‘Viewpoints’ is our repository for new contributors and feature-length comments. It’s a place for you to ask questions or get something off your chest. If you’d like to submit a piece, please e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org. In this post, Girish Menon asks – why are British Asians under-represented in English cricket?
Last year an ECB survey found that 30% of this nation’s grassroots cricketers are of Asian origin or heritage. But only 6.2% of our first class cricketers, in 2014, hail from this community.
My perspective on this? I’m of Indian heritage and have followed cricket for more than forty years. I live in Cambridge and play club cricket for Camkerala. My teenage son, a keen cricketer, is considering what role the sport could play in his life.
When Moeen Ali was asked about the disparity in numbers between Asian amateur and professional cricket, he said:
I feel we lose heart too quickly. A lot of people think it is easy to be a professional cricketer, but it is difficult. There is a lot of sacrifice and dedication.
To me, Moeen’s view resembles the ‘Lazy Japanese and Thieving Germans’ metaphor highlighted by the Cambridge economist Ha Joon Chang, who’s acquired a global reputation for myth-busting (and is a must read if you wish to contradict the dogmatic neoliberal consensus).
In his book Bad Samaritans, Chang quotes Beatrice Webb from 1911, describing the Japanese as having “objectionable notions of leisure and a quite intolerable personal independence”. She was even more scathing about the Koreans.
Twelve millions of dirty, degraded, sullen, lazy and religionless savages who slouch about in dirty white garments.
The Germans were at that time typically described by the British as a ‘dull and heavy people’. ‘Indolence’ was a word frequently associated with the Germanic nature.
Ever since the economies of Japan, Korea and Germany became world leaders, such denigration of their people has evaporated. By extension, if Moeen Ali’s logic is correct, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans and Indians living in their native countries should also not amount to much in world cricket. But the evidence is to the contrary.
So why has English cricket not tapped into the vast love for the game among those of Indian subcontinental heritage?
I believe English cricket should examine the issues raised by the Macpherson report’s findings of institutional racism in the police service, and ask whether this also exists within county cricket.
Immigrants from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and their children, have been found in large numbers in social cricket ever since they joined the British labour force. There are leagues virtually dedicated to Asian cricket in towns such as Bradford, where you can find many players of exceptional talent. But, as Jass Bhamra’s father said in Bend it Like Beckham they have not been allowed access to the system. It wasn’t even till the 1990s that Yorkshire first selected an Asian player.
If the England team is covertly intended to be made up exclusively of players of true English stock, then we need not have this discussion. Some of the revulsion towards Kevin Pietersen within the establishment could be explained through this lens.
But the demographic base of English cricket is narrowing. If the ECB is serious about earning the support and engagement of British Asians, it will have to transform the way the game is run.
To make it up the ranks in English cricket it is essential to have an expensive and well-connected coach. Junior county selections are based on this network, and any unorthodox talent is weeded out at the earliest level. Either this is because the youngster lacks a private coach or because their technique is rendered untenable as it subverts the coaching manual.
These processes and inbuilt biases filters out children of Asian origin, who are often from poorer homes, and dumps them on the scrapheap.
It’s akin to the methods adopted by parents in regions which still have grammar schools. Hiring expensive tutors for their kids is the middle class defence against genuinely academically able students from humbler backgrounds. Wealthier Asians can be equally culpable in doing this themselves.
So what can be done? I think positive discrimination is the answer. We only need to look at South African cricket to see what results this could achieve. My suggestion would be that every ECB-accredited club side should have two places reserved: one for a minority player, and another for an unorthodox player. This could break up the incestuous parent-coach nexus and breathe fresh air, diversity and dynamism into English cricket.
I have advised my sixteen year old son that he should play cricket only for pleasure – and not to aspire to serious professional cricket. This is because the selection mechanism is opaque, and his prospects, therefore, too uncertain.
He is a genuine leg spinner, who’s had little coaching but still achieves good control, with flight and turn. Often he complains about conservative captains and coaches who are unwilling to gamble away a few runs in the hope of getting wickets. Some years ago, when my son was not picked by a county side, I asked the coach why. His answer? “He flights the ball and is slower through the air”.
After hearing that, with what conviction could I then tell my lad he could make a decent living out of cricket if he only persevered.