The teams that got away

Moustaches, Evita and cricket at midnight, looking at the best cricket teams who never made Test Cricket.

When I started writing about cricket in 2007, if you mentioned anyone outside the Test nations or women, you would be told that they simply did not like cricket. These groups of people had been given a choice and decided that our sport wasn't for them.

It was a really prevalent thought really until Ireland, Afghanistan and then the women's game grew. Suddenly you had non-commonwealth teams and new players without penises playing the game professionally, and that argument started to get a bit sillier than it already was.

The sexism stuff kind of speaks for itself. Women have always loved cricket; you can see that in the old paintings. In many nations, our sport went out of its way to stop women playing or made it virtually impossible. Things like not allowing married women to tour were pretty standard, as was not giving women access to significant grounds or any funding from national (read male) cricket bodies.

As for the emerging nations, well they were either not good or didn't want it enough. And they never would be. That was a really hard one to style out when Kevin O'Brien was mauling England though.

Over the last decade or so I have veered more towards the game's history. My interest is mostly around the evolution of the sport and how we ended up where we are, which is essentially what my book on the history of Test Cricket became.

But you can't help but get pulled into the 200 odd years of crazy and wonderful shit that has gone on in our game. Cricket is full of great stories. And once you start to scratch, the narrative that teams outside Tests have always been crap doesn't hold up.

Anyone over 30 knows that, because in 2003 Kenya made the World Cup semi-final. Like Sri Lanka in '96 they had help by teams forfeiting games against them. But they also played a lot of excellent cricket. And it wasn't one player dragging them through; many players stood up.

And so once you know that, you go looking for others. Argentina, Fiji and Denmark are three that I have come across while doing other work. And when you hear the stories like that Fijians almost played for New Zealand, that Danish cricketers were so in demand in County cricket and that Argentina may have been as good as India or New Zealand, you start to realise that the entire thing is a lie.

We set up a closed private men's club style of sport. If you didn't get membership because you weren't part of the Commonwealth, or there was no political pressure to do so, your nation just faded away.

And so that is the new season of Double Century on 99.94. The teams that got away.

We started with a story on Claude Butlin, the incredible Mexican all-rounder. He might be one of the greatest athletes of all time when you factor in how many sports he dominated.

We haven't even got onto the fun stuff yet. Like how half of Canada beat the Australians. The US bowler who destroyed County teams on two separate tours and was offered a widow to marry. Or Evita being involved in a cricket-related conspiracy.

Our first episode was on Fiji,  a cricket nation that produced a talent so good that Walter Hadlee (father of Richard) checked to see if he could play for New Zealand.

We don't think of Fiji as a cricket nation, but this is from that episode:

"One player we haven't mentioned yet is Petero Kubunavanua. He was a left-handed batter who could hit the ball very hard, but fielding made him popular. He fielded in a sulu, ran very fast, and his throws came in from the deep like a bullet.

Kubunavanua's most iconic fielding moment came during the Second World War, when he was stationed in Malaysia. He was fielding at square leg in a wartime match. When a swallow kept annoying him, so he caught the bird and tucked it away inside his sulu pocket for the rest of the session.

In 1974, Fiji issued a stamp to celebrate one hundred years of cricket in their country. On it was Kubunavanua, in a sulu, barefoot, throwing from the outfield. This was a nation that loved cricket so much, they put fielding on a stamp. In fact, Kubunavanua appeared on a stamp two years before Don Bradman did."
Petero Kubunavanua

Stories make cricket, but because of the (men's) Test-obsessed nature of the coverage, we missed a man who fielded in a traditional skirt, actually caught swallows and ended up on a stamp.

Double Century has been many things so far. The first season was a collection of writing from my book.

The second was a look at racism in the game through Basil D'Oliviera.

The third looked at each nation's first major victory over England.

And the fourth was the birth of cricket coaching and suicide within the game from Aubrey Faulkner.

It's not a single person. It is a team production. Nick McCorriston has been our editor/producer from the start. He's incredible at what he does. We used Bertie Moores as a fact-checker on the early seasons. Max Wiggins came on to do research in the third season and had to write some episodes after I shattered my arm. And Abhishek Mukherjee was the fact-checker over the first three seasons, and he is now the main writer, as he is cricket's most gifted historian. I am sticking around to co-write, narrate and produce.

As you can see, there is a lot that goes into them, and I can understand if you're thinking, I hate history. But I don't think these podcasts are just a retelling of the good old days in sepia-eyed wonderment. This is a chance to tell a great story about cricket. Ones that challenge the narrative, move the game forward, sometimes make you laugh or cry, and look at how our game was built.

And the good news is, through 99.94, we are moving this to a weekly show.

Abhishek and I have a lot of ideas for the next few series, and Nick is also working on great ways of bringing our words together.

We're all excited about the ability to tell a story about cricket every week. We know there are many cricket podcasts (I run about half of them now). But this is the ability to tell you about our great game in a way that most podcasts never will.

You should definitely keep listing to podcasts looking forensically at BazBall, what Dickwella has done now and the politics of the BCCI.

But if you love great stories, you might want to hear about the time Alfred Shaw opened the bowling at midnight in Canada and dismissed 40 batters.

Our game is full of these wonderful stories, and we can't wait to tell them.