Episode 61: “Caught Eagle bowled Eagle” and other highlights from a political cricket lover

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.

Dame Angela Eagle has been the Labour MP for Wallasey in the Wirral since 1992. When her sister Maria was elected as Labour MP for Liverpool Garston five years later they became the first twins to sit together in Parliament in modern times, and later they became the first twins to be Ministers of State in the same government. Angela held a variety of posts under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, including wide-ranging responsibilities as the first Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury. She has also been a long-serving member of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee. But most importantly, she is a lifelong cricket lover. She shares her memories of playing and watching cricket, and her wider reflections on the interplay of sport, gender and politics as the guest of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller in their latest cricket-themed podcast.

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Angela shared with the late Cheryl Gillan the distinction of being the first woman to play for Parliament’s cricket club, the Lords and Commons, in the 1990s. She recalls the match they played together, with nine men, against Roedean girls school, and the chagrin of her Labour colleague Roger Stott, immaculately turned out in the club kit, being dismissed first ball by the Roedean opening bowler. 1-2 minutes Angela also gives her account of the terrible events at the Oval surrounding the run-out of Jeffrey Archer (who has already given his version to the podcast Episode 17: Talking with Lord Jeffrey Archer) 8-9 minutes.

By then the club had been running for about 150 years and there had been over seventy years of women MPs. Angela notes that that during that time there were few women MPs to vie for selection and fewer still who had experience of cricket at school: fewer than 10 per cent of MPs were women in the Parliament of 1992 which she entered with Cheryl Gillan. 4-5 minutes

In previous Parliaments, the party whips had been very relaxed about giving their MPs lengthy time off to play cricket, but this changed in that 1992 Parliament when John Major’s Conservative government gradually lost its slender majority and faced regular knife-edge votes in opposition to the Maastricht Agreement. The consequent loss of Tory MPs (who had formed the majority among those playing) was a particular blow to the club – although Angela notes that the leading opponent of Maastricht, John Redwood, was allowed plenty of absence for cricket. 5-8 minutes She describes the unwritten conventions of the club, especially on the activities of journalists and lobbyists who played for it as guests, and the vagaries of team selection, especially, as often happened, when MPs suddenly became unavailable. She speaks of changing attitudes amongst constituents to their MPs taking time off to play cricket: once relaxed about it and even deferential, they are now often more critical and resent their MP having any leisure at all. 40-47 minutes

Angela speaks of her early childhood love of cricket, which began in Yorkshire where she was born. She became a lifelong fan of Geoff Boycott, and presents an intriguing personal view of him, contrary to his common caricature, as approachable and open-minded. 9-10 minutes

On moving to Lancashire at the age of five, Angela and Maria were taught to play cricket by their father – but denied the right to play it at primary school: the ball was thought too hard for girls and she and her sister were allowed only to score.  12 minutes She had to make her own strenuous efforts to find a team to play for outside school: her success eventually led to appearances for Lancashire Girls and an England trial match which produced the scorebook entry “caught Eagle bowled Eagle” when she took an immense skyer off her sister’s bowling. The victim was the then England girls captain. 16-18 minutes

As Raf Nicholson explained in the previous podcast the sisters’ experience  was  commonplace for girls in postwar state education and a major obstacle to the growth and social spread of cricket for girls and women. Episode 60: The hidden history of a huge success: women’s cricket in Britain

Angela still strongly resents the impact of such attitudes not only on her talent but those of other women and girls: she recalls being told by England’s victorious women’s team in the 1990s that none of them had learnt their cricket before the age of fifteen. Since then, she notes that cricket for girls in state schools has retreated still further, less because of overt gender stereotyping such as she underwent, than because of the general financial and curriculum squeeze on sport in schools and the special demands cricket makes on time, playing surfaces, equipment and technique. She calls for substantial investment in school sport to allow all children to experience a full range of sports and acquire the basic technical skills to perform them. 14-16 minutes

Angela also encountered overt sexism in her other passion, chess: she was told that girl’s brains were too small to play it properly. This did not prevent her becoming a junior England international. She discusses how chess can help cricketers develop strategic thinking and enhance their spatial awareness. Chess and cricket both produce players who can dominate their opponents. 13, 19-22, 34 minutes

Angela draws on her early experiences of discrimination to respond to the recent spate of evidence of racist attitudes in cricket and sport generally. She reaffirms her lifelong commitment, reflected in her working life before Parliament, to campaigning for equal opportunity in sport. She strongly criticizes her native Yorkshire for its long failure to enlist the players of Asian origin born in the county. 22-28 minutes

Angela was a long-time supporter of international cricket remaining on terrestrial free-to-air television. She acknowledges the difficulty for the authorities in balancing the huge revenues from selling the rights to major matches with the long-term loss of a mass audience for cricket. She assesses the impact on audience figures of the recent restoration of England’s away series in India to Channel Four. 28-31 minutes

From long experience in and out of government Angela assess the relationship of government and sport, and how far government can continue the traditional hands-off approach of leaving sports to still largely amateur administrators. She calls for a comprehensive national strategy for sport, beginning with children and schools. Since her entry into the House of Commons, sporting issues have resided with  Department for Culture, Media and Sport under various names. She assesses its effectiveness – and wrestles with remembering the name of the present Sports Minister. Does she succeed? Listen to find out. 47-53 minutes

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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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