For a little while now I’ve had a national prayer strategy group praying with me whether, in the light of these current cricket events, should I put pen to paper.
November 2000 - I stepped sideways from the Australian cricket team chaplaincy after 17 years to ‘Life After Cricket’ and initiated a retired cricketers bi-annual newsletter focusing on ‘cricket family respite’ with an editorial team of Allan Border, Greg Chappell, Kim Hughes, David Boon, NSW and Vic Cricket.
In one sense, it is now 17-18 years since I was chaplain to the team and it was Allan Border and I who nutted out the wording “cricket family respite”. There were three ‘Basil Sellers’ respite facilities for both missionaries and cricketer ‘respite’. Such is the importance of ‘cricket respite’ that Cricket Australia has taken it up with some energy in recent years.
So in another sense, I’ve been engaged with retired cricketers since 2001.
1982 - I attended the 2nd Wold Congress on Sport Mission in Hong Kong including sports chaplains from across the world. The blessing to attend was from my own Baptist Denomination and the InterChurch Trade and Industry Mission (ITIM) with whom I was serving two days a week as the ‘padre’ at Shell Australia in Sydney.
(My links with sport was with both Track & Field (long and triple jumps) and field hockey which included writing for ‘The Australian’ covering the Olympics, World Cups and Champions Trophies for 24 years. I wrote five books on hockey, the last was 1986 on Australia’s World Cup victory in England).
Upon my return from Hong Kong, reports were made to the Baptists and ITIM who adopted sport as an industry for mission. This 1982-83 period I met with Heads of Churches, as sport required a broad church, as it was a period where Australian top sport was itself becoming fully professional (that ‘intermediate’ period). I did a number of study tours to the USA and UK looking at how sport chaplaincy worked - the Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys chaplaincies were very instructive.
Australian Cricket Board
The Australian Cricket Board adopted chaplaincy in 1984 – it was post World Series Cricket and cricket too was in this ‘intermediate’ zone. I was appointed as chaplain.
A private lunch was held with the late Fred Bennett the then Chairman of the ACB with Rev Roger Reid and Rev Dr Ken Manley and myself, how the role of a chaplain might function. Fred Bennett indicated the chaplain deal direct with the ACB Chairman, not the office (too much on their plate). Fred Bennett recommended we promote the sport chaplaincy in the media (he said everyone else does).
Over those 17 years I made a point of ringing the ACB Chairman (they changed every 3-5 years) offering pastoral ministry which was well appreciated. For example, a later ACB Chairman Malcolm Gray and our sports ministry chairman Rev Peter Thomson (Timbertop) had a long association. There were numerous similar links such as Alan Crompton attending a national sports chaplaincy dinner. Denis Rogers thru his Hobart Christina connections, and more.
The cricket ministry
In those early chaplaincy years the cricketers were still working (full time careers) and I’d make a point of visiting them at their work place or in their homes where I’d meet the wife and the family. This included bereavements. At the cricket the wives and families would be housed in a specific section. I’d ensure to pop on over and show my face. Those links were on-going.
My late father-in-law who was visiting, answered my home phone, (mobiles were not the thing back then), it was the captain of the Australian team. He nearly fell over. We had our chin wag and next day at the training in the SCG nets we didn’t even converse – that was the nature of the ministry. In my entire 17 years there were only 3 team captains. This gave my ministry stability. My stammer made no difference.
Delma my wife and I discussed ‘time away from home’ and we agreed on four trips each summer season with the team. I’d let the ACB Chairman know those dates, everything would be arranged, they knew I’d be turning up. Multiply 4 visits with the team each summer over 17 years …. ministry happens. I’d be with the team the two days pre-match and the first day’s play - the dressing room was their business end, rather, on game days I’d visit the cricket media (mostly former players), the umpires, the officials and cricket guests - even the corporate boxes (made very welcome).
My last tour as team chaplain was in March 2000 to New Zealand where I had my own accommodation and travel, and like on other overseas tours and throughout Australia, I had pre-arranged speaking engagements to high schools, universities, youth groups. We saw many young people become followers of Jesus.
One lady stopped Delma and I at the WA Bible Society, we were having a meeting upstairs. She said, her three boys listened intently to my preaching on the previous Sunday, as it is not every Sunday the chaplain to the Australian cricket team preaches in your church. She said her boys thought about Salvation for three days and then all confirmed they had become followers of Jesus. This was not unusual. The platform was phenomenal, (especially as I stammered).
17 years is a long time to be travelling. We had four children. Some of the senior fellows suggested, that as I knew all the secrets and I stammered (therefore could not tell anyone) move sideways to ‘Life After Cricket’. The then Victorian team chaplain Rev Barry Sutton and I met with the ACA’s Tim May to discuss this - having already met with the ACB.
I maintained a totally separate role to cricket, the chaplain by necessity needed to be free from any entanglements or sport politics. In sport and religion, where any three people meet, you have ‘extreme politics’. I needed to be out of that mix.
I saw changes coming as more money came into the sport – and that is ‘a good’ – cricket at that level can only thrive with funding – television was the vehicle for this and I for one enjoyed watching cricket on television. Make no mistake, the IPL, the Big Bash and the like is about ensuring the future of cricket and the cricketers. When the IPL was established the cricketers became a massive marketable commodity and ‘everyone’ knew it. I may stammer, but I wasn’t blind.
In 2005 the Australians were in England playing for the Ashes and were trounced. We were in Birmingham at the 2005 Baptist World Congress, two of our children took a bus tour through Europe and left only 20 minutes before the terrorist bomb went off outside their hotel. It took some 11 hours to make contact with them in Belgium, they were safe. We had a sense of the team’s situation.
That summer back in Australia I made contact with cricket knowing we had been in England, I was invited to the training in Brisbane prior to the First Test as the goal was to regain the Ashes. A few years later I sent a letter on behalf of ‘Life After Cricket’ to Cricket Australia after a similar incident in South Africa suggesting a cricket chaplain might be helpful (there were 5 State cricket chaplains).
In 2000 – I established Well-Being Australia. I maintained the bi-annual cricketers newsletter. For some years from 2006-2012 - I provided respite for the six SE Qld AIS Units - Softball, Squash, Diving, Canoe, Cricket (men’s and women’s). This meant visiting all six Sport Units, maybe twice / three times a year – we had been in Moruya for 14 years at the AIS athlete retreat (Basil Sellers House) and replicated that in Tweed Heads at the Surfing High Performance Centre (we relocated re – a remaining elderly parent).
This was AIS ministry (not cricket ministry). The SE Qld AIS Diving Unit utilised the Tweed regularly and AIS Cricket Head Coach Greg Chappell did an interview on cricket respite.
I recall Ted Dexter coach of the MCC at the SCG training, who told me but for pastoral issues, three of his top cricketers were unable to tour. He understood the nature of pastoral issues, and from that conversation and follow up correspondence, on return, he appointed an MCC chaplain. Australian coach John Buchannan, due to his professional background with education, gave pastoral care a very high value (in my view, whether there was a chaplain or not).
In relation to the current cricket situation - the biblical notation - the “love of money is the root of all evil”. No party escapes this. How this is negotiated and handled - people skills are paramount. As an aside, Ron Ross speaks of this in principle in his article on my ministry. My stutter has not been half helpful!
I travelled the nation negotiating chaplaincies in all the major sports including the AIS and State Cricket. In my view cricket chaplaincy, ie each State cricket chaplaincy takes a different form as the chaplains’ themselves are different. They have proven over all these years to be of much value to the cricketers and those in cricket. The current national coach Justin Langer at a recent sports chaplaincy dinner in Melbourne spoke of the ministry he has received from his WA cricket chaplain.
Delma and I have lived by “faith finance” for 41 years without wage or salary but have been financially supported in our ministries by a small network of faithful mission givers. To this end, it is to philanthropist Mr Basil Sellers AM, a friend of cricket, who ensured our cricket ministry travel financial needs were met, along with the AIS Respite ‘Basil Sellers House’ in Moruya, ‘Basil Sellers’ Art Centres / Art Prizes, and the Basil Sellers Missionary and Cricketers Laguna Quays Respite cottage. The Lord sent such a man as this.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html