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Radio 4: Sport and the British

An epic 30-part series exploring the relationship between sport and the British is currently running on BBC Radio 4.

Over six weeks, Clare Balding gratefully accepts the help of a team of academics from the International Centre for Sports History and Culture at De Montfort University to explore how the British shaped huge global sports like football, cricket and rugby union and how sport in turn shaped British culture and character.

Three episodes explore cricket's relationship with the British, and all three reference Lord's ground.

31 January - A Level Playing Field

Explores the birth of cricket at Hambledon cricket club and the eventual shift of power to Lord's.

20 February - Cricket and the English Hero: Grace to Hobbs

W.G. Grace and Jack Hobbs were English heroes in their day. Balding visits Lord's and the Oval and also talks to Simon Rae, author of 'W.G. Grace: A Life'.

1 March - The Indian Summer of the Amateur Gentleman

This episode tells the story of how MCC came to abandon the long-standing distinction between Gentlemen and Players, or amateurs and professionals. Balding interviews academics and Doug Insole, a former MCC President and an amateur cricketer for Essex and England.

A Level Playing Field

In the episode aired on 31 January, entitled 'A Level Playing Field', Balding visits Broadhalfpenny Down in Hampshire, the original home of Hambledon Cricket Club, that's widely regarded as the birthplace of modern cricket.

Balding commented: "On a breezy summer's day, I went to Hambledon in Hampshire. A village cricket match was in progress on Broadhalfpenny Down, the sort of scene that you could point at immediately and identify as 'English'."

The origins of cricket go back to the sixteenth century, it was a farm game, played on landed estates.

Highly competitive aristocratic landowners, with money and time to spend, would employ men on their estates who were the best cricketers, so they could use them on their team.

The benefit of cricket to British society was that it was a sport that mixed the classes.

The landowner and his employees were on equal terms on the pitch, unlike the situation in France, where the nobility and the rest of the population were on an unavoidable and fatal collision course.

In the local Hambledon pub, the Bat & Ball, the rules for cricket as we know it today were drawn up and modified as various loopholes were exploited by a batsman who walked to the crease with a double width bat, or one who refused to accept that he was out as the ball had passed through the gap between the two stumps. A third was rapidly introduced.

Professor Richard Holt of the International Centre for Sports history and culture at De Montfort University explains that while we shouldn't confuse social mixing with social harmony, this picture of cricket as a village game, played on summer afternoon, everyone knowing their place on the field, has become the image of Englishness.


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