I can’t think of any other sport that not only values its traditions, but celebrates them as gleefully as cricket does. It’s almost as if the sport and its aficionados take pride in being slightly out of step with the rest of the world. Anyone who has ever tried to explain the rules of the game to a foreign friend will know that there are numerous relics from centuries past that make absolutely no sense without context.
However, cricket has also shown that it can make changes, major ones, when the need arises. This is usually in response to a particular event in the game, like the Bodyline crisis or the advent of World Series Cricket. Like a big ship, it may take a bit of time to change course, but it has always got there in the end.
It’s not the fact that it can change that is so remarkable, however; it’s the fact that cricket has gone through so many upheavals and still manages to hold on to its essential character. Many sports have become almost unrecognisable when compared to their heritage, or now require completely different skills. An Aussie Rules player from the ’70s would probably die of a heart attack five minutes into today’s fast-paced AFL.
But, even going back a century, you could take the greats of cricket’s past and give them a contract, and I’d wager that in a few weeks they would have worked out what had changed and adapted. Imagine someone like Sir Garfield Sobers playing T20—he was made for it. Bradman would score runs in any format, and I would back Jack Hobbs against any of today’s bowlers. The biggest adjustments would be to fitness regimen and diets, but the nature of the game itself hasn’t changed all that much.
What the guardians of cricket understand, and what we can take a lesson from in whatever area we are in, is that there are essential aspects of the game, and non-essentials. There are some things that if you tinkered with them it just wouldn’t be cricket any more, like changing to a plastic ball for safety’s sake. But a day-night Test match is still a Test match; it’s only the time that changes. Once you work out what the essential things are, you can go into a time of change with a lot more confidence.
Christianity is no different. We can change the way we worship, or use cutting- edge methods to spread the Gospel, but it doesn’t stop being the same faith. It’s when we start to tinker with the essentials at its core—like the Resurrection or who Christ was—that we run the risk of becoming something less, something that those in the past wouldn’t recognise.