Cricket: New Labour: Things can only get better

Cricket Diary
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New Labour might have hit the ground running but it has been conspicuously silent on what it intends to do to improve its woeful Ashes record. Cricket loving voters may be alarmed to hear the grisly details and those who misguidedly consider cricket to be a toff's game may have their prejudices reinforced.

The stark truth is that of 10 series between England and Australia conducted when Labour have been in government the Ashes have been won only twice. This 20 per cent success rate is easily the worst of all three main parties. Only under coalition governments after the First World War and in the 1930s have England fared worse.

Latest research shows clear gaps still persist between the Liberals, the Conservatives and Labour and that England have never had it so good as under the Liberals. A total of 58 series in which the Ashes were at stake have been played since 1882-83. The table reveals that the Liberals have played 11, won nine and lost only two, a wonderful success rate of 81.8 per cent. Since the Liberals went out of favour the Ashes have rarely been in safe hands.

Under Conservative rule, some 31 series have been contested, in which the Ashes have been won 16 times and lost 15 times, a winning rate of 51.6 per cent. Coalition governments have overseen six rubbers, only one of which was won. As this was the Bodyline series in 1932-33 when Ramsay MacDonald was Prime Minister the less said about it the better.

Not surprisingly, the Liberals also provide the most successful Ashes Premier. Between 1882-83 and 1893 William Ewart Gladstone was in 10 Downing Street while five Ashes clashes went on. England either regained or retained the Ashes in them all.

In July 1886, Gladstone resigned the premiership. Historians insist it was because of the Parliamentary defeat of his Home Rule Bill but it should also be noted it was only five days after England retained the Ashes, so the grand old man may have considered his job done. He returned briefly in the 1890s, just time for England to regain the urn which had been lost under the Tories.

The Marquis of Salisbury, under whose Premiership a record nine series were conducted, had mixed fortunes. Five were won, four lost and twice in his time Australia regained the Ashes.

Prime Ministers with a declared interest in the game have a dreadful record. Neither Clement Atlee, who had the cricket scores wired to Downing Street, nor John Major saw the Ashes won in three rubbers apiece. Sir Alec Douglas Home, the only PM to have played first class cricket, was in charge when the 1964 series was lost.

Labour's only victorious PM was James Callaghan, whose administration saw Australia beaten in 1977 and, despite the winter of discontent, in 1978-79. The Premier when success was last achieved was Margaret Thatcher in 1986-87. Triumph under Tony Blair would see Labour's rate improve to 27.3 per cent. A nation awaits.

Much has been made, understandably, of the selection of the Hollioake brothers, Adam and Ben, for England's one-day squad. The last brothers to play for England were the Richardsons, Peter and Dick, against West Indies in 1957. The last to play against Australia were the Studds, George and Charles, in 1892-93.

However, other family cricketing connections among recent England players are rife. Of the present one-day squad Alec Stewart's father played for Surrey and England; Mark Ealham's father was a Kent stalwart and Championship winning captain; Dean Headley's father and grandfather were both Test cricketers; John Crawley's brother Mark played for Notts; and Graham Lloyd's father is David.

In addition the Test or one day sides in the past two years have included: Robin Smith, whose brother Chris also played for Hampshire and England; Neil Smith, whose father MJK was England captain; Alan Wells, whose brother Colin had a long career with Sussex and Derbyshire; and Neil Fairbrother who has no direct family link with cricket but was called Neil Harvey Fairbrother after the great Australian batsman.

IT IS a bowlers' summer for the moment. Five batsmen have had pairs: Jason Gallian, Vince Wells, Craig White, Richard Stemp and, perhaps predictably, Devon Malcolm. As yet pairless, but early leader of the ducks table, is poor Adrian Rollins of Derbyshire with three in seven innings.

Book mark: "In England the Chinaman is the left-hander's wrist-spun off-break. In Australia, it is the left-hander's googly, spinning away from the batsman, which is really effective bowler of this type has arisen for some time." From the newly published, fascinating The Language of Cricket, that section of which England's batsmen may like to read so they know what it is precisely that Michael Bevan is doing to them this summer.