Some 500 years after Henry VIII took away his bat in a huff after a selection dispute with Pope Clement VII, a new act of supremacy was enforced at the St Lawrence Ground in Canterbury: on September 19, the Church of England won the inaugural Twenty20 match against Vatican City by six wickets. There were no Ashes for the winners, nor sackcloth for the losers, just Christian bragging rights. A return fixture in Rome is planned. The winning runs were struck by Rob Oram, a trainee priest in Cambridge – he appeared in Wisden 1993 after taking nine for 40 for Forest School, including a hat-trick – as the Anglicans chased down a target of 107 with five balls in hand.
(In a low-scoring game, the bowling had proved economical as well as ecumenical.) Watched by two archbishops, three regular bishops and more than 40 priests (doubtless Pope Francis was keeping abreast of the score via Twitter), this oddity of a match is a worthy addition to the encyclopaedia of encounters between unusual representative teams. Here are five others:
LEGLESS v ARMLESS
Long before Prince Harry’s Invictus Games, cricket would stage charity matches on behalf of, and played by, veterans with disabilities. So popular was one game between handicapped Greenwich pensioners in 1796 that the crowd broke down the gates to get in.
In Cricket’s Strangest Matches, Andrew Ward describes a game at Old Trafford in 1863 between a team of one-legged cricketers, who could hit hard but were awkward between the wickets, and 11 one-armed players, who found fielding difficult but were more nimble.
The hero was a player called Letford, who had lost both his legs but made ten in each innings. The Manchester Daily Examiner and Times, with what these days would be thought a rather poor-taste pun, said he had “often pulled a match through when, without him, the eleven would hardly have a leg to stand on”. Letford’s efforts were almost the difference between the sides: the one-leggers won by 21 runs.
BATTLE OF THE BURNLEY BUTCHERS
On May 26, 1873, ten years before Burnley Football Club set up home on Turf Moor, the ground played host to a match between 14 married butchers and 14 single butchers – rather a lot of butchers for a town which, at the time, had a population of just over 30,000.
Fifty-two wickets fell in a day, as the married butchers won a two-innings game by 51 runs (presumably the batsmen’s favourite strokes were the slog over cow corner and the cut). This may have formed a part of selection for a local meat-industry grudge match, since two weeks later a composite Burnley Butchers team beat the Butchers of Accrington.
POLITICIANS AT PLAY
Only one first-class cricketer became Britain’s Prime Minister: Alec Douglas-Home, whose ten matches for Oxford University, Middlesex and others (147 runs at 16, and 12 wickets at 30) were almost as undistinguished as his 363 days in Downing Street. But there is a long-standing love affair between politicians and the crease.
In 2011, the Lords and Commons played their first match at Lord’s since 1939 and, in the 11 overs possible before rain ended the day, a cross-party alliance was witnessed when Ed Balls, Labour’s shadow Chancellor, kept wicket to Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury, with Matthew Hancock, a Conservative MP and former economic adviser to the Chancellor, standing at slip.
Before the Second World War, the Lords and Commons side regularly played at Test venues. In 1931, they took on the parliamentary police at The Oval. The scorecard features a Lloyd George and a Baldwin; not, sadly, the Prime Ministers but their sons: Gwilym Lloyd George, MP for Pembrokeshire, and Oliver Baldwin, who had become a Labour MP to spite his Tory father.
Lloyd George padded up again 24 years later – by which time he was best known as the Home Secretary who refused to commute the death sentence passed on Ruth Ellis – for a Politicians XI against The Stage XI in a charity match at East Grinstead.
The political side included Harold Macmillan, then Foreign Secretary; Viscount Kilmuir, the Lord Chancellor; Earl de la Warr, the Postmaster General; and Sir Walter Monckton, Minister of Labour. The actors, led by John Mills, featured Rex Harrison and Richard Attenborough. Both sides were bolstered by a few county players, including Denis Compton for the actors. Compton was bowled second ball, but given a curious reprieve.
Attenborough had gone to hospital for stitches after taking a blow on his forehead attempting a catch in the deep. After a quick make-up job, Compton was sent out again at No. 7 under the name of Denis Pastry. He made 32, but the match finished as a draw.
BRADMAN v BORIS KARLOFF
When Laurence Olivier arrived in Hollywood in 1933, he found a note waiting for him at the Chateau Marmont Hotel. “There will be net practice tomorrow at 4pm,” it read. “I trust I shall see you there.” The invitation was from Sir Aubrey Smith, a veteran character actor who had captained England in his only Test, at Port Elizabeth in March 1889, when he took seven for 61 in an eight-wicket win.
Now, he had decided to civilise California. And so Olivier joined Hollywood Cricket Club, alongside other illustrious cricketing thespians, such as Boris Karloff (whose boots he borrowed for that first net session), Errol Flynn and David Niven, who was still nicknamed “Hat-Trick”, picked up as a schoolboy after performing the feat for Stowe against Eton.
They were watched from the boundary by P. G. Wodehouse, who was in Los Angeles as a scriptwriter, and had played for the Authors against Smith’s Actors XI at Lord’s 28 years earlier. Karloff represented Hollywood CC in 1932 when they took on an Australian XI who were touring North America in what was effectively a long honeymoon for Don Bradman.
It was a strong side – with Bradman were Stan McCabe, Vic Richardson, Arthur Mailey, Alan Kippax and Chuck Fleetwood-Smith – and they beat Hollywood three times in four days.
SMOKERS v NON-SMOKERS
Empirical evidence that smoking is bad for you was provided in two matches between Smokers and Non-Smokers, one at the end of Australia’s tour of England in 1884, the other on the return tour in 1886-87; the terracotta-clad remains of a burned bail (or ball, or possibly veil) were not the only Ashes contested in those days.
In the first, at Lord’s, England’s W. G. Grace and Australia’s Alick Bannerman opened for the Non-Smokers, but the top scorer was the giant Australian George Bonnor, whose 124 almost matched his Test best. The Smokers, captained by Lord Harris, had Fred Spofforth, but lacked batting strength and lost by nine wickets, with Grace taking eight.
A return match in Melbourne in 1887 was heavily sponsored by the tobacco industry, with four companies putting up prizes. Again the teams were formed of English and Australian players. The Smokers, who had George Lohmann and Johnny Briggs in their attack, fancied their chances, but Arthur Shrewsbury made 236, and there were centuries for Billy Gunn and William Bruce as the clean-living lot made 803. One report described the Smokers as “puffed out”.