The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997


Sir John Major’s Speech at the National Sporting Club Lunch – 8 July 2008

This is the text of Sir John Major’s speech at the National Sporting Club Lunch, in honour of the South African touring team, held at the Royal Garden Hotel in London on Tuesday 8th July 2008.


Thank you, David, my book is available in all good book shops…

Let me first welcome the South African team to England. We’re absolutely delighted to see them here – and looking forward to seeing them play on Thursday of this week. Huge excitement about this tour.

From the few hours cricket our wretched weather has enabled them to have, it is regretfully evident their batsmen are in good form and I think everyone – with the exception of the English batsmen – are looking forward to seeing their new pace attack.

Over the years, we’ve come to value games against South Africa and the forthcoming series, albeit only three instead of five that I would wish it to be, promises to be vintage. Let’s hope for good cricket (likely), good crowds (certain), good weather (hugely problematic) and a good outcome to the Series although that, of course, may not mean the same thing to the two Teams. In any event – should be a spicy contest. I don’t think I’m the only person who can’t wait for Thursday…

By its very nature, cricket brings victory and defeat and delight and despair. Ironically, it was an Englishman with the unusual name – not of

Despair, but of a man called Anguish – who, probably, first introduced cricket to South Africa. We can be grateful that he did because, since then, we have enjoyed watching a great stream of cricketers from Dudley Nourse to the present team.

I look about this room and see my generation reasonably represented.

One great regret for my generation is that – when politics ruled South Africa out of Test cricket – some truly great players like Barry Richards, Mike Proctor, Graeme Pollock and Eddie Barlow had their Test career ruined. As a result, cricket lost sight of what might have been one of the greatest of all Test sides in the long history of Test cricket. Thankfully – for South Africa – such days are long behind us.

South Africa’s Captain, of course, for this Tour is Graham Smith, well-known here and widely admired. When England first toured South Africa in 1889, the English Captain for the First Test was also called Smith – C. A. Smith, but perhaps better known as C. Aubrey Smith, Hollywood actor, star of Rebecca and The Prisoner of Zenda.

Aubrey Smith played only one Test whereas Graham has not only played a great many – with, hopefully, many to come – but Graham is by far a greater cricketer than his earlier name-sake. I am not sure, however, how good he may be as an actor!

A few years after that first Tour, a trend began that has not yet ended. Over recent decades, several very fine South African cricketers have played for England – no doubt to immense South African frustration. This is not a new phenomenon. We are prepared to accept anyone.

In the early 1889 Tour, an Englishman, R. M. Poore, once ADC to cricket’s Lord Harris in India – turned out for South Africa against the English tourists. Lord Hawke, the English Captain, and Harris’ protegé was apoplectic – and tried to poach him back to the England Team but lamentably failed to do so. I mention this only to discourage anyone from looking at the antecedents of any members of the current England team.

One of the delights of cricket is that you don’t have to be good at it to enjoy it. I have always loved cricket but was only an average player. My failure to pick in-swing, out-swing, leg-spin, off-spin and length – condemned me to a life of politics.

Once, I failed to pick the wrong people and questioned their parentage. With apologies, it was true. I was once forthright in private and off the record.

Nevertheless, cricket was always a solace, even in the most difficult days. I remember after having lost the 1997 Election rather comprehensively, I went to the West Indies to watch an England game and – with that gift that served me so well in politics – picked the only game in Test history that was abandoned because the pitch was unfit.

Hopefully, the weather won’t call off any of the games during this Tour and I wish the South African team a good Tour, free of injury – and (of course, within the limits of my English prejudice) every success both on and off the pitch.

It is, Graham – truly – a delight to have you here.

[Indistinct, but anecdotes relating to cricket].

I don’t expect any instances like that but I do expect some wonderful cricket and I think a very large part of that wonderful cricket will be played by the South African team.