Episode 56: No longer underdogs but still undervalued… New Zealand’s world-class cricketers

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.

It is an almost unnoticed revolution in global cricket:  New Zealand’s cricketers have completed a journey from amateur whipping-boys to worldbeaters. They have secured an emphatic Test series victory over England while enjoying the luxury of six team changes to prepare for the ultimate prize of the World Test Championship. David Leggat, former chief cricket writer of the New Zealand Herald, gives unique insight into their modern success and the present state of New Zealand cricket, as a returning guest of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller on their latest cricket-themed podcast.

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David understandably celebrates his prediction on his first appearance of success for Devon Conway. He tells the story of his migration from South Africa (Somerset missed their chance to sign him), and that of other migrant players such as Neil Wagner, B J Watling and Colin De Grandhomme, and why they have found New Zealand an attractive environment to develop their talents. 1-6 minutes New Zealand has also welcomed many cricketers from the Indian sub-continent, represented by Ajaz Patel in the recent Test team. He got his chance, as David explains, after some years earning a reputation for wicket-taking in domestic cricket on pitches rarely helpful to spinners. 6-8 minutes

By contrast, New Zealand cricket has been short of Maori and Pacific Island representatives compared to its rugby teams, and latterly softball. David suggests why this has happened and what cricket administrators have done in response. 13-18 minutes

There has been no equivalent in New Zealand of the recent Ollie Robinson controversy and the UK government’s intervention, which he discusses with Peter and Richard. They note the contrast in the standards expected of England’s sporting representatives to those applied by England’s Prime Minister to himself and his party. 20-28 minutes

David assesses New Zealand’s preparations for the coming World Test Championship, and reports their understated confidence that they are as ready as they can be to secure a world title after two near misses in the World Cup. Their mental strength, he suggests, was typefied by Ross Taylor’s long grafting battle for fluency in the second Test after a run of poor form. His performance offered lessons to England’s younger players. 28-33 minutes

David assesses the potential impact of a Test Championship victory on the domestic popularity and global standing of New Zealand cricket. Both would be uplifted, but he thinks that its undramatic style will continue. He reviews the pay structure of New Zealand cricketers: their earnings are far above their predecessors’ but lower than those of most other countries’ international cricketers. 35-41 minutes

He traces the rise in support for women’s cricket since a great result against Australia in 2000: the international team has been rated in the top five for a long time and several New Zealand women as the world’s best. Cricket is second only to netball as the most popular women’s participation sport in New Zealand. Women’s cricket is strongly encouraged by the New Zealand Cricket Board, and women’s sport generally promoted as government policy. 41-43 minutes David describes governmental responsibility for sport in New Zealand: the senior minister, Grant Robertson is also Deputy Prime Minister – and the Finance Minister, a situation which British sport would envy. He describes the boyhood experience which turned Mr Robertson into a “sports tragic.”43-46 minutes

Looking over the modern history of New Zealand cricket, David traces the Test team’s evolution. For years, it tended to be one worldclass player, far above his colleagues. Then in the late 1970s it continued to produce worldclass players (he reveals an astonishing fact about Martin Crowe and Richard Hadlee) but this time with talented supporting players with confidence in their abilities. Jeff Crowe, in this period, was the first to instil in his team the belief that a good collective performance could bring them victory, rather than just save them from defeat. 8-10 minutes In modern times, Brendon McCullum encouraged his teams to press for victory until the last possible moment before settling for a draw. Although a very different character, Kane Williamson has maintained his attitude of taking risks for victory (as in the first Test against England, when he made a generous invitation which England were too pusillanimous to accept.) 10-13 minutes Both McCullum and Williamson have also demanded high standards of onfield performance, without the humourless histrionic hostility of New Zealand’s neighbour or other cricket countries. 33-35 minutes

Finally, David profiles New Zealand’s travelling supporters, the Beige Brigade, astutely promoted and marketed, proud to wear the strangely-coloured one-day retro strip. Although widely regarded as the most tasteless in cricket history, it revives memories of happy Hadlee days in the 1980s. 47-52 minutes

Get in touch with us by emailing obornehellercricket@outlook.com, we would love to hear from you!

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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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