March 18, 2015

Left? Right? Both

David Dawkins
In the run-up to the UK general election, two teams picked from either side of the political divide

Samuel Beckett: Nobel Laureate, medium-pacer, match-report writer © Getty Images

Cricket just can't help but be political. Some players have sought out politics, others have merely been engulfed without much of a say in the matter. So in the run-up to the UK general election, here are two teams selected from both sides of the divide. The two teams have been pitted against one another and from the openers to the leaders of the attack, all positions are accounted for: there are wicketkeepers, international players, and each team has a spinner. But who would win?

Left XI

Openers
Somerset's Peter Roebuck achieved a double first in Law from Cambridge, and like most left-wing intellectual sorts he was described as having been untidy, awkward with women and, of speaking at high speed. Although off the field he might be considered the Slavoj Zizek of Somerset cricket, on the field he took a more substantial approach to run accumulation, scoring 17,558 first-class runs and 33 centuries during the golden years when Somerset won numerous one-day trophies and boasted Viv Richards, Ian Botham and Joel Garner amongst their talent.

Before Darren Sammy, Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard, the explosive Trinidadian Sir Learie Constantine was consistently the best performing import in English club cricket between 1928 and 1937. He scored 6356 runs at an average of 37.65 and taking 776 wickets, and was a lifelong fighter for racial equality. His journey into politics took wing when he invited CLR James to lodge while he played for Nelson. A distinguished political career culminated with the passing of the Race Relations Act, a knighthood and a life peerage.

No. 3
I've picked a hardened socialist, left-wing activist, Sussex and Cambridge batsman Henry Hyndman. Although perhaps a modest talent to bat at three, Hyndman is certainly the most ardent Marxist amongst the Left XI team. Playing 13 first-class games, scoring 309 runs at an average of 16.26, Hyndman formed Britain's first socialist party, the Democratic Federation, in 1881.

No. 4
Like many former players, Steve Waugh has been tempted by politics, having been asked a number of times to run for a Labor seat before declaring, "I am not going to be someone's show pony and just paraded out there".

The middle order
Playing within the walled garden of English cricket, Worcestershire's finest - Basil d'Oliveira and Moeen Ali have both been involved in issues of race and politics that have extended beyond the boundary rope. The D'Oliveira affair is a flashpoint of political circumstance that extended far beyond the game itself.

Moeen is a little different and when in 2014 he broke from the cover of English cricket's anodyne facade and wore two wristbands bearing the message "Save Gaza" and "Free Palestine", he embroiled himself in a debate that brought politics and sport onto the same platform.

Keeping wicket
Known among his peers for his left-wing leanings, Jack Russell stood up to the stumps when others would not. Just don't serve him dry Weetabix at tea.

Batting, bowling, keeping score and writing the match report
Samuel Beckett - scholar, playwright, Nobel Laureate, fighter in the French Resistance, left-hand batsman and medium-pace bowler for Dublin University*. Beckett played two games in 1925, scoring 35 runs and bowling 138 balls at an average of 2.78 runs per over. He carried a deep affection for cricket through his life, and similarities are often drawn between his classic play Waiting for Godot and the experience of watching the umpires during a rain-delayed Test match.

The attack
Tom Cartwright was a medium-pace bowler who played for Warwickshire, Somerset and England. Born and raised in a miner's cottage with no running water, Cartwright inherited strong socialist views from his parents; his father was a car factory worker and his grandfather a miner. A legend at Warwickshire, in 1959 alone he hit 1282 runs and took 80 wickets.

It used to be said that when England needed a fast bowler all they had to do was whistle down a Nottinghamshire coal mine. Had you whistled down during the 1920s, up would have popped future Bodyline bowlers Bill Voce and Harold Larwood. Duncan Hamilton, in his biography of Larwood, describes the pair being, "...like the blades of a pair of scissors... Larwood bowled straight or the ball cut devilishly away. But Voce - with his smoothly whippy left-arm over could make the rising delivery break back so that it stuck between the ribs like a knife." They took a total of 176 Test wickets between them and set the first standard for the aggressive pace-bowling partnerships we still see today.

Vote for Dazzler: Darren Gough once turned down a chance to run for a seat in Barnsley © Getty Images

Right XI

Openers
I can see it now: Andrew Strauss farming the strike, cutting absolutely everything possible, Sir John Major dashing singles, and the two meeting in the middle at the end of each over meeting, ruddy cheeked and smiling. In 2012 the ever-conservative Strauss was approached to run for a vacant Tory seat in a by-election, while Major once described his relationship to The Oval as being like a home outside of cricket; and when he lost the general election in 1997, he found it the most quiet and comforting place to go.

No. 3
Batting at three for the Right XI is the cricketing son of Margaret Thatcher and Gordon Gekko - Kevin Pietersen. Once described as "England's greatest modern batsman", never before has any cricketer so thoroughly re-enacted within the microcosm of professional sport the very macrocosm of political theatre he was born into. Although he might confuse Hayek with a Scandinavian wet-look hair gel product, almost every piece of controversy in Pietersen's career involves his ability, or lack of it, to exploit the various T20 markets his cricketing abilities have opened. And his infamous "muppets" interview panged of Thatcher.

No. 4
Surrey and England's Graham Thorpe recently declared "UKIP all the way" on the front of an England training shirt he signed for a fan. Hopefully UKIP will not go "all the way" at the general election, but rather merely the part of the way that ends with a first-ball duck, a slow patter of applause and the long, lonely walk back into the dark pavilion of political obscurity.

The middle order
Often described as one of the first natural one-day players, Ted Dexter came into his own with his big hitting, useful bowling and feline reflexes in the field that won the inaugural Gillette Cup for Sussex in 1963 and 1964. Dexter played for Cambridge, Sussex and England, scoring 4502 runs for his country at an average 0f 47.89. Politically he was a Conservative, and in 1965 he declared himself unavailable for the tour of South Africa to run for Parliament in the seat of Cardiff South East. Dexter lost and returned to cricket.

The Right Honourable Sir Stanley Jackson was a famous cricketer, a distinguished soldier, a Conservative party politician, and perhaps most notably he taught Winston Churchill the hard truths of political authority while the future prime minister fagged for him at Harrow. As a cricketer he played for England alongside WG Grace and Ranjitsinhji - in a total of 20 Tests, scoring 1415 runs at an average of 48.79; as a bowler he took 24 wickets at 33.29. In 1915 he won the seat of Howdenshire for the Conservatives, before going on to serve as Financial Secretary to the War Office and then the Governor of Bengal.

Keeping wicket
I've selected a wicketkeeper from that enduring tradition of liberals who get into bed with conservatives. As the first man to represent England at both cricket and football, Alfred Lyttelton played four Tests against Australia in England in 1880, 1882 and 1884. In 1895 he was elected to the House of Commons as Liberal Unionist MP for Leamington and Warwickshire. The Liberal Unionist party eventually joined the Conservatives, and Lyttelton later went on to become Colonial Secretary and president of the MCC.

Batting, bowling, keeping score and writing the match report
For the Right XI we have cricket biographer and the now former chief political commentator at the Daily Telegraph, Peter Oborne. As someone who fully understands what links the theatre of politics and the politics of cricket, Oborne has written books on Basil D'Oliveira, Pakistan cricket and Alastair Campbell. Every summer since his early 20s, Oborne has led a tour to Ireland, where he bowls medium pace and bats in the middle order.

The attack
Dominic Cork once described his political affiliations: "Thatcher, Major, Cameron - I love them all. I am a true Blue and always have been." Similarly, fast, gobby and intimidating Yorkshireman Darren Gough was the strike bowler alongside Cork's swing and seam. Nicknamed "Rhino", Gough took 229 Test wickets, and 235 in ODIs. In 2011, he received a call from Prime Minister David Cameron asking him if he'd be interested in running for his hometown seat in Barnsley in the forthcoming by-election. He turned down the chance to run, and as a newspaper commented: "Standing in the Tory interest in Barnsley Central is the equivalent of coming to the crease with England seven down and needing 433 to win with Shane Warne turning it the width of the Texas-Mexico border."

If you think that dressing up as a Nazi is inappropriate, John Emburey joins the Right XI for once dressing up as the only thing more inappropriate than a rebel tour cricketer. As the only one on both the 1982 and 1990 rebel tours of apartheid South Africa, the Middlesex spinner twice defied the ICC, Parliament and the United Nations to add credibility to the South African regime. What's perhaps worse is that when news of the rebel tour broke, Emburey arrived at the West Indies tour-leaving party dressed as a member of the Klu Klux Klan.

* March 18, 2015, 1130 GMT: the article originally stated that Beckett played for Northamptonshire. It has been corrected

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