Cricket tragics

Eleven politicians who would have preferred to have been watching cricket instead

Martin Williamson

November 28, 2007

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Following self-confessed cricket tragic John Howard's defeat in Australia's general election last week, Cricinfo looks at XI other politicians (as opposed to cricketers who went into politics) who loved cricket almost as much ...

Queen Elizabeth presents Sir Robert Menzies with the Order of Australia during the Centenary Test, © The Cricketer
Robert Menzies (Australia)
Possibly the ultimate cricket tragic. Menzies dominated post-war Australia politics, serving as the country's prime minister between 1949 and 1965. Stories of his passion for the game are legion - such as when he had the British government install a TV in his Daimler while in the UK in 1956 so he could follow the cricket between engagements. In 1951 he inaugurated the annual match between the tourists and a Prime Minister's XI. Menzies had a distinguished, if less well-known, predecessor. Edmund Barton, Australia's first prime minister, had umpired and was standing in a match in 1879 which ended in a riot. He also rejoiced in the unfortunate nickname Toby Tosspot.

Fatehsinghrao Gaekwad (India)
Known in England as Jackie Baroda, the former Maharaja of Baroda was an attacking right-hand batsman - good enough to play in the Ranji Trophy - who went on to become a Member of Parliament among his many other political and social activities. He managed the 1959 Indian side which toured England - he was only 29 at the time - and later tours to Pakistan in 1978-79 and 1982-83, as well as commentating on the BBC.

Alec Douglas Home (England)
As Lord Dunglass - he relinquished his title to enable him to succeed Harold MacMillan as prime minister in 1964 - played at Lord's for Eton and went on to make ten first-class appearances for six different teams: Middlesex, Oxford University, H. D. G. Leveson Gower's XI, MCC (with whom he toured South America under Pelham Warner), Free Foresters and Harlequins. He was president of MCC in 1966 and an important behind-the-scenes influence whenever the game was in difficulties. "Even if he had devoted himself to the game, he would not have been a regular county player," Wisden noted, "but then no one expected him to rise so high in politics either."

Nawaz Sharif (Pakistan)
While Imran Khan is Pakistan most famous cricketer-turned-politician, Sharif, the man ousted as prime minister in a coup led by General Pervez Musharraf in October 1999, also has a cricketing background, albeit not in the same league. In 1973-74 Sharif made his only first-class appearance for Railways, making a duck in his only innings.

Michael Manley (West Indies)
Manley was the socialist prime minister of Jamaica twice, first between 1972 and 1980 and then again between 1989 and 1992. A lifelong cricket fanatic, in between he wrote "A History of West Indies Cricket", a book that went deeper into the effect of the game in the Caribbean than the game itself. Many consider it to be the greatest book on West Indies cricket alongside CLR James' Beyond A Boundary. Manley died on June 3, 1997, the same day as Cheddi Jagan, the first prime minister of Guyana and another cricket lover.

Bob Hawke (Australia)
While Menzies had perused cricket in a dignified manner, Hawke, prime minister between 1983 and 1991, turned his passion for sport, but especially cricket, into a series of photo opportunities. "His attendance at every sporting event from rugby league grand finals to the Mudgee ferret races, however, made overt sporting pride part of the job description," wrote the Sydney Morning Herald. He certainly made the headlines when, playing for Parliamentarians v Press in 1984, the 53-year-old top-edged a hook into his face, smashing his glasses. Although he retired hurt on 28, he gamely returned to see his side home. It was a bad day for politicians as Labour party secretary Bob McMullen was later carted off with concussion after missing the ball while going for a catch in the deep. In fairness to Hawke, he was a decent cricketer and played first-grade cricket in Sydney.

PM in waiting: Clement Attlee and Sir Edwin Stockton walk out to bat in a House of Commons match at The Oval in 1923. Stockton was a Conservative MP who was also chairman of Lancashire © Playfair Cricket Monthly
Clement Attlee (England)
Labour's post-war leader has been described as possibly the least charismatic modern British prime minister aside from John Major (see below) but he loved his cricket. A keen club player, he described the news tickers installed inside No. 10 Downing Street in 1945 as his "cricket machine", enabling him to keep up-to-date with county scores. He was also the last British PM to take public transport to work.

Grantley Adams (West Indies)
A long-standing union leader, Adams was the first premier of Barbados. A good wicketkeeper in his youth, he also played once for Barbados in 1925-26. The main arirport in Barbados is named after him and he is also one of the country's ten national heroes.

John Major (England)
Major's six-and-a-half years as Britain's prime minister were dogged throughout by a disintegrating Conservative party and a resurgent New Labour. Major seemed to belong in a different era, eschewing the trendiness of football for his undisguised passion - cricket. He grew up watching the all-conquering Surrey side in the 1950s and on the day he was ousted from office in 1997 famously said that he hoped he would "be able to get to the Oval in time for lunch and then watch some cricket this afternoon."

Jonathan Hunt (New Zealand)
Until his retirement in 2005, Hunt, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, was New Zealand's longest serving MP. He admitted that his passion for cricket started while curled up in bed with his parents listening to the 1948 Ashes series, and in the next six decades he watched the game extensively, admitting to being "the only England supporter" in a crowd of 82,000 at the MCG in 1961-62. "Five-day Tests delight the purists," he said, "and how better to spend a relaxing time in the summer preparing for a busy year ahead."

Francis Bell (New Zealand)
Bell never really made the grade in either field, which makes him the likely No. 11 who doesn't even bowl on this team. As a player he managed two appearances for Wellington in the 1870s, making two runs in three innings. His tenure as prime minister was barely longer than his stays at the crease, lasting 16 days. In fairness, he was the interim leader following the death of William Massey and he had an otherwise distinguished political career.

One of his successors, Robert Muldoon, hit the headlines in 1981 when he described Trevor Chappell's infamous underarm delivery in unpolitical terms. "It was the most disgusting incident I can recall in the history of cricket", he fumed. "An act of cowardice".

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo

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Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.

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