Martin Chandler |
Realising that I am fast approaching retirement age, and not fancying that idea at all, I have spent the last three years trying very hard to hang on to the good health I have been fortunate to enjoy all through my adult life. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I treat my body like a temple, but I have made a determined effort to get and stay fit so, within reason, I walk everywhere I go, and then when I get there I go out for another walk before walking home.
The problem with walking, of course, is that it is essentially boring. Which used to be a problem, but ceased to be when I discovered the myriad of podcasts that are available to keep me entertained whilst I get my daily exercise. Much of my listening pleasure is derived from listening to subjects other than cricket, but like any self-respecting cricket tragic I do listen to the occasional cricket podcast.
I have to say that I do find there is a problem with cricket podcasts generally, in part the vast number that there are, which means there are many I have not listened to even once. More important perhaps is that almost all seem to concentrate on contemporary issues. There is nothing wrong with that of course, and indeed anything that seeks to broaden the appeal of the game and attract a new audience is to be welcomed, but I’m afraid such discussions are of very limited appeal to me.
But there are three cricketing podcasts that I have discovered which I find absolutely compelling. Two are well established, and the third is a new one that to date is only four episodes old, but which shows great promise. The one feature that all three have in common is that they have a regular host(s), who interviews a variety of guests in the podcast.
So I will start with easiest, Tom Ford’s newly launched The Golden Age of Cricket. The theme is clear from the name, and accordingly unless you have an interest in the game between 1890 and 1914 this is not one for you. So far there have been four podcasts, two each on the subject of two of the giants of the era, Monty Noble and Wilfred Rhodes.
Ford’s guest for both is a recent biographer of his subject. For Noble fellow Aussie Peter Lloyd filled a huge gap in the literature of the game with his sumptuous book that was published at the end of last year. For Rhodes there had been two, or more accurately one and a half, previous biographies but they were published more than half a century ago and Patrick Ferriday’s meticulously researched book is, like Lloyd’s book, essential reading. Both authors are, unsurprisingly, completely on top of their subject and Ford’s thoughtful questions bring the best out of both.
For the future there are a myriad of subjects for Ford to cover. There are great players like Ranjitsinhji, CB Fry, Stanley Jackson and the legendary Victor Trumper, not to mention less celebrated men like Len Braund, Jack Saunders and Jack Blackham none of whom, to date, have been the subject of books. Then there are matters of history and literature, the game in Philadelphia and the early South African teams, and the writings of men like Charles Moody, Tom Horan and, of course, Neville Cardus.
Next on my list is Once Upon A Time In The Ashes. Sadly there are a finite number of podcasts that Graham Barrett can produce without tinkering with his mission statement, but I hope very much that he does, even if at that point he feels he has to change his title to ‘Twice Upon a Time in The Ashes’.
Barrett’s podcast focuses on some of the less heralded contributors to the Ashes legend, those whose careers include just a single cap. One or two have Test caps against countries other than England or Australia as well, but none are household names. For the early years Barrett engaged the assistance of no less a man than Stephen Chalke to introduce those men who fit the criteria and are no longer with us.
But, with the greatest of respect to Stephen, who we all know is an excellent story teller, the lengthy interviews with the men who are still with us are the highlights of the podcast. Barrett began with Keith Slater, whose one appearance came for Australia in the controversial 1958/59 series, and the most recent was with the Gloucestershire seamer Mike Smith who, to my surprise, I learned is actually a Yorkshireman, not that he sounds anything like one.
Barrett’s discussions with his subjects are always wide-ranging, and in each case he has clearly thoroughly researched his man, the stories of very few of whom are well known. Which are the stand outs? It is difficult to single out any of the subjects but Aussies Tony Dell and Mick Malone, and Englishmen Arnie Sidebottom and Jonathan Agnew are as memorable as any. Perhaps best of all though is the Ian Chappell special, a fascinating conversation that does immense credit to both interviewer and interviewee, and which amply demonstrates that, for Once Upon A Time In The Ashes, there should be plenty of life beyond Sam Curran, a man who in the future might well disqualify himself anyway .
There are 23 podcasts so far from Barrett and, sadly for me, I have listened to all of them, and indeed some of them more than once. For that reason alone my current favourite is Oborne and Heller on Cricket, of which there are as many as 115 editions and, only having listened to around forty of them, I have a long way to go even if, at my current rate of binge listening, I will probably have got to the end before the 2023 county season is a month old.
Peter Oborne is a renowned political journalist, but when it comes to his writing I am rather more familiar with his prize winning biography of Basil D’Oliveira and his history of cricket in Pakistan. Richard Heller is also a journalist, and is the author of two cricket novels. He also assisted his co-podcaster in the research for his history of Pakistani cricket, and co-authored another splendid book on Pakistan cricket with Oborne, White on Green.
Oborne, almost always from Wiltshire, and Heller from South East London clearly know each other very well, and there can be no doubt that both are extremely well read, generally as well as in relation to cricket. Both clearly love the game deeply and, at club level, have played a great deal themselves.
Again their strength is their guests, and they cover a huge range of topics. Those who they most frequently share their platform with are writers, and that no doubt is part of the reason I enjoy listening to them as much as I do. Guests I have so far listened to include Stephen Chalke, John Broom, Arunabha Sengupta and Mike Coward.
Any cricket podcast is also going to talk to former cricketers. There is not so much of that with Oborne and Heller on Cricket, but those players who have been guests are amongst the very finest to have played the game. Recently the great West Indian fast bowler, Wesley Hall, featured and, in the 32nd of the series Ted Dexter. Just a few months before his death Dexter was on excellent form and if it was obvious that both Oborne and Heller had always been huge fans of their interviewee they did manage to maintain their objectivity throughout a quite magical hour from which I learnt infinitely more about Dexter the man than I did from any of the not inconsiderable number of books on my shelves that are by or about him.
Not unnaturally overseas cricket features from time to time, and I have much enjoyed hearing Pakistani commentator/writer Qamar Ahmed and the curator of the Lahore museum Najum Latif. Looking forward there are others I have yet to listen to, including an intriguing looking podcast that focuses on the game in Lebanon.
Other podcasts feature broadcasters, umpires, journalists, analysts, a bookseller and many other writer/authors. It is worth making the point, in case I have inadvertently suggested otherwise, that whilst Oborne and Heller on Cricket does spend a good deal of its time looking back, it is very much ‘of the present’ and Oborne and Heller, whilst they may be traditionalists at heart, are not afraid of looking into the future or at the game’s shortest formats.
And in the case of Oborne and Heller on Cricket I think should do two things, the first being nominate a favourite podcast, and the second to make a few suggestions as to future guests for them. The first of those tasks is actually relatively straightforward, and is the podcast that finally persuaded me to right this piece. Their most recent offering featured Australian writer Russell Jackson, a man who is currently working on a biography of that most remarkable of cricket historians, Rowland Bowen.
For the future I do hope that we might hear Oborne and Heller with David Frith, Gideon Haigh, Duncan Hamilton, Graham Barrett and Tom Ford, but not all at the same time!
Having mentioned my three favourite podcasts I will also, despite not having been invited to do an encore, mention one more that I do listen to, seasonally. Like Oborne and Heller I am a great fan of English county cricket, so during the Northern Hemisphere summer County Cricket Natters is an essential listen and, I am pleased to report, the wonderful Annie Chave has had the Oborne and Heller treatment when she assisted them in bringing up their half century.
And finally, my mentioning just the four podcasts should not be taken as criticism of the myriad of others who are out there in cyberspace and, given that for the reason I have mentioned there is likely to be a gap in my life from the beginning of June, I will await recommendations for future listening.
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