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

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 rich history of Welsh cricket still comes a surprise to many English people, even after Glamorgan’s hundred years in the County Championship. That is no fault of Dr Andrew Hignell, author of some 40 books about it, Glamorgan’s scorer (since 1982) and archivist, and curator of the Museum of Welsh Cricket at the county’s headquarters at Sophia Gardens, Cardiff. He is the guest of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller in their latest cricket-themed podcast.

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Andrew begins by describing the happy view from his window of the cricket ground at St Fagan’s, Cardiff, past winners of the National Village Champions, and a nursery of the first Glamorgan team to join the Minor Counties Championship in 1888. They went down to a heavy defeat against Warwickshire – but the winners were happy to stay on and play a “beer match” lubricated by the local breweries of Brain’s and Hancock’s. 2-4 minutes

He traces the first reference to cricket in Wales – in 1771 when a gentleman of Swansea wrote a letter to a local newspaper complaining about boys and young men swearing while playing cricket on a Sunday. (Cricketers swearing? Sounds very unlikely). Swansea, which had a head start on the Industrial Revolution in Wales through its copper industry, was the early cradle of cricket in Wales and the first organized club was in progress there, on the beach, as early as 1784. 4-6 minutes Early matches in South Wales were often promoted by local worthies: newspapers would give more space to the accompanying banquets than the scores. Until the mid-nineteenth century, cricket in South Wales was primarily rural: local landowners organized frequent “country house” matches. Railways and British soldiers en route to Ireland gave cricket a stimulus. In the later nineteenth century local ironmasters promoted and endowed cricket to encourage a healthier and more contented workforce. 7-13 minutes

Andrew traces the rise of the Glamorgan club, with strong connexions in English cricket and an early ambition to represent Wales within its county structure. In 1904, still a Minor county, it narrowly failed in a bid to bring Test match cricket to Cardiff, over a century before it actually happened. In 1910, backed by a buoyant South Wales economy and a strong Minor County performance, Glamorgan campaigned for first-class status. It was checked by a slump and then the Great War, but in 1921 (with a generous financial guarantee from a local patron) they secured admission to the County Championship. 14-23 minutes

Andrew describes their victory in their first match, as the adjacent band of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in Cardiff Arms Park played “Men Of Harlech”. But then the side struggled. It had a preponderance of ageing professionals from other counties (although these did include the thirsty maverick genius Frank Ryan, initially mistaken for a tramp when he asked for a trial) and portly amateurs in the slips: their best bowler, Jack Mercer, would have to call “Well stopped, sir!” as yet another routine catch plummeted from their grasp. 23-28 minutes; 51 minutes

Glamorgan were revived by two captains, John Clay and Maurice Turnbull, a brilliant and inspirational all-round sportsman. They astutely promoted the county’s Welsh identity and introduced young locally recruited players. They raised thousands of pounds for the almost bankrupt county in local personal appearances: Clay did his best work, financially, on the dance floor. 29-32 minutes Andrew tells the deeply moving story of Maurice Turnbull’s wartime death in action, attacking a German tank like a fielder lobbing the ball to the wicketkeeper, after the Normandy landings in 1944.

Andrew gives a short lesson in Welsh cricket, or rather criced, terms, pays tribute to some celebrated Welsh cricket broadcasters, and traces the intriguing relationship between John Arlott (who covered Glamorgan’s immediate postwar matches) and Dylan Thomas. 40-43 minutes He then describes the influence of another legendary captain, Wilf Wooller. Once a carefree amateur, he endured terrible experiences as a Japanese prisoner-of-war, and returned to Glamorgan as a hardened professional and a disciplinarian. He made them a superb fielding side, setting an example at short leg. They climbed the table in 1948. In the final run-in, when they were hit by injuries, Wooller made the inspired move of calling back his predecessor, John Clay, then aged fifty. He took lots of cheap wickets with his off-spin – and Andrew tells the story of Clay’s last one which gave Glamorgan their first of three championships. It was an lbw – given by a former Glamorgan player as umpire with an expression of joy. 46-57 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 43: Kashmir – where cricket has become a political statement

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

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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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