Episode 71: The great commentator Fazeer Mohammed brings up to date the stories of BlackLivesMatter and West Indian 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.

By popular demand … the brilliant West Indian cricket commentator Fazeer Mohammed returns as a guest of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller in their latest cricket-themed podcast. Speaking from Sri Lanka, where he is commenting on the current West Indies tour, with his customary ebullience, eloquence and erudition he reviews a turbulent period for English and West Indian cricket.

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He begins with an update on the BlackLivesMatter agenda in the West Indies. He reveals the contrasting fate of two contentious statues, of Nelson and Colombus, which were legacies of colonialism. Nelson’s has disappeared from Barbados – as will the monarchy in a matter of days when the country becomes a republic. However, in Trinidad and Tobago the political Establishment and lingering admirers of colonialism have so far preserved Columbus’s. 2-6 minutes He describes the West Indian response to the turmoil over discrimination and racism in English cricket: it had come as no surprise to West Indian players and cricket lovers from their experiences of the cricket environment in England over generations. He sets out the memories of past players not only of direct racism but also of being made to know their place, and their pain at the economic and social conditions endured in England by West Indians generally. 6-8, 14-15 minutes

Fazeer analyses the impact of Michael Holding’s emotional televised statement last year. For all its power, he suggests that it has not eradicated deep-seated attitudes in English cricket. He cites the ECB’s sudden cancellation of England’s short Pakistan tour as evidence of their determination to carry on with their old values and continue to behave as a member of a cricketing Big Three with Australia and India. He suggests that the evidence emerging from Azeem Rafiq’s case, not only about Yorkshire, shows that disparaging people of colour had become normal in English cricket culture. Similar insulting language about minorities had also been normal in West Indies cricket. Individuals in cricket everywhere must take personal responsibility for the impact of their words and behaviours towards people from a different group. 8-13 minutes

For English cricket now, the prime condition to achieve transformation is the plain admission that bad things were said and done to players of colour and that they were wrong and without excuse. 15-16 minutes

Turning to West Indies cricket, Fazeer cites the devastating and continuing effect of the pandemic on the first-class programme and the club cricket which is a nursery of young talent and inculcates the skills needed for long-form cricket. He reviews West Indies’ recent Test performances – after an encouraging series win in Bangladesh they were demolished at home by South Africa. 17-20 minutes He analyses the factors behind the decline of West Indian batting: complacency, acceptance of poor standards at all levels, low, slow pitches and team selections, notably in the recent T20 World Cup, that have rewarded reputation and popularity rather than current ability and potential. He notes historically that club cricket in Barbados was strong enough to propel a teenaged Garry Sobers into his Test début after just one first-class match. In modern times, for economic reasons, the best players have largely abandoned domestic West Indian cricket. 21-26 minutes

He fears that West Indies are “lurching into irrelevance” as a Test nation. They are not helped by the fad for two-Test series. The one in Sri Lanka will be their fifth of these in a calendar year. 26-27 minutes

He welcomes the recent announcement that West Indies will co-host the next T20 World Cup with the United States, but is sceptical about the idea that American cricket could revive West Indian. American cricket is dominated by people originating in the Indian subcontinent, and it is not likely to arrest the growing exodus of Afro-Caribbean people from cricket in favour of football and other sports. 30-32 minutes

Fazeer picks up the point made by another recent guest, the historian David Woodhouse, that ball-by-ball cricket commentary reached the West Indies twenty years ahead of England. He notes its influence in developing a shared experience and an identity for West Indian cricket. However, commentary has sometimes been a source of division, with some commentators actually barred from some West Indian nations for their supposed unfairness to their players and pitches. 32-34 minutes

He attacks the insularity and local rivalries  and short-term populism that have persistently bedevilled West Indian cricket, especially the fitful attempts by some islands to break away from it. 35-41 minutes

On the brighter side, he hails improved performances by West Indies women (despite some prejudiced administrators) – and concludes with a calypso from a golden age. 41-44 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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