Episode 117: Sovereigns, stars, stewards, scorers, statisticians … Steven Lynch on this year’s Wisden obituaries

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.

Two monarchs lead the obituaries in the 2023 edition of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. As always, it is a melancholy but matchless memorial to global cricket’s losses, and a section to which many readers turn first. Its compiler and editor, Steven Lynch, discusses its selection and preparation as 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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Steven outlines the late sovereign’s long connexions with cricket, understandably placed above the alphabetical list (“we could not file her under Q for Queen”.) 2-3 minutes He does the same for her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria, reflecting the Almanack’s current policy of retrospective tributes to women omitted from Wisden, as she was in the 1902 edition. 49-50 minutes

The 195 following names ranged in age from a 16-year-old Indian schoolboy to a 102-year-old former umpire. Inevitably the number includes premature deaths from accident (such as Andrew Symonds and Rudi Koertzen) and suicide, but very broadly it suggests that cricket contributes to a long life. 7-9 minutes

The former cricketers are led by Shane Warne and Rodney Marsh, who died on the same day: Warne’s final tweet was a tribute to Marsh. Steven wrote Marsh’s himself: Warne’s was by his long-time collaborator Richard Hobson. Other contributors were Matthew Engel and Richard Whitehead. Steven explains the general policy of not naming obituarists, to emphasize that the tribute of whatever length is Wisden’s final judgement on the subject. The object is always, especially in those less well-known, to bring out some unexpected detail of character and career (as with the player who had fielded out the whole of Hanif Mohammed’s innings of 499 28 minutes). Steven felt that Warne’s tribute had brought home his acute cricket brain and hoped that Marsh’s would counter his early stock image as a beer-drinking larrikin to suggest the thoughtful man behind it. 10-15 minutes

Steven also comments on:

Jim Parks  of Sussex and England, first of a long line of Test batsmen-wicketkeepers, generously helped into that role by Keith Andrew; 18-20 minutes

Sonny Ramadhin, the great West Indian spin bowler, never the same after being made to bowl  98 overs against Peter May and Colin Cowdrey in 1957 with umpires who would not give him an lbw decision. He was the last survivor of the great West Indian touring team of 1950. Steven suggests that he and his partner Alf Valentine deserve a book to themselves; 21-25 minutes

the talented but troubled Andrew Symonds, who preferred fishing to off-field official events including team meetings and was embittered by the resolution of his dispute with the Indian Harbhajan Singh; 16-18 minutes

the multi-gifted Andy Goram who played cricket as well as keeping goal for Scotland and annoyed a famous fast bowler by facing him without a helmet. 4 minutes

Under the category of famous people with a cricket connexion, Steven discusses the publisher Carmen Calill,  4-5 minutes and the political analyst (and co-inventor of the General Election “swingometer” David Butler. His appetite for political statistics was fed by an exhaustive knowledge of those in Wisdens of the 1930s. 5-6 minutes He also cites a cricket-loving judge Mr Justice Slade, who found comprehensively for Tony Greig and others against England’s cricket administration during the Kerry Packer crisis, and Arnold Putsman, the lawyer who astutely advised the property developer Charles Rifkind to purchase the disused railway tunnels underneath Lord’s. 41-43 minutes

One subject this year was nicknamed the Loon, another Mad. Stephen profiles the first, David English, music industry executive, author, actor, whose Bunbury Cricket Festival showcased hundreds of talented teenage cricketers. He explains how he accidentally incorporated a cricket match into an expensive sequence in the filming of A Bridge Too Far. The second, Robin Marlar, former captain of Sussex, combined being a trenchant cricket correspondent of The Sunday Times with running his own successful head-hunting company. His ability to absent himself from England tours to go to business meetings was part of a vanished world of cricket journalism. 33-38 minutes

Steven picks out the achievements in first-class cricket of Anjan Bhattacharjee, who overcame the handicap of being a deaf-mute. 39-40 minutes The tribute to Don Beard, the Korean war veteran who became medical advisor to the Australian Cricket Board, contains a remarkable portrait of Don Bradman, in his seventies, facing the bowling of Jeff Thomson. 50-53 minutes

Steven explains the selection criteria for a Wisden obituary: all participants in first-class cricket and others thought to made some especially memorable contribution to cricket or have some notable connexion with it. Obituaries in conventional media are regular sources, as are published tributes by counties and overseas associations. These often prompt inclusion of names such as Ted Clark (Pavilion steward at Lord’s), Walter Clarke (scorer, scoreboard operator, steward at Worcestershire) and David Goodacre of Leicestershire, scoreboard operator and emergency umpire). Wisden usually has the advantage of a long lead time  before going to print in which to research careers and discover the unexpected. 26-28 minutes, 46-48 minutes

Steven pays a personal tribute to a former colleague Travis Basevi, who sadly died of cancer at 47. An avid cricket fan, Travis was a self-taught computer programmer who revolutionized the collection, management and interrogation of cricket data. His achievements make him, arguably, the biggest influence on global cricket of all those whose passing is recorded in this year’s Wisden. 29-32 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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