Cricket authors (and obsessives) Peter Oborne and Richard Heller launched a podcast early in 2020 to help deprived listeners endure a world without cricket. They’re no longer deprived of cricket, but still chat regularly about cricket topics with different guests each week – cricket writers, players, administrators and fans – hoping to keep a good line and length but with occasional wides into other subjects.
Mahela Jayawardene is a busy man these days: chairman of the Sri Lankan National Sports Council, head coach of the Mumbai Indians in the IPL, running a chain of successful crab restaurants with his friend Kumar Sangakkara. But characteristically, the former Sri Lankan captain scored rapidly in a few overs with Peter Oborne and Richard Heller as the latest guest in their cricket-themed podcast.
Mahela remembers his success as a schoolboy cricket star and his early rivalry with his great partner Kumar Sangakkara. He recalls the family tragedy which almost made him give up cricket at that time, and the sharp impact of Sri Lanka’s civil war on his early life. However, he also speaks of the effect of the cricket team and other sports in unifying the country, an objective he has tried to serve in charity work with Muttiah Muralitharan.
Mahela made his Test debut aged 18. He came into bat at the crisis point of 790 for four and had a long partnership with Aravinda de Silva which helped Sri Lanka to the world record cricket score of 953. He describes the challenge of hearing calls for a run from the soft-spoken Aravinda, who was a mentor to him and Kumar Sangakkara. He analyses his innings of 374 against South Africa. It is the highest Test score ever made by a right-handed batter, and broke several other records. One came as a surprise to him: the greatest distance ever run in a Test innings. He describes how he defied physical and mental exhaustion in the heat of Colombo.
He owns another record in the field. “Caught Jayawardene bowled Muralitharan” is the most frequent dismissal in cricket history. He reveals how he earned it – and his fear of dropping a catch off the grumpy wizard. He had to learn to read his doosra from slip without any warning signal. He describes the challenges of facing his bowling, in domestic cricket or net practices, and of captaining him, which he did with notable success.
Mahela’s apparently effortless technique, especially his use of hands and wrists to manœuvre the ball was established early and maintained by assiduous practice. He came to T20 after establishing himself in the top flight of batting in longer-form cricket. He says it made little difference to his methods but allowed him to bat again as he did when a schoolboy.
He reflects on his long relationship with Kumar Sangakkara, and how it strengthened both of them as players. It continues off the field in their successful chain of crab restaurants. Happily, they aim to open a branch in England.
He describes his present important advisory role as chairman of the National Sports Council, trying to reform and develop all Sri Lankan sport, especially extending opportunities to Tamils and to the north and east of the country. He analyses acutely the present state of Sri Lankan cricket and the weaknesses of its domestic structure compared to other countries. He traces the rise of Sri Lanka’s best bowler, Lasith Embuldeniya, in the recent Test series against England.
Finally, in days of research about him, it was impossible to find anyone who said a bad thing about him. Mahela graciously supplies one himself.
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Peter Oborne & Richard Heller
Peter Oborne has been the chief political commentator for the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, a maker of several documentaries and written and broadcast for many different media. He is the author of a biography of Basil D’Oliveira and of Wounded Tiger, a history of Pakistan cricket, both of which won major awards.
Richard Heller was a long-serving humorous columnist on The Mail on Sunday and more briefly, on The Times. He worked in the movie business in the United States and the UK, including a brief engagement on a motion picture called Cycle Sluts Versus The Zombie Ghouls. He is the author of two cricket-themed novels A Tale of Ten Wickets and The Network. He appeared in two Mastermind finals: in the first his special subject was the life of Sir Gary Sobers.
Oborne & Heller cricketing partnership
Jointly, he and Peter produced White On Green, celebrating the drama of Pakistan cricket, including the true story of the team which lost a first-class match by an innings and 851 runs.
Peter and Richard have played cricket with and against each other for a variety of social sides, including Parliament’s team, the Lords and Commons, and in over twenty countries including India, Pakistan, the United States, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, France, Greece, Australia, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Morocco.
The Podcast is produced by Bridget Osborne and James Willcocks at The Chiswick Calendar.
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