rugby mad, for two years in succession has been voted by the public the most admired South African sportsman? That speaks volumes about changes in perspectives. It says a lot about a country which, only a few years ago, had a vicious policy that alienated race from race as a deliberate act of public policy, keeping the different races in separate ghettoes. It says that the achievement of people like Makhaya Ntini says to the previously disadvantaged, the marginalised, "Hey, man, reach for the stars. The sky is the limit." Race is a total irrelevance in determining the worth and ability of a person.
Do you recall 1995, when we won the World Rugby Cup for the first time? The All Blacks were by far the better side on the day, but we desperately needed that victory, and someone up there was clearly batting for us. It was quite unbelievable what happened when the final whistle blew. People were dancing in celebration in the black townships for a victory by a largely white, almost exclusively Afrikaner team. That victory was worth more than umpteen sermons we could have preached, more than the eloquent speeches of politicians. Sorry we had to beat the English to become world champs again, but I think you can console yourselves with the fact that we beat the current Six Nation champs last Saturday quite comprehensively.
Cricket has illustrated a central concept: when we work together, we are most likely to succeed. The best batsman or bowler can’t win on his own. He could bowl his heart out, but if he has lousy fielders, it will come to nothing. We are all at our best, our societies flourish most, when we co-operate in the spirit of what in our country we call ùbúntù, the essence of being human, when my humanity is caught up in your humanity. I wouldn’t know how to walk as a human being, I wouldn’t know how to speak as a human being, I wouldn’t know how to think as a human being, I wouldn’t know how to be human unless I learnt it all from other human beings. I need other human beings in order to be human, and we say in our part of the world, in the spirit of ùbúntù, that a person is a person through other persons, that we are made for interdependence, we are made for complementarity, for I have gifts that you don’t have and you have gifts that I don’t have. You could almost see God saying "Voilà", rubbing his hands and saying “That is precisely why I created you different, not so that you should be separated, but different to know your need for one another”. We, illustrated so splendidly by cricket, are made for togetherness, are made really for family, are made as those who have to live in a delicate network of interdependence.
All kinds of things go horribly badly wrong when we break this fundamental law of our being, when we can spend obscene amounts on what we call defence budgets, which are really budgets of death and destruction, when we know that but a small fraction of those budgets would ensure that children everywhere had enough water to drink, had enough food to eat, could afford a decent home, could have affordable health care. Children die today because they cannot afford quite inexpensive inoculations. And so cricket reminds us that we are made for togetherness. We are made as those who are going to have to turn this world and make it something that is more compassionate, more caring, more loving, more gentle, and you here are part of God’s team plan, collaborators to help God bring about a realisation of God’s dream. Could we have any higher aspiration, not only for cricket but for the whole of life as we humans experience it in community, that we live our lives in the Spirit of Cricket?