Episode 79: Reporting the whole world of cricket: Osman Samiuddin

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.

Osman Samiuddin is Senior Editor at Cricinfo, the largest cricket website in the world. He is also the author of The Unquiet Ones, which during the past decade was one of a trio of epochal books on Pakistan’s cricket history. He joins the authors of the other two, Peter Oborne and Richard Heller, as the guest on their latest cricket-themed podcast.

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Osman appears at the onset of the busiest, craziest month of international cricket which Cricinfo will have to report in its lifetime of over 25 years. 1-7 minutes He cites the major events of March 2022: four men’s Test series (New Zealand/South Africa; West Indies/England; Pakistan/Australia; India/Sri Lanka) – and the most followed women’s World Cup in history, for which he assesses the likeliest winners. 4-5 minutes He comments on the growing gulf between the top women’s teams and the rest, and on the startling rise of Thailand in women’s cricket. 6 minutes Although they are not in the World Cup they have thrived in T20 and through locally-born rather than expatriate talent. There will also be a dramatic white-ball series between Bangladesh and Afghanistan, and the T20 world cup qualifying competition in Oman. When all these excitements have calmed down, Cricinfo will turn to the preparations for the Indian Premier League.

Osman describes the efforts Cricinfo makes to cover cricket globally, in response to followers’ demands,  and the increasing resources it has given to associate member countries of the ICC and women’s cricket. It continues to report domestic cricket daily in every full member country. He pays tribute to the writers who cover every match in the English County Championship, which had been much neglected in mainstream media, despite the ECB’s recently-introduced Reporters Network, which has launched some excellent new cricket writers. He and Cricinfo believe that it remains impossible to understand English cricket without following the county game. 8-12 minutes

Osman describes the origins of Cricinfo as a simple chat room at the birth of the internet to allow a small network of cricket enthusiasts, especially those marooned in American provincial towns, to receive and share cricket news. It grew from there into an online business, acquired by a succession of owners, including Mick Jagger: the present and most durable is the leading American cable sports TV network ESPN. Its following is truly global, led by the Indian subcontinent and (as at its beginnings) by cricket-loving expatriates in the United States. Recent growth has been boosted by a series of apps. 12-17 minutes Cricinfo’s leading source on US cricket and its recurring development problems is the stringent Peter della Penna, a previous podcast guest. 17-20 minutes

Cricinfo’s primary focus (says Osman) is reporting factually and accurately the global game to all its followers. That demand gives it little scope for campaigning, or connecting readers around campaigns. Nonetheless, it has covered major abuses in cricket, especially 20 years of matchfixing scandals, and deep issues shaping the game. He cites Firdose Moonda’s daily coverage of the Social Justice hearings in South Africa.  He notes proudly that its comment pieces have generated complaints from almost every cricket board in the world. 21-26 minutes

It has also raised regular hackles at the ICC. But he thinks this is a much misunderstood organization. It has a long history of excellent managers whose focus on the needs of the global game has been constantly frustrated by the self-interest of the member boards. These ignored the clear-sighted report into the game’s governance a decade ago by the senior English judge Lord Woolf and the equally clear-sighted more recent warnings about the cluttered international calendar by its own CEO, Geoff Allardyce. He cites Gideon Haigh’s description of the ICC as a glorified events management company. 26-34 minutes

From Cricinfo’s information he offers a cautiously encouraging assessment of the current state of cricket in Afghanistan. On their return to power, he believes that the Taliban recognize the popularity of cricket there and its importance to the country’s relationship with the outside world. It appears to have kept the door open for women’s cricket. The ICC’s appointed mission to Afghanistan has not yet been to the country: it should hurry to give an accurate assessment of the condition of cricket there. 35-39 minutes

Osman shares highlights of his playing record for the W G Gracefully club, near Lewes in Sussex. 40-42 minutes He describes his haphazard journey into cricket writing, shaped by the generous support of Tim de Lisle and the supremo of Cricinfo, Sambit Bal. 43-47 minutes

Finally, he shares moving memories of two recently deceased and notably unlucky Pakistan cricketers: Aftab Baloch (scorer of an almost forgotten first-class 400) and Raees Mohammad, the only one of five brothers not to play Test matches and an early mentor to the younger three, Hanif, Mushtaq and Sadiq. 48-53 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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