1997 Onwards -
Below is the text of Sir John Major’s speech at the Commonwealth’s 60th Anniversary Dinner, held at Lords in London on Wednesday 14th October 2009.
SIR JOHN MAJOR:
When the Secretary General proposed this dinner, he brought together two institutions that inter-
Cricket, of course, is 400 years older than the Commonwealth but it continues to provide the cement that keeps together fifty-
I once tried to explain cricket to an American President -
The Commonwealth was born out of the break up of an Empire when common ideals, shared interests and age old sentiment saw virtue in a loose association of nations. Today, some people doubt its relevance -
The Commonwealth has values in common: democracy, freedom, the rule of law. It promotes social and economic development -
In our hard-
But there is nostalgia in the musings of cricket lovers: where, in the Commonwealth, have you not heard arguments about the relative merits of cricketers -
Across the Commonwealth, sport has a role, evident every four years in the Commonwealth Games. The ancient Greeks understood the value of sport -
With Australians, cricket was almost a formal agenda item and with South Africa and New Zealand it jostled with Rugby for a share of the time. Nelson Mandela once told me that one of the first questions he asked on leaving Robben Island was: “Is Don Bradman still alive”.
At the Commonwealth Conference in Harare in 1991, we held a cricket match. I opened the batting at the Wanderers Ground with Bob Hawke, then Prime Minister of Australia. The ground was overflowing but, to prevent swollen heads among the politicians, it was made clear to us that the spectators had come to see their local hero, Graeme Hick. To them -
Our time on that pitch revealed some national characteristics: Hawke stole the bowling unmercifully and when -
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. And tomorrow, some equally compelling contest is certain.
In the Commonwealth, cricket has always played a special role. The West Indian cricket writer, C.L.R. James argued that -
I believe that to be true. Over many decades, cricket has, for some, been an escape from obscurity to fame, poverty to comfort, exclusion to inclusion.
Think of the great players who first picked up a bat and ball on the streets of Lahore or Kingston or Mumbai. But -
Cricket can uplift whole communities -
And they beat her on merit. Perhaps no win in cricket ever had such social significance as Ramadhin and Valentine’s destruction of England at Lord’s. The game was won by the charm and guile of the cricketing sophisticates’ delight: the art of great spin bowling. It was intelligent cricket -
The Commonwealth has infinite variety. Large nations. Small Nations. Old Nations. New Nations. Rich Nations. Poor Nations. They all take their place. And within them -
Many years ago that great cricketer, Prince Ranjitsingh, analysed a cricket crowd:
“There are all sorts and conditions of men around the ropes -
He might have added that such sentiments apply to countries, too. Within the Commonwealth, cricket is an invisible bond, a shared love that brings people together. Cricket is cohesive, not divisive.
I saw this for myself in the mid-
I took with me some famous sporting personalities and we visited Soweto, armed with sporting equipment for the young children there. Colin Cowdrey and Alec Stewart presided over the cricket nets. That wonderful athlete Judy Simpson held a masterclass in athletics. Bobby Charlton demonstrated his mastery of football.
In the nets, I bowled Steve Tshwete, the South African Sports Minister, first ball. It was -
He had been coached on hurdling by Judy Simpson and told to practice every single waking moment. He was then coached on cricket by Colin Cowdrey. “I’ll practice day and night, Mr Cowdrey”, the boy promised. “Absolutely not!”, said a horrified Colin, “you must be sure to get plenty of sleep too”. Colin wasn’t called “Kipper Cowdrey” for nothing.
As the boy walked away shaking his head, I heard him mutter: “The cricket man says I’ve got to sleep. Cricket must be for sissies”. And he tossed down his cricket bat and began hurdling over it instead.
During those hours in Soweto there was an outpouring of sheer, exuberant joy amidst profound hardship. Never doubt the healing properties of sport.
The game of cricket today is a far cry from the age of humbug when W.G. Grace pocketed large fees for playing cricket, at the same time as he symbolised and promoted the concept of the Gentleman Amateur.
We have moved on from the age when, in England, the Captain, the Amateurs and the Professional players all used different dressing rooms and stepped onto the pitch through separate gates. Such images symbolise times long past. As does the Empire that is now a Commonwealth.
In an ever-
Cricket and the Commonwealth continue to march together. The intricacies of both are difficult to explain, but both continue to thrive. They are linked by history, and have evolved over time to reflect our shared interests, common goals, sense of fair play -
In forty years’ time -