Episode 44: The Modification of Indian cricket, expertly assessed

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.

A dramatic first Test match at the giant new Narendra Modi stadium in Ahmedabad is the cue for an insightful assessment of the Prime Minister’s impact on Indian cricket by Mihir Bose, in his second innings as the guest of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller on their regular cricket-themed podcast.

The former Sports Editor of the BBC is the author of over thirty books, including Nine Waves, a comprehensive history of Indian cricket and, most recently Narendra Modi The Yogi Of Populism. He has led three cricket tours of India, which have included frequent encounters with former Indian Test players on Indian Test match grounds.

In Peter’s absence, to complete a book of international importance, Roger Alton is the replacement opening bowler.

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Mihir comments on the sudden renaming of the Narendra Modi stadium, and relates Narendra Modi’s use of cricket to his grip on Indian politics. He explains his thesis that Modi was a trailblazer for Donald Trump, in appealing to Hindu people who resented India’s political and cultural élites and convincing them that they had lost their country. Although he has no cricketing background himself, Modi understands the power of cricket in Indian consciousness, and tweets regularly about Indian performance to his 66 million followers. He relates every victory to the success of his “new India.” 3-8, 19 minutes No current or former players objected to the renaming of the stadium and Indian commentators constantly emphasized his name. He believes that cricketers have become very reluctant to challenge the government on any issue , for example, the air quality in Indian cities which is a threat to cricketers’ health (during the Ahmedabad Test match local people were actually warned  against playing sport outdoors.) Cricketers are especially anxiously to identify with Modi’s nationalism. 20-23 minutes

Discussing the brevity of the recent Test, Mihir cites the ironic tweet of the Indian coach, Ravi Shastri, that the players were glad to escape the “dry” city of Ahmedabad. He describes the stratagems used on the Indian sub-continent to defy Prohibition and allow good hosts to offer the best whisky. 23-25 minutes

He strongly endorses Mike Atherton’s suggestion that DRS has resulted in many more lbws than  before and made batsmen fearful of conventional methods of defence with bat and pad close together. He cites the great Vijay Merchant to illustrate the fundamentally different approach to playing spin in India from in England. 10-15 minutes

The Indian Test team was all Hindu, in contrast to the multi-faith teams of past eras. Mihir attributes this primarily to demographic factors and discounts any prejudice  against non-Hindu players. But he notes that big cities are no longer dominating the supply of Indian players and that far more of them, such as M S Dhoni, come from provincial towns once considered backwaters. 15-18 minutes

Mihir assesses Axar Patel’s sensational début in Test cricket as replacement for Ravi Jadeja. He cites the IPL as a training ground for his style of left-arm spin, quickish and very accurate, in contrast to the flight and guile of the previous Indian greats, Vinoo Mankad and Bishen Bedi. 25-29 minutes The IPL has also been a nursery of a new generation of Indian pace bowlers, and has dramatically improved fielding standards, and, he believes, nurtured a new mindset in Indian players. 35-38 minutes

Mihir analyses Virat Kohli’s dominance of Indian cricket and the unprecedented licence it has given him 29-34 minutes  – but suggests that there is a new post-Kohli generation emerging – India’s “tenth wave” – with intense belief in their ability to win at home or abroad. 56-58 minutes

The literary event of the year is imminent: the publication of Wisden Cricketers Almanack.  Peter and Richard invite listeners to submit their nominations for the Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year to obornehellercricket@outlook.com. They will present the results in advance of Wisden’s Please remember that players cannot appear twice in the Wisden Five, to avoid wasting a nomination!

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Previous Episode – Episode 43: Kashmir – where cricket has become a political statement

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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.

Roger Alton, guest host for this episode, was formerly editor of The Observer and The Independent, and is currently the Sports Columnist for The Spectator. He has been a cricket enthusiast since watching it at the Oxford University Parks in the 1950s and took part in the legendary Wounded Tiger tour of Pakistan.

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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