Episode 24: Talking with Historian and Author, Dr Prashant Kidambi

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.

In 1911 the first cricket team to represent all of India made a long tour of all parts of the United Kingdom. Professor Prashant Kidambi wrote a book about it, Cricket Country, which won the Lord Aberdare Prize awarded by the British Society of Sports History and was the first sporting work to be shortlisted for the Wolfson Prize for history. Cricket Country not only describes the events on the field but also the long and complex preparations for the tour, and its role in the history of India and the British Empire. As the guest of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller in their latest cricket-themed podcast, Prashant Kidambi vividly describes the challenges of capturing the big themes of the book and of writing sports history itself.


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He sets out the way in which the Indian middle class in Parsi, Hindu and Muslim communities took over the development of the game from the British and adapted cricket into Indian culture. 3 minutes et seq The British had an ambivalent attitude to Indians playing cricket – disparaging the early teams, then welcoming them as pupils and gracious losers, but shocked and resentful when Indian teams started winning in front of their enthusiastic spectators. 10-13 minutes The British made many excuses for their defeats – including an excess of champagne at the lunch interval. 19-21 minutes

He shows why it took such a long time to overcome communal differences and select a team, and how the tour had an underlying political motive of demonstrating Indians’ loyalty to the British Empire at a time of growing tensions. Although generally unsuccessful on the field, the tour gave a lasting legacy to Indian cricket. 39-44 minutes

The tour was held in the shadow of Ranjitsinhji, who refused the offer of the captaincy. The tourists were not in his class and their initial performances disappointed the press and the public. Prashant Kidambi analyses Ranjitsinhji’s difficult task of managing a series of conflicting roles – international superstar, English cricketer (although regularly described as benefit unfairly from “Oriental magic”) and maintaining his claim to the Indian princely state of Nawanagar. 23-29 minutes

The hero of the tour was Palwankar Baloo, the first great Indian bowler, judged on the tour to be the equal of Sydney Barnes. Prashant Kidambi describes the struggle he faced in showing his talent, as a member of an ‘Untouchable’ Hindu caste, facing regular episodes of fierce discrimination. Baloo had a later political career as a respected campaigner for the Dalits. 30-37 minutes

Drawing on his recent Derek Birley lecture, Prashant Kidambi sets out how he reconciled the three simultaneous tasks which he sees as required of any sporting historian: setting out the social, economic and if necessary, political context of sporting events; describing the sporting action (sometimes all but forgotten by modern historians) and the purely sporting developments that shape the story; and establishing the time frame of the story. He illustrates this with the example of Shane Warne’s Ball of the century: an episode in English-Australian history, a great cricketing moment condensing years of cricket history, and one of the events of 1993. 47-54 minutes

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 is produced by Bridget Osborne and James Willcocks at The Chiswick Calendar.