Episode 41: A great historian’s love affair with cricket

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.

Ramachandra Guha is a hugely distinguished historian not just of Indian cricket but of India itself. His most recent book, A Commonwealth Of Cricket,  has a detailed descriptive sub-title “A Lifelong Love Affair with the Most Subtle and Sophisticated Game Known to Humankind.” He talks about that relationship and its high and low points as the guest of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller on their latest cricket-themed podcast.

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He shares warm memories of Indian cricket in the 1960s and 1970s, and of his early cricket mentor, his uncle Durai, who played the game with high skill after losing the effective use of his right arm. As an awestruck schoolboy he was able to chat with India’s number three Test batsman, Gundappa Vishwanath, when his uncle intercepted him riding his motorscooter. Indian players then were virtually amateurs. Vishwanath’s main income was as a bank clerk: his Test match fee was then worth about £1 ten shillings (£1.50) in contemporary English money. Without television, fans followed matches on radio and tens of thousands went to domestic Ranji trophy matches. Particularly in small centres, they had a good chance of interacting with players. 7-11 minutes

Ramachandra Guha sees no hope of restoring such intimacy between today’s highly-paid players and their fans or of removing Indian cricket from the network of commercial, media and political interests which control it. He gives an entertaining account of how politicians have exploited Indian cricketers’ success, and a pertinent comparison with the Brazilian military régime doing the same with their great footballers of the 1960s and 1970s. Even the Hindu ultra-nationalist organization, RSS (a strong influence on the Modi government) which had long campaigned against cricket as an English game changed its tune completely when India produced match-winning players, especially against Pakistan.  10, 13-16 minutes The lone exception was Gandhi, who was indifferent to Indian cricket, although Ramachandra Guha explains his huge moral influence on its development. 35-38 minutes

He gives a revealing account of his few months as an administrator of Indian cricket, under the authority of the Supreme Court. In an era of great success for Indian cricket, especially the IPL, he discovered quickly the lack of political will to fix the corruption and cronyism which had led to his appointment as a member of the interim committee. Bishen Bedi apart, he had little or no public support from great Indian cricketers present or past. He makes another pertinent comparison between Indian cricket and behaviours within FIFA and the International Olympic Committee. 17-23 minutes

He describes his journey into becoming a historian. It was influenced strongly by his cricketing ambitions: at college he could not follow his family into science because it would not have allowed him to go to net practice with the college team. He pays tribute to the major influences (Indian and overseas, especially E P Thompson) on his focus and style as a historian. He reviews briefly his two previous cricket history books Wickets In The East (1992) and A Corner Of A Foreign Field (2002). This is foolishly out of print in Britain: it is a sweeping history of Indian cricket under the themes of race, caste (through the story of the great Untouchable cricketer Palwankar Baloo and his brothers), religion and nation.  He says it would now need a fifth section called “market.” 24-33 minutes; 44-49 minutes

He has been a generous admirer of Pakistan cricket. He explains his choice of the Tendulkar Trophy for a restored bilateral India-Pakistan Test series – although he does not  expect to see it in his lifetime. 38-43 minutes

Get in contact with the podcast by emailing obornehellercricket@outlook.com, we’d love to hear from you!

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Next episode – Episode 42: Maurice Turnbull and other heroes of cricket in Wales

Previous Episode – Episode 40: Another fast scoring inninngs by Mahela Jayawardene

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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.

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