The First XI

The twelve disciples were more than just a bunch of religious dudes; they were the world’s first competent cricket team.

Cricket Australia is infamous for innocuous selection decisions. While I humbly admit that each of the 416 Australians to have donned the baggy green must have possessed a fair degree of cricketing ability, it’s hard to deny that some have had an easier ride than others. I think of Damien Martyn and his doppelganger Marcus North, in addition to a host of no-names, ranging from Beau Casson, to Jason Krejza, to Graham Manou, to Peter George. Don’t worry if I’ve lost you; I’ve barely heard of them either.

Cricket selection has been an eclectic process, though, since the early days. I’d like to draw your attention to first century Galilee, where an assorted bunch of Jews made up the first official cricket team. Led by an inspiration coach, this line-up of ex-fisherman and tax cheats were the most potent force of the Middle East. Pitted against the most aggressive opponents (most of the team were eventually executed by the government), this tour group were the underdogs of the competition. Nevertheless, the Galilee XI must have been doing something right, because even today, they remain at the forefront of history.

The openers

1. & 2. What better way to kick off your innings than with the ‘Sons of Thunder’, brothers James and John Boanerges (also co-vice captains). Occupying the first and second spots on the team list, this duo would have threatened any local bowling attack with their fiery nature and potent power hitting. With a background in fishing, the brothers’ natural connection with nets saw them often practising their craft hours before the commencement of training. Deterring their natural talent was their slow learning ability, which could be attributed to their unschooled upbringing. On one occasion their ignorance reportedly brought their fellow teammates and coach to anger. At another time, John blasted an innocent man who was merely advertising the team name. Like the Chappell and Waugh brothers after them, the Boanerges boys also had writing ability in their blood. Notably, John’s biography of his coach – with whom he shared a close friendship – is still being read today, as are his more eccentric commentaries on the apocalypse.

The batsmen

3. Philip, renowned for his enthusiasm, was a reliable top order batsman. Earlier in his career, he wasn’t the brightest crayon in the pack; he reportedly even had trouble identifying his coach at one stage. Nonetheless he went on to become an inspirational and wise player with miraculous abilities, able to stun local crowds. Philip was also responsible for bringing the sport into Africa; a chance encounter with an Ethiopian enabled Philip to show off his newly found prowess to a fresh audience.

4. Bartholomew – otherwise known as Nathaniel – was not the most flashy of players, but would often get the job done. Shy, cynical, yet easily persuaded, ‘Barto’ was initially reluctant to join the team. Nevertheless, his friendship with Phillip enabled him to form a great top order partnership.

The all-rounders

5. Before becoming one of cricket’s leading ambassadors, Simon – also known as Peter – was selected as the team’s captain. His wholehearted obedience and respect towards his coach – who assigned him great responsibility – made him into a humble team player and the ‘rock’ of the team. Simon, however, was an inconsistent performer, something he would often admit to. His potential for high scores was compromised by his inability to score in a number of vital contests. Just before his coach’s death, Simon notoriously recorded three consecutive golden ducks, causing some to question his commitment to the team. Simon was also infamous for falling asleep during team meetings, and not understanding his coach’s instructions. The coach persistently stuck by him, though, and helped educate and challenge Simon into becoming one of the greats of the game. For example, the coach influenced Simon to alter his pre-match nets routine, which led to unexpected success.

6. Simon’s brother Andrew was a highly sought-after player. His previously association with John the Baptists’ team made him one of the first players selected to join the Galilee XI. Andrew combined well with his brother to produce one of the most formidable partnerships in the competition. His tendency to fish outside off stump, however, occasionally made him a liability. Thankfully he made up for this with quality catching skills and sharp deliveries.

The wicket-keeper

7. Thomas – also known as Didymus – was one of the more cynical members of the team. He often had trouble understanding what was going on, particularly after the death of his coach. Initially unwilling to take his cricket seriously, Thomas made few significant contributions in his early career. Noticing his very hands-on approach to life, the selectors decided that situating Thomas behind the stumps would allow him to frequently touch the ball and hence be sure that he was in fact playing professional cricket, and not merely chasing an imaginary dream.

The spinner

8. Arising from a tax collector background, Matthew was always a master of the spin. The deceptive nous he gained from the dishonest tax business, however, was put to good use when selected as the team’s specialist spinner. His tricky wrong-un could fool even the best batsmen.

The fast bowlers

9. James, son of Alphaeus, was often overshadowed by his flamboyant namesake, however nobody ever underestimated his solid contributions with the ball. Critics rarely complained about James’ consistent team efforts.

10. Thaddeus was always one of the last players selected. Not much is known about Thads, except for his wicked pace and deceptive out-swingers.

11. Likewise Simon the Zealot kept a low profile, however his fervent devotion to the team made him a valuable contributor in the field. He couldn’t really bowl or bat, but the lesser known Simon never gave up on his tireless enthusiasm to the team’s cause. He was the winner of the ‘Encouragement Award’ for three successive years.

The twelfth man

12. As the black sheep of the team, Judas Iscariot was the natural selection as twelfth man. Cunning, deceptive, and easily persuaded, Judas was a loose cannon that could not be trusted on the field. Off field, he was untrustworthy and would often steal money from the team’s finances, of which he handled regularly. After fielding offers from the opposition, Judas decided to betray his team and was responsible for the death of his coach. After committing suicide, Judas was replaced by squad member Matthias.

The coach

Jesus Christ is today remembered as the most influential cricket coach to have ever lived… and died… and then lived again. He was pivotal in educating his eclectic team, transforming them from ignorant sheep to a team of confident role models. They subsequently travelled the region to spread the game of cricket to the ends of the earth. His successful coaching strike rate was backed up by his memorable words and actions. Jesus was famous for his inspirational speeches, engaging practical demonstrations, hard-hitting metaphors, and forgiving attitude. Furthermore he presented himself as a servant to his team, doing whatever it took to get his team across the line.

With the latest India loss pushing Australia to 5th place in the international test rankings, one can’t help but ponder how much of a difference Coach Jesus could make to today’s team.

References

1., 2. James and John Boanerges – Matthew 4:8-23, Mark 3:17, Mark 9:2, Mark 9:39-41, Mark 10:35-44, Luke 9:51-56, Acts 4:13

3. Philip – John 1:43-50, John 14:8-14, Acts 8:4-8, Acts 8:26-40

4. Bartholomew / Nathaniel – John 1:43-50

5. Simon Peter – Matthew 15:15-20, Matthew 16:13-20, Matthew 16:21-28, Mark 1:14-18, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 5:1-11, Luke 7:36-50, John 18:10, John 18:15-27, John 21

6. Andrew – Matthew 4:18-20, John 1:35-40, John 12:20-21

7. Thomas – John 11:11-16, John 14:5, John 20:24-30

8. Matthew – Matthew 9:9-13

10., 11., 12. James, Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot – Matthew 10:1-4

12. Judas Iscariot – Matthew 26:14-25, John 12:1-6, Acts 1:15-26

Jesus Christ – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John