The Strangest Dilemma

Afternoon all. It’s been a long time so I thought that I’d better check in. So much has been going on in the cricket world in recent weeks that I feel obliged to comment. Having said that, I fear this will be a temporary resurfacing. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve temporarily misplaced my enthusiasm for the game. And an all-too-depressing racism scandal isn’t exactly going to help anyone, let alone a disillusioned fan, warm to English cricket again.

Sadly, the last few weeks have been a real eye opener for me. I’ve always thought it strange that English professional cricket has so few black players. I recall there used to be many in the 1980s. But other than Daniel Bell Drummond, Keith Barker, Tymal Mills, and Chris Jordan, I’m struggling to think of too many others who currently ply their trade on the domestic cricketing treadmill. Meanwhile, although players from Asian backgrounds have been better represented in recent times, there are still far fewer than there should be considering the prevalence of recreational cricketers from Indian and Pakistani backgrounds.

However, whilst this subject has occasionally piqued my interest in the past, I’d never really given this imbalance the though it merited. I certainly didn’t think that institutional racism would be the reason why. Recent revelations have therefore come as a shock. There have been far too many accusations by far too many players now to dismiss the racism narrative as a fantasy concocted by failed professionals with an axe to grind.

Some of the abuse suffered by Aseem Rafiq (whatever mistakes he may have made in the past) and the likes of Jahid Ahmed and Maurice Chambers has really saddened me. I also saw an interview on Sky with Amjad Khan (the former Kent and England paceman) who is now a lawyer. Several other players with similar stories have apparently approached him, too. Consequently there’s far too much smoke for this to be anything other than a dumpster fire of gigantic proportions.

I feel rather foolish in a way. After all, I always considered racism to be a problem unique to English football (in sporting circles, anyway). Now we’ve discovered that racist abuse within cricket dressing rooms seems to be even worse. I certainly don’t think that top-flight English football, with its ethnically diverse player base, would tolerate the same level of sinister, childish and ignorant behaviour within its professional clubs.

At the centre of this scandal, of course, is the ECB. They’ve been slow to react – remember that Rafiq’s now independently substantiated allegations weren’t the first time racism has reared its hideous head – and basically allowed this problem to fester. Why am I not surprised?

I’ve long argued that the ECB is an incompetent organisation and this is just another example. They only seem to put the effort in when there’s bonuses to be earned and personal kudos to accumulate. After all, that’s exactly what The Hundred was created for. It was never about ‘growing the game’ and making it more accessible. It was about ego and appearances. But that’s another story altogether.

Watching Tom Harrison’s appearance at the DCMS committee last week reminded me why I find it so hard to identify with cricket these days. He was full of the usual evasion and corporate-speak. The decision to allow Yorkshire to conduct their own tardy investigation, and then punish themselves (or rather not punish themselves), before the ECB intervened was put down to archaic protocols. Well, who makes these protocols? Surely the governing body had a duty to revisit procedures to deal with such important issues before, or at the very latest as soon as, racism accusations were first made? As always, the ECB was reactionary rather than getting ahead of the run rate. 

It’s a massive problem that we can no longer trust the people running our game. They completely ballsed up the PR and subsequent launch of The Hundred, and therefore managed to alienate long-term ‘customers’ ahead of the biggest financial gamble in English cricketing history, and then they disgracefully let down Pakistan when they pulled out of a short T20 series – a series which was supposed to pay Pakistan back for visiting our shores at the height of the Covid pandemic. And now we have this latest shambles. Can the ECB actually stoop any lower?

Because of the way English cricket is run, I now find myself, for the first time in my life, wondering whether I actually want us to win The Ashes. Normally, the site of baggy green would have me waving the red and white flag of St George in no time (even when the team itself is waving a white one). However, this time I wonder whether English cricket actually deserves any success. After all, it’s currently morally bankrupt. Meanwhile, the direction of travel of English cricket, with franchises eroding both the game’s traditions and the primacy of first class cricket, couldn’t depress me more.

Basically, I’m in a no win situation this winter. If England somehow win The Ashes, which isn’t quite so far-fetched now that Ben Stokes is back in the fold, Harrison and the ECB will take a significant share of the credit – even though the success would in spite of, rather than because, of them. What’s more (and more importantly), the ECB’s shameful handling of racism plus the disgraceful treatment of Pakistan will be largely forgotten.

On the other hand, however, an Australia win would be as awful as Australian Ashes wins normally are. Nobody likes seeing their team lose to the old enemy, especially when that team includes proven cheats like David Warner and, to a lesser extent, Steve Smith. Consequently, I’m not sure how invested I’ll actually be during this series.

It’s quite possible, of course, that the sight of Jimmy Anderson running into bowl and Joe Root taking guard will be enough to get me onside again. I love some of our cricketers (if not all of them) and it will be impossible not to want them to do well. I think that Joe is the best batsman we’ve had in my thirty five years of watching cricket, but his CV desperately needs a dominant display down under. Ditto Ben Stokes. He’s a fantastic all-rounder but he’ll need to prove he can win games in cricket’s cruellest cauldron before he can be called a true England great.

So basically I’m in two minds. There’s no best possible outcome this winter. Perhaps, therefore, I’ll just watch the Ashes as an impartial observer who simply wants to see some good cricket and success for specific individuals. What’s more, I’ll definitely hope to see a close contest that goes down to the wire. After all, this would be the best result for Test cricket in general – the form of the game that many of us cherish the most, but also worry about the most.

What would you like to happen?

James Morgan

10 comments

  • I think you’ve missed a few significant cricketers, James – Moeen Ali, Jofra Archer, and Adil Rashid spring to mind – but I don’t disagree with the general thrust of your argument. I might not actually watch the Ashes (though I probably will….)

    • Moeen and Rashid are cricketers with Asian ethnicity. I was talking about black cricketers in the bit you’re referring to. I didn’t mention Jofra because he rarely plays country cricket these days, although one could say that about Mills as well.

  • I do understand your sense of disengagement. As a Durham member the behaviour of the ECB is no surprise. The treatment Durham received as punishment for debt brought widespread condemnation for being draconian but didn’t end up in the House of Commons. Meted out by Colin Graves and fellow members with the aim of demoting Durham from its rightful place in division one and breaking the club for years to come. The debt was minor compared to Yorkshire’s of course and so the years of corruption and bullying and franchise plotting began. Yorkshire was treated as a law unto itself. Durham players were innocent as they were sold off under the punishment cap added to the 48 points deduction for two years. What punishment was in mind for Yorkshire? None apparently
    as they were judge and jury. The ECB is rotten to the core. The PR only makes it worse. The Hundred is surely a mirror of its ambition. Cheap version of a great game. Are cricket fans so unappreciative of great skills and subtlety? I have been watching football recently and aspirations seem higher. Players love performing and post match discussions range over tactics and strategies. Fans have a lot to admire. I watched two games of The Hundred and couldn’t face watching any more despite feeling starved of cricket. Is anyone planning for football with more goals per game to keep fans in seats? The ECB is bankrupt of integrity and vision. Time to sack them.

    • Unfortunately you can’t sack them Jackie. The 1st Class Forum no longer exists. Maybe take them out with a hit squad. The only “good” thing that could come of the Yorkshire affair could be Harrison replaced by a Government Zar, if his 15 point “action plan” doesn’t work. They’ll be no winners though with Rafiq now seemingly part of the problem.
      As for the Ashes, I’ll watch highlights, but I no longer follow England, New Zealand is my team.

  • “Can the ECB actually stoop any lower?”

    Never ever say this!….

    On the more serious matter, what percentage of the UK population is black? The answer is apparently 3.3% (interesting humber!). By my dodgy maths that means the number of regular black f/c cricketers in the CC should be about seven. I mention this because people regularly overstate (and not by small amounts) the amount of the the US population that is black. I’ve never seen a similar poll for the UK but wouldn’t be surprised by something similar. What percentage of PL footballers are black? If it’s above the national average, does it matter? Should black players be purged? At least 14% of the England rugby team that beat SA was black because I’m sure Itoje and Sinckler were playing. Should one of them be dropped so the team represents the UK’s racial profile?

    It’s all absurd. It’s only been an issue because since BLM the media keep telling people to be upset about it. Most of the people virtue-signalling about this would support bombing countries full of black or brown people if the media told them they posed a “terrorist threat”. Scratch the ‘woke’ attitude to China and you’ll find something very like the old “yellow peril” stereotype (although they probably hate Russians more). This ‘scandal’ has been perfectly concocted for those who get red in the face about something somebody said on twitter but aren’t slightly worried (or even aware of) Congolese child miners who dig out the cobalt that powers their smart phones. How many black people are on the board of Rio Tinto or the big banks?

    On the Ashes, I’ll watch it and my expectations are so low I might be pleasantly surprised. Australia have had their own scandal involving Tim Paine who the media always said was a nice guy so that should tell some people how much notice to take of the media. As for Stokes, he played in the last home series which England couldn’t win.

    I was actually looking forward more to watching NZ in India. However India seem to be “resting” almost half their first choice team. For a home series agianst the world champions that’s some statement about the trouble Test cricket is in.

  • As has been repeatedly said cricket reflects the mores of society better than any other game as it draws its players from a wider circle and as the game lasts longer than most so traits play themselves out more evenly.
    Why should we be surprised in the game that personifies old school tie more than any other that old school racism is rife, as it is in society, amongst all groups. It’s what you get when you arbitrarily throw different cultures together who are ignorant of each other and refuse to integrate.
    I am more optimistic about the future as with every new generation there is more integration and mixing of these cultures, but it looks like being an uphill struggle for the moment. I have never been rose tinted about the innate so called sportsmanship in the game, for me snooker and golf set far higher standards. It may not be a coincidence that they are not team games, so the pressure is more on individuals to comply. A thing I love about cricket is the hurly burly of the class struggle that goes on throughout the game to this day, especially with the north south divide that gives extra spice to many an encounter for players and punters alike.
    An irony is so many people think of the 70’s as being the zenith of inappropriate racist behaviour yet the counties were full of foreign imports, many making their homes over here and captaining county sides.

  • Looking forward to the Ashes for as long as it remains competitive.

    Re Asian cricketers not going onto pro careers… the numbers from state schools with an Asian background going into higher education has been rising and is well above that for white students, 53% and 33% in 2020. I’m not doubting that cricket has its problems, but careers outside it might look like a better bet for many even if there were none.

    https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/education-skills-and-training/higher-education/entry-rates-into-higher-education/latest

  • The solution is clearly that more players should self-identify as an ethnic minority?

    “What, that’s incredibly offensive, you can’t say that!”

    Funny how it’s what one can’t say about race but what one must say about gender. It’s almost like it’s all manufactured bs in pursuit of other agendas.

  • Every sport has to endure a period of reflection and re – evaluation every so often. Although painful it is good that it happens because it always leads to a better situation than before. Look at cycling, look at football as examples. Cricket will be under the spotlight for a while then the public gaze will move on. Stay with it folks…
    “Peter Drake”
    teacher Hexham

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