Cricket authors (and obsessives) Peter Oborne and Richard Heller talk with Mihir Bose, author of over 30 books and the BBC’s first sports news editor has analysed and reported global sport incisively for nearly 50 years. He has written with special authority about Indian cricket, tracing its journey from colonial dependency to superpower in his book Nine Waves. He is the guest of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller in their latest cricket-themed podcast.
He explains how the Board of Control for India (BCCI) acquired its dominance over world cricket through its commercial revenues and as gatekeeper for tours by India (which for England are now more profitable than Ashes tours by Australia). In consequence, cricket has effectively become the first world sport controlled by non-white people. However, he sees the BCCI as more focused on local rivalries and Indian political agendas than on its new responsibilities to global cricket. After scandals which provoked judicial intervention, the BCCI has a high-profile new chairman, former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly: Mihir Bose assesses his chances of achieving reform.
He sees no hope of overcoming the political obstacles set by the Modi government against restoring bilateral series between India and Pakistan, despite the warm relations between players and past officials on both sides.
He explains how the IPL has transformed the finances of Indian cricket and the location of power within it.
There was nothing inevitable about the rise of cricket as India’s major sport: soccer could easily have become more popular. Mihir Bose tells the fascinating story of how Nehru saved Indian cricket from international extinction – at just the time when India’s footballers ruled themselves out of the 1950 World Cup by insisting on playing in bare feet.
Looking further back, he traces the support Indian cricket received from its religious communities (who played tournaments in great harmony in times of great political tensions) and from generally minor princes who used cricket to bolster their claims to their thrones. The prime example was Ranjitsinhji. The first Indian global celebrity cricketer, he saw himself as totally English and did nothing for Indian cricket: Mihir Bose speculates that this was partly due to his secret love life.
Initially a victim of Indian cultural snobbery about sport in general (shared by Gandhi), cricket is now a rich subject for modern Indian novelists such as Vikram Seth and has had a long relationship with its film makers. Mihir Bose tells how a great Indian movie star actually forced an Indian captain to declare so that he could watch a few overs of Australia batting.
Mihir Bose met a young Sunil Gavaskar at school – but denies that he taught him his perfect defensive technique. However, he has mentored many other players especially as a touring captain in India. He relates the Incident outside the Chepauk Stadium in what was then still called Madras which was even more horrific than the run-out of Jeffrey Archer.
Apart from Indian cricket, Mihir Bose has done groundbreaking work on issues of race and discrimination in world sport. He describes how he will be returning to this theme in a new book Impossible Dream. Although many non-white sportspeople have lately opened up on their past experience of racism, Mihir Bose sees real encouragement in the sporting lives and status of present stars such as Raheem Stirleng and Moeen Ali (whom he assisted with his recent autobiography.)
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.
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 was produced by Bridget Osborne and James Willcocks at The Chiswick Calendar.