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.
As England play their first Test series in Pakistan for nearly twenty years one of the country’s leading cricket historians, Najum Latif, describes their reception and celebrates the timely republication of a classic work on the start of England’s cricket relationship with the country. He is an expert tour guide to a vanished world as the guest of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller in their latest cricket-themed podcast.
Najum sets out the mood of Pakistanis and the warm welcome they have given to the England team, and a surprising number of visiting English supporters. He himself had conducted a party to the historic Lahore Gymkhana ground and the fine Museum there of which he is the curator. It staged Pakistan’s home international matches in the city in the country’s first decade. He recalls seeing the last of its Test matches, in 1959, when the previous podcast guest, Sir Wesley Hall, took a hat-trick. The first of his victims was Mushtaq Mohammad, then 15 and still the youngest-ever Test player. He mourns the lost intimacy of early Pakistani cricketers with spectators and the ease with which they could be approached for autographs.
He explains why Lahore has been missed out on the current tour – it now gets dark too early because of fog. This is a new phenomenon, which might be a product of climate change. The ongoing Rawalpindi Test was being played on a lifeless pitch: he hailed Jimmy Anderson for bowling so consistently well on it and celebrated the all-round strokeplay of Harry Brook. More than sixty years had passed since Pakistan had replaced matting wickets with turf ones (under the influence of a visiting President Eisenhower) and he thought that by now local groundstaff should have been able to prepare more sporting surfaces.
Pakistanis had been overwhelmed by Ben Stokes’s magnificent donation of his tour fee to the victims of the recent floods. Such help was still desperately needed: no fewer than 33 million people had been made homeless, more than half the population of the United Kingdom.
Najum gives the background to the book Test Status On Trial by Pakistan’s first Test captain A H Kardar, republished by his son Shahid, a distinguished economist and public servant. It is Kardar’s personal account of Pakistan’s inaugural Test series against England, which did so much to establish the country as a cricket power. The title is revealing: there was nothing inevitable about Pakistan’s admission to Test cricket and Najum traces Kardar’s role and that of other early pioneers in overcoming the legacy of Partition. He compares Kardar as a captain to Imran, both of them strongly-willed leaders on and off the field, both strongly nationalist, who had political careers after retirement as players. Like Imran, Kardar had an aura when he led out his team.
He sets out Kardar’s later career as an administrator, notably his attempt to provide an income for Pakistani cricketers as employees of banks and other enterprises, his early advocacy of third-country umpires and his efforts to overcome white colonialist dominance of international cricket, especially links with apartheid South Africa. He cites many examples of Kardar’s personal austerity and integrity in office.
He cites Kardar’s other autographical books and their importance in establishing Pakistan in cricket literature as well as cricket performance. There are plans to republish them too.
Najum shares vivid memories of Pakistan’s early tours, firstly of India and then of England. He himself knew almost all the players involved and was especially close to Pakistan’s star bowler of the time, the fast-medium Fazal Mahmood. He describes
- The low expectations set for the England tourists and the inspiration these gave to them
- Fazal Mahmood’s royal reception at Aden on the ship’s journey to England when he wore his dress uniform as a police officer on leave
- Fazal’s sight of Len Hutton on the balcony at the Oval celebrating England’s Ashes victory the previous year and his near-mystic determination to follow him there
- The cheerful amateur quality of the early tourists, playing for Pakistan for minimal fees
- The dreadfully wet English summer of 1954 which forced the abandonment of the Lord’s Test and the presentation of both teams to the Queen at Buckingham Palace, where she was impressed by Fazal’s blue eyes. He describes some other memorable Pakistani encounters with the Queen, including his own
- Pakistan’s successful sung invocation of rain to save the Test at Old Trafford
- The highlights of Pakistan’s astonishing victory at the Oval in a low-scoring game in which Fazal took twelve wickets and Wazir Mohammad scored some vital runs thanks to inspired amateur dramatics
He describes the huge following for the Oval Test in Pakistan, especially through blackboards with the latest scores in shops and cafés and communal listening to Pakistan’s great early commentators (in English) Khalid Qureshi and Jamshed Marker. In cinemas, short newsreels of the Test were more popular than the main feature.
Test Status On Trial by A H Kardar is republished by Folio Books of Lahore https://foliobooks.pk/product/test-status-on-trialthe-story-of-pakistan-cricket-teams-historic-tour-to-england-paperback/
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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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