Episode 26: Cricket’s growth in remarkable places: the man who knows

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.

James Coyne, Assistant Editor of The Cricketer magazine, has prepared each year since 2012 the section in Wisden Cricketers Almanack on Cricket Around The World. He is also the co-author of a book Evita Burned Down Our Pavilion (to be published next April) a record of an epic cricketing odyssey in Latin America. As the latest guest of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller in their cricket-themed podcast, he shares his knowledge of all the astonishing places in the world which now play cricket.


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He outlines the cricketing crime instigated by Evita Peron, and explains its background in sporting politics. Cricket and two forms of football were all introduced by the British through their commercial influence in Argentina, but whereas association and later rugby football acquired a general following, cricket remained a game for the Anglophile élite, and therefore a prime target for the Perons’ populist nationalism. Egyptian cricket had a similar trajectory (its most famous product was the future actor Omar Sharif).

He tells the story of the MCC tour of Argentina in the 1920s, managed by Plum Warner with Gubby Allen and a future Prime Minister, Alec Douglas-Home leading the attack. He tells the remarkable story of another amateur on the tour who was picked by Warner to lead the following year’s Test tour of South Africa – and the non-cricketing reason why Warner chose him.

The Round the World feature in the Almanack has covered around 150 countries or territories – many more than the 104 current members of the ICC. James explains that it tends to focus on countries in the news, countries where cricket is contributing to recovery after conflict, cricket among refugee populations – and those with a great new cricket story to be told. The feature has tracked many countries’ rise through the ranks of cricket, notably Afghanistan and latterly Thailand. He suggests reasons for the rapid progress of Thai women’s cricket, a model for the rest of the world.

In contrast are the sad decline of cricket in Morocco (where Richard was the only visiting captain to lose an international series) and the apparent disappearance of the cricket league named after “Sir Peter Oborne” in the West African state of Chad. It may have been a victim of equipment shortages, which have affected cricket in its neighbour Mali.

James analyses the problems, especially amateurish governance and factionalism, which have persistently held back cricket in the United States despite its rich history and huge potential for participation, spectatorship and financing. He describes the present ambitious plans for American cricket which try to replicate the successful business models of other American sports – and names two of America’s top business leaders who are ardent cricket supporters. He cites the hugely exciting proposal to include cricket in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games, and the obstacles it faces.

He tells fascinating stories of cricket in St Helena (population around 4500 but ahead of China in the current ICC rankings), in the Falkland Islands (often interrupted by wind or Argentina, and lost kit in Tierra del Fuego), and Antarctica (a match at the South Pole in 1959, regular fixtures at the Australian base).

He shares the moving story of cricket in desperate conditions in the Shatila refugee camp in the Lebanon, and its British pioneers led by Richard Verity and supported by a local headmaster, David Gray. It has shown the potential for cricket to offer its healing power to Syria’s huge refugee population as it has done previously to Afghans and others.

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.