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.
In modest premises in a deprived part of north London, the Haringey Cricket College was a unique institution which developed a generation of talented black players into English first-class cricketers. Its disappearance was a lasting loss. Adrian Rollins was one of its alumni, an opening batter with over 7000 first-class runs for Derbyshire and Northamptonshire between 1993 and 2002. Julien Cahn was chair of its successor, the London Cricket College. They are the guests of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller in their latest cricket-themed podcast.
Adrian describes his upbringing in east London which had gravitated him towards age group and youth cricket in Essex. But opportunity there was blocked, and he was about to abandon hopes of a county career and take up a university place when he was talent-spotted by the College’s guiding spirit, former West Indian Test cricketer, Reg Scarlett, who persuaded him to train there. It was a life-changing decision: he deferred university and, like others, advanced not only as a cricketer but through a range of sporting, educational and human development activities. He describes the mentoring they received from successful graduates and other connexions of the College, including England players, Roland Butcher, Philip De Freitas and Chris Lewis.
He comments on the role of the College as a shop window for young black players and its importance in balancing English cricket’s bias in favour of mostly white privately-educated players enjoying the best facilities and coaching. He describes his local club in east London on a rough unprotected park pitch which he and his uncle had to roll themselves on match days.
Julien tells how he became involved in the College through the agency of Bertie Joel, a cricketing eccentric and patron to match his celebrated grandfather, Sir Julien Cahn. In Joel’s XI, he met Reg Scarlett, who introduced him to the London Community Cricket Association, principal funders of the College. He cites Bernie Grant, the local black MP, fiery, radical and much demonized, as the inspiration for the College and the man who brought Reg Scarlett to run it. He describes the lucky encounter in which Reg Scarlett squeezed National Lottery funding from the then Prime Minister, John Major. Through him, they also secured the use of the excellent Midland Bank ground for midweek games.
He and Adrian emphasize the role of the College in developing coaches, and the contribution they made to cricket not only in England but overseas, especially in the emerging cricket power of Namibia.
They describe the giant personality of Reg Scarlett, including some of his exploits as the boon companion of Garry Sobers. Passionate, honest and blunt-spoken but always approachable he set clear high standards on and off the field. They also cite the tremendous influence of Keith Wareing, the director of training.
Adrian describes his introduction to Derbyshire during his breakthrough year of 1992, when the College’s matches against county second teams were a tremendous showcase for his and other talent. He tells the story of facing his first ball in a one-day game for Derbyshire – from Allan Donald of Warwickshire – and mistakenly waiting for the wicketkeeper (Keith Piper, another College alumnus) to come nearer the stumps. Because of injuries he himself had to keep wicket for Derbyshire on his Championship debut – at six feet five probably the tallest in first-class history.
As a teenager, Adrian’s height made him a victim of racial stereotyping, as a series of coaches at county trials wrongly assumed that he was a fast bowler in the making rather than a batter. He eventually joined Derbyshire, a team with a diverse dressing room, but he and other College members encountered racism in the form of unfunny “banter”, deliberate sledging from some opponents and from spectators at certain grounds. Black players regularly believed that no matter how good their performances they were disfavoured in team selections. He had not been surprised by the recent revelations of Azeem Rafiq and others.
Julien sets out the factors that led to the closure of the college despite its successes. The defeat of John Major’s government in 1997, and very different cultural and sporting priorities from the incoming New Labour government, saw the halving of Lottery funding. The departure of Reg Scarlett and then his successor, Deryck Murray, to posts in the West Indies were major losses. Julien describes vividly the negligent disdain towards the College and its work from toffs in English cricket when he approached them for funding. The newly-formed England and Wales Cricket Board rejected his application for support.
Adrian recalls his intense disappointment at the closure of the College and the consequent denial of opportunity to later black cricketers. It had been unique. Without it, he believes he would never have made it into county cricket. He and Julien note the current suggestions that something like the College needs to be revived and discuss what would be needed – principally a new charismatic leader of the quality of Reg Scarlett.
Finally, Adrian describes his current work to develop cricket opportunities for young people in Derbyshire, where he is deputy head of a large state school. He has put cricket firmly into the school’s PE curriculum, but as in other state schools it is held back not only by a shortage of facilities but also of PE teachers qualified to coach it.
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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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