Episode 50: The park cricketer who married the Queen

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.

Annie Chave is a cricketer and editor of County Cricket Matters, journal of the members organization of the same name which supports the county structure of English cricket. She is also part of the team at Guerrilla Cricket, which provides eclectic and independent commentary and analysis of major matches. She is the latest guest of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller in their regular cricket-themed podcast.

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They pay tribute to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the cricket-lover who died just short of his century the day before the podcast was recorded. His devotion and contribution to cricket covered an astonishing span of time. He began playing in the 1920s and watched Hammond and Bradman, and the final years of Jack Hobbs, in the 1930s. As an all-rounder and captain at Gordonstoun he played his matches on a local park pitch. It made him a brother to millions of park cricketers across the world and perhaps inspired his lifelong commitment to saving playing fields for outdoor games and creating new ones.

Prince Philip carried this cause to his first spell as President of the MCC in 1949, and encouraged the club to reach out and coach city children. He was also a progressive force when asked back for a second term in 1974, which made him also ex-officio President of the International Cricket Conference. He tacitly supported the unsuccessful effort by A H Kardar, Pakistan’s representative, to end the so-called “white veto” by England and Australia in the governance of international cricket, a reform which eventually came in 1993.

They recall many testimonies, including photographs and film, to his love of watching cricket (and fury at being asked to leave the last day of the Melbourne Centenary Test of 1977 to fulfil a routine engagement.) He loved playing it even more – enlisting Princess Elizabeth in the early days of their marriage to help him practice in the nets with cricketers in the Royal Household. He was rightly proud of dismissing Tom Graveney with his off spin in a charity game, even more so when the great batsman became known as his rabbit. Don Bradman praised his bowling, E W Swanton his batting. Particularly as permanent “twelfth man” for the Lords Taverners, he raised major sums for cricketing and other good causes.

Annie recalls Prince Philip as a strong supporter of the County Championship, instrumental in securing a cup for the winners which he would present himself each year almost to the end of his long life. She has a personal memory of meeting him among a group of girls when he and the Queen visited her home town. He told a joke which unfortunately she cannot now remember. If any listeners can remember a joke told by Prince Philip in Exeter in the late 70s or early 80s – or have any personal memories to share of him and his love of cricket – please send them to obornehellercricket@outlook.com

Annie reviews the first two days of the English county championship – remarkably high-scoring despite the enforced start in early April. There were two double-centuries, one by the revived James Vince. A devoted Somerset supporter, she notes their difficult start to the season against Middlesex, but is able to applaud yet another vital tenth-wicket stand involving Jack Leach. The opening two days also saw a century by the veteran Darren Stevens of Kent, whom she interviewed for the latest edition County Cricket Matters. She discusses the factors behind his long career.

Stevens is one of her selections for Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year, the others include two Somerset names in Babar Azam and Tom Lammondby, as well as Sophie Ecclestone and Zak Crawley. The latter is the only overlap with listeners’ selections, which featured Ravichandran Ashwin, Azhar Ali, Tammy Beaumont, Jason Holder, Kyle Jamieson, Kyle Mayers, Ajinkya Rahane and Mohammad Rizwan.

Annie explains this year’s new structure of the County Championship, an initial group stage which will sort the eighteen counties into three divisions of six, competing in a late second stage in September. The top county in Division One will be the Champions, the top two will compete over five days in September-October for the Bob Willis Trophy. She wonders how much interest there will be in matches between the twelve counties in Divisions Two and Three – and whether the late-season conditions might rob another county (like her beloved Somerset) of the Bob Willis Trophy.

She also previews a cluttered English season, with four visiting countries and no fewer than eight planned Test matches, including the World Test Final between India and New Zealand. Domestically, the current Blast T20 and Royal London 50-over tournaments will continue between the counties with the new Hundred competition, between new city and regional entities, superimposed. She manages to stay polite about the Hundred, but criticizes some of the patronising assumptions in its marketing and hopes that it will not forfeit counties the vital income and audience they derive from the T20 Blast.

In anticipation of Wisden, she picks out some notable cricket books of last year, including two she recently reviewed herself: Thomas Blow’s Kings In Waiting (Pitch Publishing) about Somerset’s recent agony in pursuit of the Championship, and Colin Babb’s 1973 And Me (Hansib PB), an evocative memoir of the West Indian visit that year, including the last great Test century by a very hungover Garry Sobers. She also discusses Ashley Gray’s The Unforgiven (Pitch Publishing), which tells the complex often tragic stories of the West Indians who went on “rebel” cricket tours of apartheid South Africa; Duncan Hamilton’s elegy for red-ball cricket One Long And Beautiful Summer (Riverrun); and Ian Ridley’s The Breath Of Sadness (Floodlit Dreams), his deeply moving account of watching a season of county cricket as solace for the death of his wife Vicky Orvice. She also caught up with Scyld Berry’s Cricket The Game Of Life (first published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2016).

She hails a new generation of authors writing about cricket in new ways and of imprints willing to publish them.

County Cricket Matters can be obtained through www.countycricketmatters.com

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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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