Episode 101: Mike Coward – sixty years of great cricket writing

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.

After sixty years’ experience in all forms of media, Mike Coward has become one of the most honoured reporters and analysts of cricket in his native Australia and across the world. He is the guest of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller in their latest cricket-themed podcast.


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Mike’s classic book Cricket Beyond The Bazaar was first published in 1990. It has just been reissued in a new edition by 81AllOut Publishing. Based strongly on his first-hand experience, it is a notably fair-minded history of Australia’s cricket tours on the Indian sub-continent. It gives a striking account of both India and Pakistan and their cricket at a time of transition. 3-5 minutes

Mike describes his motivation for writing the book, to combat Australia’s ingrained assumption of superiority over Asian cricket. As a result, Australians at home had been largely indifferent to the second tied Test match in Madras in 1986, and to Australia’s World Cup victory on the subcontinent the following year. This was unjust to India and Pakistan and to the achievements of Allan Border and Bobby Simpson, Australia’s captain and manager, after a tumultuous period in Australian cricket. 5, 11 minutes

He relates his first visit to Pakistan in 1982 – and the astonishing waterpolo match which was played in place of the abandoned final one-day international. 6-9 minutes

The book opens with a detailed account of the second tied Test match, and Mike shows why it was the equal in drama and achievement to the more celebrated first one. Remarkably, Bobby Simpson was involved in both. He hails Simpson’s support for Allan Border in the early stages of his captaincy when he doubted his ability to do the job. He shares first-hand memories of Dean Jones’s peerless double century in the match (which nearly killed him) and its other great achievers, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and the eccentric Greg Matthews. With so many twists of fortune in the match, it was hard to cover in the intense heat and he recalls the horror of seeing his pearls of copy disappearing in the sweat dripping on to the treated thermal paper. 11-14 minutes

An arresting chapter in the book recalls Australia’s early tour of India in 1934-35, with frequent princely entertainments by their hosts. Mike profiles its influential organizer, Frank Tarrant, about whom he published a separate book. Tarrant has been under-valued by Australians, and Mike continues to urge the striking of a Tarrant medal for the best players on both sides in Australia-India Test series. 15-17 minutes

Mike suggests that in general Australian players were better received in India than English ones, as less identified with imperialism, but even more so because of India’s adulation of Don Bradman, for all that he never played on the Indian mainland. Allan Border inherited his mantle. 18-20 minutes

Turning to Australia’s general cricket history, Mike suggests reasons for its early establishment as the national game even before Australia came into formal existence as a Federation. He reveals a little-known fact about the crest on the “baggy green”, Australia’s iconic cricket cap. 24-27 minutes Australian cricket retains its hold on the mind of the Australian nation, in spite of the postwar waves of immigration from non-cricketing countries of Europe and Asia whose communities have had few representatives in the national team. 41-43 minutes

He emphasizes that Australian cricket draws much strength from the achievements of men and latterly women players from the countryside outside the big cities. Because of Australia’s huge distances, competitive cricket was opened up to them by its railway system. He traces some of the epic train journeys in Australia’s cricket history, the saddest being the one carrying for burial the body of the brilliant Archie Jackson after his early death. 28-34 minutes

Mike reflects on diversity issues in present-day Australian cricket. Although he thinks it less influenced by class and educational background than English, he notes the under-representation of Australia’s influx of Asian immigrants and the persistent exclusion of indigenous players. He tells the stories of Jack Marsh and Eddie Gilbert, two great indigenous fast bowlers, whose careers were unfairly cut short by the authorities. He notes that aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people were not even included in the Australian census until the late 1960s and that the last controls on them in the White Australia policy persisted into the 1970s. These communities have been encouraged by the success of Jason Gillespie and lately, Scott Boland, both of aboriginal descent,  and Cricket Australia is making great efforts to reach out to them. But it must still overcome the understandable perception among them that cricket is a game for the white oppressor. He tells the story of the first Australian cricket tour of England in 1868, by Aborigines who were expected to display boomerang-throwing and other exotic skills apart from cricket. 36-40 minutes

Mike reviews his distinguished media career and the influence of changing developments in media on Australians’ relationship with their cricket team. Among many great colleagues, he singles out the generous help he received from Richie Benaud in covering his first Test match in England. It was a difficult one for a tyro – the Lords match in 1972 when Bob Massie took sixteen English wickets in rapid succession. That series also brought him the thrill of sitting next to John Arlott and hearing some of his fund of memories. 53-55 minutes

He is glad to have survived both the Packer revolution and the T20 revolution. Both transformed permanently not only the playing techniques of cricket but also its reporting, analysis and presentation to the public. They had also opened up the game to women: the mighty Australian women’s team was now setting standards in play on the field and attitudes off the field which were setting examples to the men. 51-52 minutes

Crucially, he reveals that Australians can watch both of their high-achieving teams on free-to-air television. 52-53 minutes

Get in touch with us by emailing obornehellercricket@outlook.com, we would love to hear from you!

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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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