Episode 46: Wilf Wooller – the man at so many great moments of Welsh 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.

Welsh cricket gets off to a noisy, swearing start in Swansea on a Sunday in 1771. Local landowners, railways, the British army and industry all help the game to spread. After success as a Minor county, Glamorgan are the first Welsh team into the County Championship in 1921. They struggle but are revived by inspiring leadership from Maurice Turnbull, who meets a hero’s death in the Second World War. Under another inspiring leader, Wilf Wooller, they win their first Championship in 1948 – celebrated by the ex-Glamorgan umpire who gives them an lbw decision to clinch victory. To take the story forward is the historian and curator of the Museum of Welsh Cricket, Andrew Hignell, in a second innings as guest of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller in their latest cricket-themed podcast.

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Listen to Andrew’s previous appearance on the podcast here: Maurice Turnbull – and other heroes of cricket in Wales

With Wales striving for a rugby Grand Slam, Andrew traces the links between Glamorgan cricket and rugby, especially the conversion of a young Wilf Wooller from soccer to rugby at Rydal school. As a young man his main sport was rugby, and he played cricket primarily for social life. 1-7 minutes The Museum of Welsh Cricket has considerable rugby content, and Andrew assesses the factors which led rugby, despite the long head start of Welsh cricket, to become the dominant sport in Wales. 52-55 minutes

Andrew traces the immense influence of Wooller on postwar Welsh cricket, as captain, secretary, journalist and commentator. To the end of his life, in 1997, he would still give notes to his successors as captain about whom to bowl and where to set the field.  8-9 minutes He reads an evocative poetic tribute to Glamorgan under Wooller in their championship season: “Cricket At Swansea, Glamorgan In The Field” by John Arlott, possibly with help from his friend Dylan Thomas. 9-13 minutes Wooller had a special gift for captaining Glamorgan’s fine off-spinners, the veteran Johnny Clay, Len Muncer, and Don Shepherd, and setting close-in fielders on the leg side to catch the inevitable snicks. He could read Welsh wickets precisely, and even consulted the tide tables to assess how the pitch would behave at Swansea. 15-17 minutes

Andrew reviews the career and style of Shepherd, Glamorgan’s greatest wicket-taker, and the greatest anywhere not to play a Test match. Despite the presence of Wooller as a Test selector, he could never force his way into the England team ahead of Jim Laker, David Allen or Fred Titmus, partly through an unfair perception that he was effective only in Wales. Don Shepherd never complained, and simply bowled on and on for Glamorgan. He had the satisfaction of captaining the county to victory over the 1968 Australians at a packed St Helen’s, Swansea. 17-23 minutes

Andrew tells the amazing story of Glamorgan’s fine all-rounder Peter Walker, who had run away to sea but made his way into the side when his ship docked in Avonmouth and he decided to visit his former coaches in Cardiff. An instant trial in borrowed kit in the nets, especially performances against Wooller, earned him a contract. 24-26 minutes

Andrew profiles Ossie Wheatley, Wooller’s successor at captain, a man of many interests outside cricket, who joined the county after a successful fast bowling career at Cambridge and Warwickshire. For some years, he was part of a fine opening attack with the left-arm Jeff Jones, who sadly lost his career through an elbow injury after saving England – as number 11 bat – in a dramatic Test in the West Indies. 26-33 minutes

Andrew cites the many gifts of Tony Lewis, Wheatley’s successor, who also captained England, especially as a musician. He traces the echoes of Wooller’s career in Tony Lewis, both alumni of Christ’s College, Cambridge, and as all-round sportsmen. Wooller groomed Lewis for the captaincy when he was still an amateur schoolboy. 33-35 minutes

Yet another Wooller influence secured Glamorgan their first overseas import, the highly popular and successful Majid Khan. Wooller had played with his father, Jahangir Khan, at Cambridge and recruited Majid on the evidence of a blazing innings in 1967 for the touring Pakistanis, when he hit 13 sixes at Swansea. 35-38 minutes Wooller was also on hand as a commentator at Swansea in 1968 when Garry Sobers hit his six sixes in an over off Malcolm Nash, and he played a vital role in ensuring that a BBC television crew sent there for training actually captured the magic over. Inevitably, Wooller was at the microphone again next year when Glamorgan clinched their second championship. 39-44 minutes

Andrew tells the stories of other great imports into Glamorgan cricket, including Javed Miandad, Viv Richards (as a one-day player), Ravi Shastri, Waqar Younis and in the Noughties, Matthew Elliott and Michael Kasprowicz. 45-48 minutes The men’s and women’s Welsh Fire teams in the new Hundred competition which include Glamorgan have made successful marquee signings Johnny Bairstow, Kieron Pollard, Jhye Richardson and Meg  Lanning. He is excited by the Hundred, and hopes that the double-header matches on free-to-air television will have the same impact on young viewers and live spectators as the International Cavaliers and the early Sunday League fixtures did on him during the Sixties. 48-51 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 45: Andy Flower, inspiring cricketer – and protestor

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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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