Episode 116: From teenage record breaker to players’ champion: James Harris of Glamorgan and the PCA

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 a record-breaking early start in county cricket for Glamorgan, James Harris is back with them after spells with Middlesex and Kent. He has also begun his second term as chair of the Professional Cricketers Association. He is the guest of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller in their latest cricket-themed podcast. In this edition Roger Alton replaces Peter as co-host.

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James has just returned from Glamorgan’s pre-season tour of Zimbabwe. He gives an upbeat account of the country and its cricket. 1-2 minutes

He looks forward to reconnecting with his colleague Marnus Labuschagne, who will be rejoining the county in advance of the Ashes series. He describes him as a great player who has kept the eagerness of a 12-year-old. 3 minutes

He gives an overview of the PCA. Its founder, Fred Rumsey of Somerset and England, had found it hard to recruit among the generally conservative cricketers of the 1960s. But this was not true today: membership for first-class cricketers was almost automatic, as they took stock of its wide range of services at a very reasonable subscription. It represented professional players in the first-class game, present and past (for life if they wanted). Present membership was 475 men and 99 women (up from 18 in just a few years). 3-4 minutes The membership included overseas players with an English professional contract and when necessary the PCA represented English players overseas. It had relationships with other countries’ players unions through the Federation of International Cricket Associations. 8-10 minutes

He had involved himself under the influence of friends and team mates at Glamorgan, and as a payback for a fulfilling professional career of 17 years (at just 32). Re-elected for a second term, he would now serve as chairman for another two years. Although demanding, the job was a rich opportunity for personal development, combining board membership of the PCA, being a trustee of its charity, and a regular place at the table on major issues with the England and Wales Cricket Board. 5-6 minutes As the voice of playing members, he saw its prime responsibilities in securing for them a fair share of all the game’s revenues, looking after their welfare and well-being, creating an environment that encouraged them to play at their best, and to prepare them for life after their playing careers. The PCA had to react rapidly to constant change in domestic and global cricket. 5-6, 10-11 minutes

James explains the complex arrangements that now determine English county finances and players’ earnings. Although some counties are better off than others, he believes that English cricket is now reasonably stable financially, helped by money from the Hundred filtering down to all levels of cricket. He sees no danger of county clubs following rugby union clubs into insolvency with unsustainable wage bills. 11-13 minutes He describes the impact of the salary collar and cap in county cricket and the range of earnings from professional county cricket. The PCA had secured its objective of £27,500 a year as a starting salary for a professional in his first year. The 18 counties were independent employers not tied to a salary scale but he thought that their best-paid players were on something over £100,000. 14-15 minutes Earnings and opportunities were not remotely comparable with those of football, and he suggested that there was no economic motive for sportspeople to choose cricket for over other sports – they do this for the appeal of the game itself. 19-21 minutes

County cricket faces the risks of an economic squeeze on talent, given that players might see the chance to make much more money for less work in global T20 competitions. But James notes that a large majority of PCA members are still playing county cricket. He emphasizes its attractions to them, especially as a showcase for them for offers outside and as a home, treatment centre, and training and technical environment superior to any short-term franchise. 16-18 minutes

He produces a striking statistic: the average professional playing career ends at 26. He describes two major strands of the PCA’s work, in helping players prepare for new careers and to cope with the emotional stress of leaving the game as a player (common to all sports) with the loss of personal identity and changes in lifestyle this entails. 26-30 minutes

He sets out the PCA’s dedicated work in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, headed by a full-time Director, the nature of its relationship with the ECB’s Independent Commission for Equality in Cricket (whose report is awaited) and its involvement in current proceedings on alleged racism in Yorkshire cricket. This had highlighted the PCA’s special difficulty in representing members in dispute with each other and the PCA was now able to offer each party separate independent legal advice. He describes the intimidating experience of giving evidence for the PCA to the Commons DCMS Select Committee inquiry on these issues. 31-39 minutes He emphasizes that the PCA is the voice of players who have already achieved professional first-class careers: it has no remit to take up wider issues of access to cricket. Speaking personally, he comments on the growing expense of the game for young players and their families and the increasing concentration of emerging players in independent schools with great cricket facilities. He is concerned with the lack of cricket on free-to-air television (and other sports) to inspire young people into entry. 39-40 minutes, 44-45 minutes

Glamorgan’s first county championship match will start next week. James comments on the cluttered season created by the shunting of other competitions to either side of the Hundred and the extra stress it puts on players. However, he sees no consensus on how to resolve it and on which kinds of cricket should prevail in a revised season: PCA members cannot agree on this within themselves. 46-48 minutes

He does not share the fear of many that the ECB aims to cut the number of first-class counties, which the PCA would oppose strongly for obvious reasons. 49-50 minutes

He says that the PCA has no desire to become formally involved in the governance of English cricket: it seeks to remain the independent voice of first-class players, helping to bring cricket’s administrators to account. 50 minutes

James tells the story of his own very early entry into cricket, shaped by luck: his cricket-free comprehensive school was next door to a fine local cricket club. He joined it with a small group of equally obsessed friends. Early recognition with the club and in age-group cricket had secured access to great coaches, including Tom Cartwright. From age 12, his life had been dominated by cricket: his A Level preparations were interrupted by travel to Sri Lanka and Malaysia with England’s under-19 squad. He sets out the circumstances that led to a successful first-class debut at 16 years old in 2007 and why this has become less likely for present-day stars of the same age. 21-25 minutes, 41-43 minutes

Finally, James gives his personal experience of one of the most astonishing cricket matches in history last summer, when Glamorgan beat Leicestershire after yielding them a first innings of 584. He watched his colleague Sam Northeast score one of cricket’s very rare quadruple centuries and his electrifying stand with Chris Cooke and a vital earlier century by Colin Ingram. At lunch on the last day Glamorgan took the key decision to declare and take a slim chance to win on a still perfect batting wicket.  James describes how this happened and the unusual setting for his celebration afterwards. 51-56 minutes

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Peter Oborne, Richard Heller & Roger Alton

Roger Alton, guest host for this episode, was formerly editor of The Observer and The Independent, and is currently the Sports Columnist for The Spectator. 

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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