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 Pitch Perfect Cricket Diversity Dinner – 28 June 2010

The text of Sir John Major’s speech to the Pitch Perfect Cricket Diversity Dinner, held at the Guildhall in London on Monday 28th June 2010.


My Lord Mayor, Your Excellency, Sheriffs, Ladies/Gentlemen.

It is a great privilege, Lord Mayor, to be in this wonderful building. Guildhall is as old as cricket and a superb venue to celebrate the game and to raise funds so that more young people can play it.

The “Pitch Perfect” initiative raises money for music and cricket. Both warm the soul and train the mind. Tonight, we concentrate on cricket and bringing it back to schools, where the game has withered for over 30 years.

Lord Mayor, we are enormously grateful for your generous hospitality here this evening, and – on behalf of all those children who are not here tonight – but will benefit from your splendid Appeal – I thank you warmly.

We’re here in the heart of the City. In this hub of the world of finance, it is easy to forget that cricket is a game. It’s played for fun. When 16th century rustics – in their few precious hours of leisure – batted with a block of wood against a tree stump, it was pure fun. In the days of the I.P.L., where cricket is a business, it is wise to remember that most cricket is still played for fun.

Nearly 60 years ago – as a boy – I played cricket on the streets of Brixton – not very far from here. Those hours still provide many happy memories and so it is for all cricketers from street level to Test level. Surely those of us who have enjoyed such moments wish to pass them on to others. And, in that, I include the many distinguished cricketers here with us this evening – whose support is very welcome and much appreciated.

The love of cricket is gloriously classless.

When Prime Minister I went to Canterbury Week and was strolling around the tents with Jim Swanton and Bob Runcie, then Archbishop of Canterbury. Amid much merriment, a voice called from the crowd:- “Who are those two men with Jim Swanton?”. Cricket lovers have always had a proper sense of priorities.

Cricket at its best draws in spectators and players alike so that the whole world can shrink to what is unfolding on a cricket pitch.

In 1950, the England selectors held a Test Trial before picking the team. In the game, Jim Laker took 8-2 and so the selectors learned very little – except that Laker was unplayable on a helpful wicket.

Hubert Doggart was Captain of the losing team. As wickets fell he spoke abstractedly to the – now much missed – Bedser Twins.

Where born Alec? Reading. Where born Eric? Reading: my mother didn’t have a bike in those days.

Many great authors have loved cricket, and brought it to life in print:

P.G. Wodehouse, J.M. Barrie. Trollope created a character – Sir Kennington Oval. Dickens had a cricket ground next to his Gad’s Hill house. Dorothy L. Sayers’ fictional detective Peter Wimsey scored 100 for Oxford.

Byron and Keats played cricket. Byron lied about the runs he scored. And Keats – soon after writing the immortal line “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” – wrote in his diary:

“Yesterday, I got a black eye – playing cricket.”

It was with a white ball, too …… nothing is new.

Cricket tells you a lot about people:

Conan Doyle loved cricket. Professor Moriarty did not.

Montgomery loved cricket. Rommel did not.

Montgomery’s father lived close enough to The Oval to hear crowds cheering Jack Hobbs. Monty himself, who once told his troops to “Hit Rommel for Six” was at The Oval for Don Bradman’s last Test innings, when he was bowled by Eric Hollies for 0.

As Bradman returned to the Pavilion, Montgomery said to him: “Bradman, let me tell you where you went wrong”. Absurdity of his offering advice to greatest run-getter of all time escaped Monty.

No sense of irony, Montgomery. He once remarked: “As God said …and he may have been right”.

During a Commonwealth Conference, I once opened the batting with Bob Hawke, then Prime Minister of Australia, in a charity match.

Hawke stole the bowling unmercifully and when – suddenly – we were ushered off the pitch to – as the Umpire unkindly put it – “make way for the real cricketers”, I asked Bob if he’d known we only had ten overs. He looked pretty shifty: “Jeez, yes John. Didn’t I tell you?”. Believe me, on and off the pitch the Aussies are tough competitors – but always very welcome visitors, And – tonight – I’m delighted to see among the company my friend, John Dauth, the Australian High Commissioner. Also – that bowler – Mitchell Johnson and Mr Cricket ‘Mila’ Sunny.

This winter, England defend the Ashes in Australia. In 1932, England won using intimidating “bodyline” bowling, that wouldn’t be permitted – or I hope even contemplated – today. The England captain, Douglas Jardine, was Public Enemy Number One.

As he left the field, a voice under a baggy green cap muttered: “You bastard, Jardine”. Jardine was furious. He burst into the Australian dressing room and complained bitterly to the Australian captain, Woodfull.

Woodfull looked around the room and said: “Right – which of you bastards called this bastard a bastard?”.

Not everyone is a fan. I tried to explain cricket to an American President who found it hard to comprehend that any game could last for five days, with no positive result. His eyes glazed over. I also tried to explain it to Boris Yeltsin over a vodka – or two. His eyes glazed over too – although – I suppose – that could have been the vodka.

Cricket and politics have many similarities. Apart from nostalgics, they attract pessimists. As long ago as 1932, C.P. Snow was complaining:

“These days, a man of taste can only go to an empty ground and regret the past!”. The same dreary view can often be heard today.

For some, the past is always the Golden Age. In the 1930s, Neville Cardus once wrote of falling asleep at Lord’s to the complaints of an elderly spectator that cricket “wasn’t what it used to be”. Cardus awoke to see Larwood bowling to Hammond. Anyone who dozed off over recent years might have woken to see Warne bowling to Tendulkar. The game remains endlessly fascinating.

And cricket attracts all manner of people. Nelson Mandela told me that his first question on leaving Robben Island was: “Is Don Bradman still alive?”.

At the moment, cricket is passing through a revolution. But the game itself – as Ben Jonson said of Shakespeare – is “not of an age, but for all time”.

But, of course, it changes. For the purist, watching a great batsman play 20/20 is like watching Red Rum pull a milkcart. But 20/20 has carried the game to millions upon millions who would not otherwise have watched it.

And widening the game is imperative. 17th century soldiers and sailors carried cricket around the world and – although you may not have known it – cricket played a part in winning the last War.

Many of you will have seen that great film “The Dam Busters”, in which Barnes Wallis designed a bomb that skipped across the water to destroy the walls of the three great German Dams, and flood the Ruhr.

In trials, the bombs simply sank gently beneath the water. One technician, George Edwards, a spin bowler, knew why: he knew the difference between top spin and back spin. The bomb was re-designed and the three dams – the Mohne, Sorpe and Eder – were taken out with ……. a leg-break.

But the Germans are not without a love for the game. In the First World War, a wounded soldier lay on the battlefield of the Somme when a German Officer approached. He searched the British soldier and read the papers in his pocket. “I see you are a member of the MCC. You are a lucky man. You can return to your line”. So MCC members present should note that their subscription can also serve as a life insurance……

Once, cricket was solely an English game. Now, it belongs to the world. And, whenever it is played, it draws people together. From all corners of the world – most recently China and Afghanistan – and from all corners of society: cricket is so much more than just a game.

Here in the UK, especially in London and the inner cities, we have too many young people with nowhere to go and nothing to do.

Yet all of them have a healthy competitive spirit. If we hope to get our children out of doors, away from television and computer screens – if we want them fit not fat, in teams not gangs – then we should support ‘Pitch Perfect’. We need to channel their energies into something positive, rather than negative.

Not only will our children and grandchildren benefit from it, but society will too.

“Pitch Perfect” has the initiative and drive to push this ambition forward. With your help, we can make that ambition become a reality.

Thank you, Lord Mayor, for giving us this opportunity – and thank you all for being here tonight in support of it.