Oli Broom

“On the eve of the first Test of the Ashes 2010-11 cricket series, I was taking the last few pedal strokes of millions up a short incline a couple of miles from the Gabba (the Brisbane cricket stadium) when a flash convertible pulled up alongside me. The driver leant across his female companion to ask if I was the “crazy Pommie bloke” who’d cycled all the way from Lord’s.

I was. And I’d been called crazy, or a version of it, by almost everyone I had met during the past 14 months in 23 countries pedaling 25000km to reach the cricket Ashes. But there in Brisbane at the end of my journey, having seen so much of our planet from the saddle of a bicycle, it seemed that “crazy” would, in fact, have been coming up with the idea of cycling to the Ashes and then not giving it a crack.

I’d first thought about it two years earlier. I’d already decided to go on a long bicycle journey but I knew needed to aim for an event to keep me motivated during long days in the saddle. When a friend told me she was moving to Australia I knew my destination could only be the Ashes.

I shut my eyes and imagined rolling up to the Gabba, ordering a cold beer and watching the first ball of the series. I could not conceive of a finer ending to a bicycle ride.”

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As you can see Oli Broom – the above narrator – loves cricket (almost as much as golfing fanatic André Tolmé who decided to golf across Mongolia). So much so that in 2009 he left his 9 to 5 in London and set off to cycle to Brisbane for the Ashes. Armed with little more than a Mongoose cricket bat, he navigated his way across four continents and twenty three countries, intent on spreading the gospel according to cricket. In nineteen of those countries he found the game, in all its obsessive glory. He played cricket with the unlikely national teams of Hungary and Bulgaria, he played in the shadow of the Blue Mosque (and many more exotic locations), slept in a goat pen in Sudan, dodged a 5-metre crocodile in the outback, battled mountains in sub-zero temperatures in Bulgaria and successfully negotiated the treacherous highways of India.

Oli Broom

With not a hint of training behind him, unfit and under-prepared, Oli Broom turned his back on office life, said goodbye to his girlfriend and family, packed up his panniers and, on a blustery October morning in 2009, pedalled out of Lord’s Cricket Ground with seventeen friends. He didn’t know where he was going; He didn’t know who he would meet; He didn’t know if he would make it. he was excited and afraid. At the end of the second day his friends said their goodbyes and took the train back to London; back to their responsibilities, girlfriends, jobs. His only responsibility was getting a boat to France.

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But boy was it an adventure. Oli slowly got the right (cricket) swing going, navigating his way across four continents and twenty three countries. Playing his beloved cricket game along the way. His carefully packed cricket bat proved to be a quick conversation starter enabling him to play many and often unexpected cricket games.

With Kurdish and Palestinian refugees in Syria and Ashes legends Merv Hughes and John Emburey at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Australia.

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On a freezing morning inside Belgrade’s two thousand year-old Kalemegdan Fort, opening bowler Slobodan strained to dismiss Vladimir, former rugby league player and self-appointed General Secretary of the Serbian Cricket Federation;

On a pedestrian zone between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, government ministers and television crews looked on curiously as members of the Turkish national cricket team played the first ever game of cricket in Sultanahmet, in the heart of historic Istanbul;

In Sudan’s Nubian Desert, nomads got their first taste of sport games and monster truck games. Dressed in traditional floor length white jalabiyas, at least they looked the part;

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In Kolkata the Jadavpur University Inter-Faculty Corridor Cricket Tournament was in full swing. The humidity was unbearable, the enthusiasm infectious and the intensity typical of the Indian attitude to their favourite pastime.

corridor-cricket in India

In every country he was dragged into local stations and newspaper offices for interviews: “What is this game called ‘crikay”? “This game was invented by us, the Turks, no?” “Why do you carry a piece of wood that looks like a baseball bat?” “What is your good name? Why you are not married? How do you cycle this far with such thin legs? Why do you cycle to this Ashes match? Why? Why? Why?”

Oli about his own cricketing crusade:

Ignoring sensible advice, I crossed India while temperatures soared beyond 50°C, exploring the country through the cricketing obsession of its people, playing and talking the game with Google executives in hi-tech Hyderabad and English Literature students in Kolkata, with orphans on the unexplored Konkan Coast and stars of the glamorous, controversial Indian Premier League in Mumbai. When there was no cricket to be found, I pedalled, benefiting from the extraordinary kindness shown to me by strangers everywhere I went.

Crossing mountain ranges, deserts, jungles and oceans, I fought depression in India, battled Dengue Fever – which nearly ended the expedition – in Thailand, suffered severe weight loss in Thailand and dehydration everywhere. There were times when I wanted to wave the white flag and jump on a plane back home; there were times when I never wanted to stop. I encountered thieves in France, packs of savage wild dogs in Turkey, wolves in Jordan and saltwater crocodiles in Australia. And in doing so, I raised £75,000 for the British Neurological Research Trust and the Lord’s Taverners.

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After 14 months, having cycled 25000 km along the way – and playing countless cricket games – Oli reached Brisbane at the end of November 2010 just in time for his beloved Ashes where he gets a glorious reception at the Gabba cricket stadium. And that cold beer was indeed waiting for him!!

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Logically Oli wrote a kickass book covering his cricket obsessed cycling mission: Cycling to the Ashes: A Cricketing Odyssey From London to Brisbane. Starring the colourful characters he met on his travels, it is a funny and poignant tale for anyone who’s ever dreamt of jacking in the day job to embark on an incredible adventure…so basically this book is for everyone…just admit it.

Sources: cyclingtotheashes.co.uk, Oli’s blog, theguardian, travellingtwo.com