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.
The United States is the Paradise Lost of world cricket. For about half of the lifetime of the Republic cricket was its major summer sport. Then it lost its hold to baseball and other sports and recreations. In modern times waves of immigrants from the West Indies and the Indian subcontinent have fostered many attempts at a revival. Another big effort is under way, backed by high-profile investors – but will it prove another false dawn? Giving an expert assessment is the author and journalist Peter Della Penna who has penned astute and astringent coverage of United States cricket in many media, especially Wisden Cricketers Almanac. He is the guest of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller in their latest cricket-themed podcast.
Peter explains the background to the somewhat mysterious Major League Cricket consortium behind the giant new cricket ground near Dallas, and their intention to create a stellar T20 League in the United States. The leading members are the founders of Willow TV, America’s cricket viewing platform, with a potential audience of tens of millions of cricketloving expatriates, and since sold to the Times of India. He describes cricket as an “underground” sport, which can be discovered by determined devotees in all 50 states, increasingly dominated at all levels by people of South Asian origin in succession to West Indians. The IPL has a significant influence over the aspiring professional game. 2-9 minutes
He explains how hard it is to estimate the actual number of active participants and clubs in US cricket. There is a huge gap between numbers claimed and the nationwide personal membership (fewer than 1000) of the governing body, US Cricket. 9-13 minutes
From his own personal experience, he vividly describes the factors which hold back American cricket from achieving the lofty ambitions of its new investors. Unlike other major American sports, there are no clear, nationally defined routes for children to get involved in it, play it at school or college and try to pursue it professionally. Local clubs are hard to locate, and too many, especially at youth level, are not identified by locality but by ethnic origins of the players. Many members are short-term visitors to the United States, not rooted in their temporary local teams. With the exception of historic clubs, such as Staten Island (the setting of the great novel Netherland) and those in Philadelphia, American cricket clubs generally fail to benefit from the voluntary activism which pervades American life. 14-28 minutes
Peter analyses the factors which dethroned American cricket from its pre-eminence as a summer game. Baseball gained ground in the Civil War, because it was easier to organize and play for armies on the move. But the dominant factor was the decision to exclude the United States from the Imperial Cricket Conference in 1909. This denied international status to a cricket country which had played the first-ever international match (against Canada in 1844), had received major touring sides, including visits by W G Grace, and above all, regularly sent out Philadelphian and other teams equal to any in the world, spearheaded by the legendary Bart King, one of the greatest bowlers before the Great War and of any age. 38-45 minutes
Peter powerfully challenges two persistent allegations about Americans and cricket: one, that the American sports market is sated with competing sports, and two, that Americans will never have the patience or application to appreciate long-form cricket. Americans have always been willing to embrace new sports, and still are. They have no problem following long games, such as golf tournaments, and complex tactical ones, especially American football. In his experience, many Americans fall in love with Test cricket precisely because it is long, intricate and unique. 47-49 minutes But American cricket administrators see its only hope of progress through short-form cricket. Like other leading Associate members of the ICC, it hopes to achieve Full Member status without incurring the costs faced by Ireland in creating an infrastructure for first-class and Test cricket. 50-56 minutes
Finally, Peter is sceptical about American ambitions to co-host the T20 World Cup and to include cricket in the Los Angeles Olympics in 2024. The infrastructure is lacking – and so are the viewers, live or on television, for any match except India versus Pakistan. 56-62 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.
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.
Listen to more episodes of Oborne & Heller
Previous Episode: Episode 36: The man who changed cricket for ever: Peter Hain
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