The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1995Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech to Surrey County Cricket Club – 20 March 1995

Below is the transcript of Mr Major’s speech on Surrey County Cricket Club’s 150th anniversary, made on Monday 20th March 1995.


Looking at the film I wonder if the members of the Montpelier Club realised what they were starting when they founded Surrey.

That a hundred and fifty years on untold millions would have watched cricket at the Oval, and from the Oval. That the very name would be synonymous with cricket or that some of the great names of cricket and some of the great events of cricket would be played on a former market garden.

Tonight reminds me of how lucky I was to have been born south of the Thames, a Surrey supporter. And, as a boy, to have been in the right place at the right time to see the greatest county side in the history of cricket.

We all have our memories of the Oval. I was about 10 years old when I first visited it. Like most small boys I was a cricket nut. Having reached Cheam Common Primary School’s First Eleven, the progression to Surrey and then the Test Side merely seemed a matter of time. I looked forward to a clean and healthy life of cricket in which – even on the worst of days – I batted like Peter May and bowled like Alec Bedser.

During school lessons I invented my own cricket games. I once scored 241 not out during biology while David Fletcher, Tom Clark, Peter May and Ken Barrington only scored 10 between them. Fortunately Eric Bedser scored 20 odd not out so we saved the game. I’m glad he’s recovered from those exertions and is here tonight. Eric, you were a real support.

On the real cricket pitch it was different. Life being the topsy turvy enterprise it is, I discovered I couldn’t – even on the best of days – bat like Alec Bedser or bowl like Peter May.

And as for the clean healthy life of cricket, I ended up in politics. One can hear the Devil chuckling although there are many similarities between the two. The game is uncertain. The career is chancy. But they both have their own charm. Politics often is about nightmares. Cricket mainly is about dreams.

Tonight I have fulfilled one of them, I have batted higher in the order than Colin Cowdrey, one of cricket’s greats and one of Surrey’s past friends.

Cricket has a great history and a great humour. Arthur Mailey, the great Australian bowler, was once staying at a famous country house in the days of country house cricket. His hostess, an aristocratic lady, invited him to play in a game one afternoon. He declined, saying that he was a little stiff from bowling. “Oh” she replied, “so that’s where you are from”.

It is often the unexpected things you remember. I can close my eyes now and see Stuart Surridge in the slips with this enormous long arms. I used to think as a boy he could pull up his socks while standing upright. I tried the same and was told not to slouch.

My father had a treasured heirloom – a gold stopwatch. I borrowed it and took it to the Oval to time how long it took the ball to travel from Peter May’s straight drive to the pavilion gates. Peter soon obliged.

But pressing the stop button, I dropped the watch. It shattered. Bits came out all over. It was not in good shape. Its best days had gone. In fact, as John Cleese might say, it was a dead stop watch.

I took it home, aged 11, to return the remains to my father, aged 75. As you can see, like Sir Jack Hobbs, my father’s best work was done after the age of 40.

My father looked at the watch and then he looked at me. Then he said “before you dropped the watch did you find out how long the ball took?” I said, “No”. Then he gave me half a crown – and as he had very little, that was a lot – so I could watch cricket the next day. It was his way of saying it didn’t matter.

Surrey have always attracted characters. A hundred years ago one such was Albert Craig, the Surrey poet. He used to write verses – doggerel really – and sell it to the crowds. I write it too, when I’ve time to spare. I wrote quite a lot as a Government Whip when I had to sit on the Bench for hours not listening to speeches. They were mostly about Parliamentarians and, if pressed, one day….

Thinking of this brings clear and fresh to my mind the first poem I ever wrote, aged about 10 or 11, at the Oval:

Bernard Constable got a duck

Oh, he said – what rotten luck

The Bowler’s really got a nerve

First ball down and did it swerve

Hit the pitch and off it nips

Caught again – in the slips

In my own defence, I remind you I was only 10 and I only wrote when it rained. Fortunately it was sunny most of the time

Cricket has inspired more literature than any other game. There have been some wonderful writers. Cardus of course, and CLR James, and Jim Swanton, who must have seen more of the great moments of cricket than any man alive, and RC Robertson Glasgow. I read them all.

Most of you will know the great poem by Coleridge, the Rhyme of The Ancient Mariner. The rest of you will have been educated after 1960. What you may not know is that Robertson Glasgow applied it to cricket:

It is an Ancient Cricketer

Who stops me in the street

He holds his victims with his hands

Their catches with his feet

It tells the tale of a team who run into a spot of trouble with a bird on their way to a match – in this case a duck rather than an albatross:

The duck it is a wondrous fowl

But at crossing the road not clever

That duck (or drake) went under the brake

And had ceased to quack for ever.

The outcome was, I am afraid, inevitable:

For we had done a hellish thing

To murder a blooming duck

And some averred we’d killed the bird

That brings a batsman luck.

‘A pity,’ said they, ‘that bird to slay

That brings a batsman luck.’

All sorts of disaster befall the team:

Then a rocket went up, and the squire ran back

And skirted around and – well –

Where a cow had dallied, he staggered, then rallied

The skidded, then rallied, then – fell.

Thirteen all out, and there wasn’t a man

But argued until was hoarse

That the death of the duck had brought ill-luck

Except old Matthew, of course.

The Ancient ceased, and his mouth was dry

So I eased it off with a tankard

He’d talked enough, and Hops is the stuff

For a soul which Cricket has cankered.

What other game could have had such a poem written about it? None.

Tonight we are here to celebrate Surrey’s first 150 years – we should enjoy it not least because if he were here the Bearded Wonder would tell us we are statistically unlikely to be here to celebrate their next 150 years.

But we can look forward to that future and the investment we can make in the future of cricket. Some say “it’s only a game”. I don’t agree. It is a game of course and it must always remain one. But it is also part of the English character.

It is interwoven in the warp and weft of our way of life. It’s fun and life must be about more than economics and social awareness. I want to know that future generations can look forward to the same enjoyment of the game that we have here tonight.

That is why I want to put team sports back in schools. Why I want to develop youth cricket and club cricket. Why I have high hopes that cricket’s share of the 300 million pounds a year which will come from the National Lottery will help permanently boost the game. That’s why I left my red boxes to fester in Downing Street this evening: despatched to long off – or at any rate to later on.

Surrey is an important part of cricket’s history. On this occasion, looking around, I hope there are ghosts present. Some of the greatest of all cricketers have been servants of this Club. Bowlers like George Lohman and Tony Richardson and batsmen like Hayward, Hobbs and Sandham. And I just wonder if Bosser Martin, the great groundsman, might also be hereabouts this evening.

And there are some whom we would dearly loved to have been here tonight. Peter of course, and Stuart Surridge, Jim Laker, Ken Barrington and Tom Clark. Sadly they are gone. But they will never be gone from the history of cricket or of Surrey. If we close our eyes we can remember them again in their prime.

The future is bright. The renovation of the Oval is truly remarkable. The Ken Barrington Centre now offers wonderful facilities to youngsters. Next year a second county cricket school will open in Guildford. There may be further centres, perhaps in Kingston, perhaps Croydon, perhaps both.

Surrey will be giving cricket back to all parts of the county. The youth policy is alive and working and I hope we will find more time and more money for development women’s cricket as well. Never forget it was WG’s mother who taught him and it was our ladies team that won the World Cup at Lords.

I would like to end by paying a special tribute to Coopers and Lybrand for their generosity in sponsoring this evening. Cricket is a natural game for accountants and Coopers and now responsible for producing ratings of players. These must be pretty accurate because they show Waqar Younis to be the best bowler in the world and Graham Thorpe to be the third best batsman.

But never mind about third best.

This is Surrey we’re talking about. The very best. The sight of white flannels and a chocolate cap can move me from despair to contentment.

So, tonight I want to thank those players who’ve brought such pleasure into my life and I want to make one wish: may it always be so.