What is it about Prime Minsters and cricket?
Sir John Major chose a replica of The Oval as his luxury item on Desert Island Discs, and is still a regular visitor to the ground, while Theresa May spent one of her early days in office watching an England match at Lord’s. She even exchanged emails with Geoffrey Boycott when she first succeeded David Cameron as Prime Minster and describes the Yorkshireman as her cricketing hero because of how he "solidly got on with what he was doing”. Strong and stable leadership, and all that.
Harold Wilson also loved the game, and while Sir Alec Douglas-Home remains the only PM to have played first-class cricket, Cameron did once face an over from Muttiah Muralitharan in the broiling temperatures of Colombo which he describes as “one of most exciting things” he did as Prime Minister.
Footage on YouTube shows Cameron twice hitting Murali down the ground at Colombo Cricket Club although the cross bat swats at the other deliveries would not please Boycott, who once criticised the Prime Minister after watching him bat in India for not having a high enough elbow.
“I cheated a bit,” says Cameron. “I asked him if he could bowl gently at me and he did. It fizzes in the air when he bowls and it was terrifying, even though he is a slow bowler. When you are not used to the pace they are a lot faster than you think and even though we were doing it at eight in the morning it was 40 degrees. I laid a bat on the first ball and it went progressively downhill but by then I had done my bit.
"Cricket is just one of the most wonderful sports to watch and relax to at the same time. If there was a Test match on I would badger the detectives in the car to switch on the radio to get a bit of Aggers and Blowers. I do love listening to Test Match Special while digging my vegetable patch but I have to say it never got in the way of important Prime Ministerial duties.”
Cameron was at The Oval this week to speak about cricket in his role as patron of the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation, the charity that is building a cricket ground in Kigali as the country continues to rebuild from the genocide of 1994.
Facing a bowler like Murali is the dream of many Rwandan cricketers. Due to the lack of facilities in Kigali, such as a grass wicket, there are no spin bowlers in Rwanda.
The new cricket ground in Kigali will help Rwandans catch up on their African rivals on the field but improving a country that plays in the lower echelons of the ICC competitions is only one part of the story.
As Cameron said in his opening address on Wednesday evening there are perpetrators and victims of the genocide playing alongside each other in the Rwandan team. Cricket is a tool for reconciliation.
The RCSF has raised more than £1m (another £150,000 was pledged at the Wednesday night’s dinner) and the ground will be opened in October with a gala cricket weekend featuring Brian Lara and Michael Vaughan.
Later this year the project will be expanded into an initiative called Cricket Builds Hope, which will take cricket to the refugee camps on the Rwandan border with Uganda. For Cameron the project has a personal edge. It is the brainchild of the late Christopher Shale, his former constituency chairman in Oxfordshire, who died in 2011. The project has been taken on by his son Alby, and the ground is close to completion.
“Rwanda is an amazing country. People thought the recovery from the genocide couldn’t possibly happen. But it is a great African success story,” says Cameron. “Some people say aid does not work and African countries do not work, well, if you want a heart warming, uplifting and genuinely inspiring story, then this is a good place to find one.”
He says Lara is trying to persuade him to play in the stadium’s opening match. “The thought of batting with him is very enticing but I don’t want to do a Piers Morgan and get bowled out by Brett Lee.” Or have Geoffrey inspect his technique.