Episode 20: Talking with Former First-Class Pakistani Cricketer Qamar Ahmed

Cricket authors (and obsessives) Peter Oborne and Richard Heller have launched a new podcast to help deprived listeners endure a world without cricket. They chat regularly about cricket topics – hoping to keep a good line and length but with occasional wides into other subjects.

Qamar Ahmed is a legend in global cricket. He reported 450 Test matches – about one in six of all those ever played since 1877 – and 738 one-day internationals, including nine of the twelve World Cups. He is respected throughout the cricket world for his authority and integrity. He recently published his memoir Far More Than A Game. He is the guest of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller on their cricket-themed podcast.

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As a boy, Qamar Ahmed experienced the sudden and traumatic end of an idyllic childhood in Bihar, in pre-Partition India through communal violence. Movingly he describes the heroic Hindu family who sheltered him and his family from mobs looking for Muslims to kill – and even more movingly, re-visiting them in Bihar some thirty years later.

Relocated in Pakistan, Qamar Ahmed became a cricketer. He shares vivid memories of the vanished world of first-class cricket there in the 1950s, playing for ten rupees a day (about 50p or ten shillings). He played against the great Mohammed brothers (including a thirteen-year-old Mushtaq), faced the party-loving spin bowling genius Prince Aslam, and had to endure on début a complete duffer in his first-class team – because he had selected himself as Secretary of the local association. He describes his relationship with the great early Pakistan coach, Master Aziz – and years later, his son Salim Durrani, who became a star in Indian cricket and (briefly) movies.

As a journalist, Qamar Ahmed had meetings with many famous people in and out of cricket. He gives a close-up account of four of them: Kerry Packer, Sir Don Bradman (introduced to him in a generous gesture by Bill “Tiger” O’Reilly) and Nelson Mandela. But there was one person he refused to meet: General Zia ul-Haq, then ruler of Pakistan. Qamar Ahmed explains why.

He reflects on the current state of Pakistan cricket, laments the general decline in the quality of Test cricket (after 450 samples) and expresses his fears for its future, especially if a “two-tier” system of Test-playing countries takes hold.

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.