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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 May 2007, 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK
No spin as Major bowls Hay over
John Major in 1991 in Australia with Bob Hawke
Sir John has always been a passionate cricket fan
When John Major picked up his bat and walked out of Downing Street, he made straight for the Oval.

In the decade since the former prime minister has turned his cricket passion into a history of its early years.

He was "opener" for the first Saturday of the 20th literature festival in the Welsh border town of Hay.

He told the audience his own cricketing ambitions were not helped by a car accident, but admitted: "I suffered one or two defects - I wasn't good enough."

He added: "If you can't play cricket you might as well go into politics."

Sir John's book, More Than A Game, traces the origins of the game, played by "hardy people from a hardy age, which brought the most extraordinary characters".

The great WG Grace (1848 - 1915) was not without flaws, impeding bowlers running past him with his "ample body".

Even I'm getting bored with the vast number of games
Sir John Major on the growth of one-day cricket

He also exploited his financial worth to the full. This included an early example of the power of the WAGs (or footballers' Wives and Girlfriends), when he insisted his fiancee accompanied him on tour to Australia.

"Few men in history would be brazen enough to unburden their honeymoon expenses to the sponsors but Grace did," said Sir John, whose seven years as prime minister were ended by Tony Blair's first Labour landslide victory in 1997.

Back in the present day, Sir John was critical of how too much lottery money was being diverted to the 2012 London Olympics, and was hitting grassroots sport.

Sir John Major's book looks at the origins of cricket until 1914.

He said when he set up the lottery, it was intended to provide 300m a year for sport, the arts and heritage.

But he said that the Big Lottery under the Labour government had "siphoned off a huge amount of this money," for good causes which used to be paid for by government and had become "taxation by the back door".

"It should be going on cricket nets for youngsters, football pitches, swimming pools in inner city areas - funds have been cut to a dribble and I'm very angry about it."

Sir John said cricket was an English invention that had "swept the world and was as potent as the English language itself".

However, he said there was far too much one-day cricket squeezed in and around Test series. "Even I'm getting bored with the vast number of games," he admitted.

The festival on Saturday night will also hear from prime minister-elect Gordon Brown. The chancellor, who has been selected unopposed as new Labour leader, will discuss his new book on his heroes.

  • Veteran writer Thomas Keneally talked about his latest novel The Widow And Her Hero, which tells of a 90-year-old woman piecing together the story of her husband, executed in Singapore in World War II.

    "Writing from a woman's point of view is exhilarating and a good test, especially as we Australians are seen as Olympic semi-finalist sexist brutes," he said.

    Keneally, the author of Schindler's Ark (turned into the Oscar-winning film Schindler's List by Steven Spielberg) said he liked finding good stories to tell and his next is about escapees from Tsarist Russia in Australia - a sort of "Bolsheviks in Brisbane".

    He said he was "amazed" he was even a writer, as a former trainee priest and monk "from the epicentre of Australian ennui".

    Other events on Saturday included the Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, TV dramatist Andrew Davies and Super Furry Animals' Gruff Rhys.

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