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Downing Street

When cricket takes over at No 10…

Sunak with Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese

Prime ministers often “struggle to attract public attention”, says Dominic Lawson in The Sunday Times. But at a Nato summit last week, the British and Australian PMs managed to cut through. A short clip of the two men teasing one another about the “unbearably close” Ashes contest quickly racked up 2.5 million views on Twitter. And I can’t blame anyone for being more interested in cricket rivalry than whether Ukraine might be granted membership of Nato. Like so many, “I am a Test cricket obsessive”, and for us, the Ashes obliterates all “allegedly more serious thoughts”.

And to be fair to Rishi Sunak, he is not merely posing as one of us “cricket tragics”. Advisors say his mood is “clearly influenced” by whether England are up or down in the Ashes, and he is “by no means the first prime minister with such tendencies”. The “notoriously taciturn” Clement Attlee would, according to his biographer, “talk to anyone about cricket”. When his press officer wanted to install a telex machine in Downing Street, he won the PM round by pointing out it would keep the building “up to date with the latest score from Lord’s”. Attlee always referred to the device as “my cricket machine”. In his book More Than a Game: The Story of Cricket’s Early Years, John Major recalls how “puzzled and infuriated” his deputy PM Michael Heseltine had been at the way Major and chancellor Kenneth Clarke would pass little bits of paper back and forth during Cabinet meetings. “Was sterling crashing? Was there a crisis? A ministerial resignation? No, they were the Test scores.”