Double Century

The history of cricket, for your ears

There would always thoughts that would float around my cricket island. You’d hear that South Africa once had four legspinners around the turn of the century, and that seemed unbelievable. Or that Learie Constantine played club cricket in the north of England for a living. And that cricket fought against overarm bowling. But outside of cricket history books - these were just phrases often used, rarely discussed, and while cricket mattered to me, there was a lot of cricket happening right in front of me. Too much, so they just remained as partial thoughts, areas of intrigue, and the odd line in my pieces.

Then in 2014 I was asked to write a book on Test Cricket. My publishers wanted the kinda of book aussie dads get for Christmas, fun stories of players sledging and getting drunk, with Holding Willey references. I sent them a manuscript on the history of Test Cricket. It didn’t go down well. But I figured that if I was getting paid to write about Tests, I was going to do something that mattered. A week in I had 50 books on the go, and I was now formulating theories on cricket that hadn’t ever existed to me before. Cricket was coming alive to me in a way it hadn't before.

The book (Test Cricket: the unauthorised biography) is something I’m proud of, even if I wrote a novel about cricket overcoming the worst of humanity and they changed it to a chapter book of cricketing stories.

But because the book was not what the publishers wanted, they never pushed it. It sold ok, but after that initial run it just sort of disappeared. But writing the book changed me a bit. I was - in the loosest way - a cricket historian. Not a specialist in any particular topic, but someone who had a very good understanding of how that game evolved. That was the bit that was most interesting. How did cricket end up like it is?

Since then you can see it in my work a lot more. Looking at the people who came before, how they shaped things, and why changes happened. I have a series on my YouTube channel that has barely started about cricket evolution because I think there is much there to look at.

But I really wanted to not just show how cricket had changed, but why, and by whom.  And I thought the best way to get all this together was via a podcast.  It’s not like most of the cricket podcasts I’ve been on, this is a produced narrative podcast with mostly me talking, and some archival clips to break it up.

The first season has been written, and we have recorded half. There will be 11 episodes in this run, ranging from things as obvious as the birth of overarm bowling through to Hong Kong cricket captain Emma Lai.  Some are rooted in history, some use modern and older stories.  There are some stories I’ve always wanted to tell properly, like West Indian cricketers needing to play overseas and the Bob Blair and Bert Sutcliffe story.

The first three are available to listen to now.

For episode one I looked at the birth of Test Cricket, which is truly a bizarre story. It involves the English wicketkeeper, Ted Pooley, in jail, a player missing the first Test to attend a fair and the South Australian journalist who decided that it was legit.

Episode two is on the wrong’un, a delivery that changed cricket in South Africa before becoming a T20 weapon. The story about the early users of this ball is so interesting, and it was cricket’s first trick. This one includes a little on Aubrey Faulkner, which makes it ever better.

And the latest episode just went up today. It’s on how batsmen learned to hit behind. It’s a combination in the evolution of early batting through greats like Ranji, Trumper and Grace, and then the innovators all the way through to Dilshan.

The entire season is:

  • The first Test
  • The wrong one
  • How we hit behind
  • The fight for overarm bowling
  • The rise of professionalism in the women’s game
  • West Indians playing abroad
  • History of slower balls
  • Bert Sutcliffe and Bob Blair’s partnership
  • Emma Lai walks on grass
  • Reverse swing
  • India’s spin quartet

I know that history isn’t sexy, but at the very least by listening to these you’ll be able to correct your friends in cricket arguments.

But I hope they do more than that, these are incredible stories of how our game was made. Hopefully, the work myself, Nick McCorriston (@Nickamc) and my two fact-checkers Bertie Moores (@MooresBertie) and Abhishek Mukerjee (@ovshake42) has done justice to our sport.

Double Century is one of my favourite ever projects, and all it took was a global pandemic to get it out there.  I really hope you enjoy them, they'll be dropping every monday.