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The Ten: Cricketing politicians – from John Major to Imran Khan

Will Macpherson by Will Macpherson
@willis_macp 5 minute read

Before Imran Khan became the prime minister of Pakistan, there were several others who mixed cricket and politics. Back in 2017, Will Macpherson picked out the legendary all-rounder and several others.

Published in 2017

10. Major-ity vote

Raised in Brixton, John Major is Surrey through and through and the Oval is his happy place, so that was where he headed after receiving a drubbing in the 1997 General Election. He has since described that afternoon as “soothing” and says cricket has given him a lifetime of “solace”. Post-politics Major served on the MCC committee and has also written a history of the game.

9. Pipped at the post

English cricket is littered with figures who unsuccessfully turned their hand to politics. There was CB Fry, who ran three times for parliament as a Liberal candidate in Brighton but lost on each occasion. Then Ted Dexter who, aged 29, gave up the England captaincy to run as a Tory carpetbagger in Cardi South-East in 1964 against future PM James Callaghan. The doyen of the press box, John Arlott, also had a go, twice running, and twice coming third, as the Liberal candidate in Epping.

8. Douglas-home run

Alec Douglas-Home is the only British PM to have played first-class cricket. He played 10 games for six different teams, including Middlesex, in the 1920s and while his batting was no great shakes, his bowling stats (12 wickets at 30) are respectable. Coincidentally, the number of runs he conceded in first-class cricket was 363; the same number of days he spent as PM after replacing Harold Macmillan in 1963. He later became MCC president.

7. The ‘other’ Dave Cameron

Cricket was a running theme in the premiership of David Cameron – not to be confused with Dave ‘diplomacy disaster’ Cameron of West Indies cricket fame. He was never shy of a picture with bat and ball and in 2011 he crowed down the phone to Barack Obama that England were “number one” at cricket. In 2015, Cameron found himself in hot water when he chose to watch an ODI against Australia at Headingley. Firstly, because government at Stormont had been dissolved and Northern Ireland was descending into crisis, but also because he managed to offend the Headingley locals, saying: “We just thought people in Yorkshire hated everyone else, we didn’t realise they hated each other so much.” Cameron blustered on: “What’s going on in Northern Ireland is very worrying… but I thought it would be nice to come and watch a little bit of cricket and talk to Geoffrey Boycott and Dickie Bird and others.”

8. Hawke-eye

As a Rhodes scholar at Oxford in the 1950s, future Australian prime minister Bob Hawke was 12th man for the university side and, more importantly, set a world record for the downing of a yard of ale (two-and-a-half pints) in 11 seconds. He spent eight years as PM and afterwards earned a shedload of money in business. More recently he’s been seen skulling frothies live on TV at the SCG. Plenty of Aussie PMs have declared their love for cricket, including Robert Menzies, who liked Commonwealth meetings to “coincide” with Tests at Lord’s, and John Howard, who failed in his attempt to become ICC president.

5. In charge of ports and post

Arjuna Ranatunga and Sanath Jayasuriya are living proof of the ancient Sri Lankan proverb: ‘Win the 1996 World Cup, get yourself an obscure political position’. Ranatunga followed his father into politics in 2001 and has held a number of positions, including deputy minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment Promotion, and his current role, minister of Ports and Shipping. His former teammate Jayasuriya was elected to parliament while still an international cricketer in 2010 and he later became deputy minister of Postal Services before sacking politics off in 2015 to take on the far more taxing role of Sri Lankan chairman of selectors.

4. Yes we Khan

When Imran Khan hung up his boots he founded the PTI party, railing against corruption in the combustible world of Pakistani politics. As party leader he ran in the 2013 election, only to come second to Nawaz Sharif, another former first-class cricketer – albeit a considerably less successful one who made one appearance for Railways in 1973, registering a duck in his only innings.

3. President Nass

When politicians and administrators failed to do their jobs during England’s shambolic 2003 World Cup campaign, Nasser Hussain was forced to step in. Social unrest, culminating in death threats from a rabble calling themselves the Sons and Daughters of Zimbabwe, meant that England’s players, who received little support from their government, boycotted their fixture against the joint hosts. It was a complicated situation from which few emerged with credit but Hussain remained the dignified statesman throughout. The ICC awarded Zimbabwe a walkover which resulted in them, not England, qualifying for the super sixes. “Nasser Hussain is a bloody hero,” the Zimbabwe seamer Henry Olonga later said.

2. Back from the brink

Once one of the world’s most beguiling batsmen, Mohammad Azharuddin began the first decade of this millennium banned from cricket for life as a match-fixing pariah and ended it an elected member of the Indian National Congress Party. Azhar’s not the only Indian cricketer to turn to politics. Mohammad Kaif, he of Lord’s 2002 fame, unsuccessfully stood for the same party in 2014 and two years prior to that Sachin Tendulkar became the first active sportsman to join India’s Upper House, the Rajya Sabha.

1. Rebels with a cause

The final English rebel tour to South Africa in 1990 was a miserable, regrettable affair. With apartheid finally nearing its end, the players were castigated by the press and local public, with waiting staff refusing to serve them – at one stage skipper Mike Gatting slipped on a chef’s hat to cook steaks – and demonstrations taking place at matches, eventually leading the tour to be cut short by a fortnight. Yet the players misguidedly seemed to believe they were on a political mission. “It wasn’t an enjoyable place to be, or an enjoyable tour to be on,” said Essex seamer Neil Foster “[but] in a bizarre way, we did help change the country.” Three cheers all round!

Published in 2017

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