Viewpoints: the Asian gap


‘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 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.


  • I would entirely agree. I play, and have for many years, in the Surrey Championship, where frequently two thirds of any given side is made up of players of Asian descent. They form the backbone of the league in many ways and some of them are wonderfully talented. None that I have spoken with consider a career as a cricketer though, and I understand their reticence perfectly. Quite apart from the slightly unorthodox players – the spinners, the aggressive batters etc who have their technique and skills blackguarded – they are constantly maligned for poor time keeping or switching off in the field as if this is some in-built trait, as opposed to habits that all club cricketers display at one time or another (I’ve never had any trouble when I’ve been late). It saddens me, and I think it CAN only be described as institutional racism.
    As a nation we do have a long history of integrating foreign people (and players of sports) into our national and regional lives (and sports teams), but we’re missing a big trick with cricket. The coaching of youngsters is exactly as described in the article (as a promising young fast bowler from a lower middle class background I suffered in the same way). The word is nepotism and it’s making us suffer internationally. No country has a wider playing base than we do, but we fail to exploit it except those that come from the ‘right sort of family’ or those that went to ‘the right school’.
    It’s depressing, it’s frustrating, it’s really, really annoying, but unless we can find a way to oust Clarke, Downton and their minions then we’re stuck with it, I’m afraid.

    • Very much agree. Back to the oft made point that those running our (their?) game don’t have the welfare of cricket as their priority. As well as the reasons stated above, it’s clear to me that those in charge, at all levels, are incompetent. Yes we have millions of people in this country and still they can’t find a repacement for Strauss nor, apparently, for Swann. Frustrating, depressing, annoying – too true. While we’re at it, I haven’t noticed too many from Afro-Carribean background being given a chance either.

    • “No country has a wider playing base than we do, but we fail to exploit it except those that come from the ‘right sort of family’ or those that went to ‘the right school’.”

      What do you base this on? Even ignoring the fact there are vastly more cricketers in more populous nations such as India, even Australia, with a third of the population of Britain, has twice the number of cricketers.

      England actually has a rather limited playing base compared to many other nations.

  • What do you mean by “a wider playing base”? Both India and Pakistan have larger populations than the UK and I would guess a larger percentage of their populations who play cricket. Am I missing something?

  • Where to start?

    You begin with Ali’s quote – 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 – which you describe as a lazy racial stereotype, which may well be so, but then you follow it with this:

    “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.” which you prove Moeen’s point. Just at the point your son should be getting more serious about playing cricket, you have told him not to bother. It’s too hard, it’s too uncertain, there are no guarantees, so just give up.

    Aspiring to be a professional sportsman requires a leap of faith. There are no guarantees at any point. At every point of success – selection for county colts, selection for 2nd XI, County cap – you can be found wanting at the next level. What did you want? A written guarantee that your son would earn a good living and be selected for the team of his choice before he would even make himself available for selection? Frankly, you seem to embody Moeen’s stereotype.

    Your article is littered with canards:

    “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.”

    This isn’t so at all. Excellent coaching is available at any decent cricket club. As a junior I played at Brentham in the Middlesex league. All such clubs have ECB coaches, and Brentham produced a number of professional cricketers, none of whom had private coaches.

    The key to success was really dedication and commitment. For instance, at a different club, I played cricket with the Defreitas boys. Phil Defreitas, the England player, has about seven brothers and a number of cousins, all of whom play cricket. Phil’s older brother, Farren, was a more gifted cricketer and was offered a county contract. The pay wasn’t great and he already had a trade, so he chose not to take it. There were no guarantees, the prospects weren’t great, so he stuck to recreational cricket. His less talented brother went for it and ended up winning an Ashes series. The Defreitas boys, it should be noted, come from a poor part of London and had few advantages – nor are they white.

    Perhaps it will give you some comfort in the future never having to find out whether your son was not good enough to be a professional cricketer. Maybe it helps you to believe the only thing holding him back is racism. But in this article, in black and white, you make it perfectly obvious the single most important reason your son will never be a professional cricketer is that his father told him not to even bother trying..

    • THA, you may wish to try convincing Asian parents to let their children persevere with cricket even though the chips are stacked against them?

      • It’s not for me to parent your children. If you need someone to convince you to encourage your children then you are just reinforcing the stereotype you’ve been arguing against. First racism was to blame, now it’s Asian parents?

        The chips are stacked against everyone. Most people who attempt to become professional cricketers fail, and for a variety of reasons. Most people are not talented enough. Of those who are, a significant proportion don’t have the dedication or aptitude.

        A significant proportion more drift away because at the crucial time – 17, 18 years old – boys find a lot of other things to interest them and they have trouble focusing on their cricket.

        Having a parent who also tells them they may as well not bother is the final nail in the coffin.

        Let me turn it around: name me a cricketer who described their ride to the top as easy, obstacle free? Which cricketers had a guarantee of a career before they would even commit to cricket?

        • It’s a difficult one this. While I agree that the vast majority of people are just not good enough to make it as a professional cricketer, there does seem to be some discrepancy between the numbers of Asians playing cricket and the number who get into county cricket.

          However as you say that may not be down to racism. I think it is more likely down to the inflexibility of the way county cricket clubs go about their business. I have long thought that county cricket is a bottleneck in the English game. If you want to make it to the top of English cricket you have to pass through that bottleneck.

          The bigger problem is that county cricket is just not a very good option financially for many bright young people. ( your story about the Defreitas brothers is a good example) Bare in mind that cricket is increasing only played at private schools. Not many state schools play the game,and the kids that do tend to come out of more middle class backgrounds with very good exam result and a place at university. If you are considering a career in law or medicine or many other professions, are you going to take the gamble of putting your life on hold for 5-10 years to try to become a cricketer that may lead to playing for England! (The only real way to make a good living)

          In the past going back 50- 60 years your typical county Cricket team tended to be made up of privately and university educated players, mostly batsman, ( but not all) and working class young men who were the fast bowlers. For the bowlers a career in county cricket was a way of escaping going down the mines, or other low paid dangerous jobs. For the educated batsman the world was not quite as competitive as it is now. Thanks to the old boys network You could play cricket in the summer and perhaps find a law firm or some such in the winter. Very difficult in today’s world to find an employer who would be so flexible.

          All of this is just a long winded way of saying that financial, rather than race is probably more of an issue. It has long been thought that English cricket has lost a lot of talent (mostly white players) who decided professional cricket was just not a decent career move. If anything it has got worse, and I don’t see it being any different for Asians, particularly middle class Asians. Why give up a decent career to gamble on professional cricket?

  • I agree with much of what Mark says here. Another factor that I have seen is that a large number of good Asian cricketers cannot commit to playing the game on Saturdays because of work commitments. A large number of them work in retail where Saturdays is the most important trading day. I am pleased with the support that the ECB has given to Sunday leagues like the Middlesex Premier Cricket League, the English Tamil Cricket League and the British Tamils Cricket League. Also, mid-week competitions such as the Lords Taverners City Cup are providing new and exciting routes into County cricket for Asian players.

  • Racism comes in many shapes and forms.

    Why would a young lad want to put in all that work and dedication when he knows that a less talented and certainly less capable player will always be picked ahead of him because he doesn’t come from “the right sort of family”.

    The actions of the ECB and Cook himself will have turned the next generation away from cricket by saying those 5 words. These words must be the most moronic words ever uttered in a sporting capacity.

    Really sad isn’t it.

    • No doubt Giles Clarke is an idiot – but I think you’re being a bit melodramatic here. I would imagine many more Asian cricketers would be inspired by Moeen Ali than would pay much attention to Clarke. That said, there’s no argument that it was a monumentally stupid comment.

    • Do we actually have any evidence that this is the case though? County Coaches have no idea what “family” a junior player comes from, all they have is their stats and what they can see in front of them.

  • “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”

    No its not. Junior County selections are based on recommendation from a club based on junior league performances and then a 2 hour trial. Private coaches have nothing to do with it.

  • 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”.

    This is an issue with many young spinners. Many bowl far too slow to be effective. Anyone can bowl slow spin, but the real talent relies on being able to bowl good spin at a decent pace.

  • I’m told it’s better than when I was a kid, less picking on the “Pakis” (my dad is Indian and my mother English, FYI) or pissing in their kit bag or putting Pork Scratchings in (doesn’t bother me, but if you’re Muslim…) or calling them dumb or lazy for not turning up to practice scheduled at the same time as they have to work. And let’s not even get into the issues about the drinking culture…

    Yet I’m mostly told “it’s better now” by white people – and when I ask the Asian kids, they say all that stuff still goes on. And yes it’s better, because the beatings and bullying are much rarer. But I’m not really sure it’s better enough.

    And many people like to turn a blind eye to it.

    And in the end, I’m not really interested in hearing how you think “it’s ok, young asians just have to persevere more.” Or “it’s ok, young Asians will be more inspired by Moeen than put off by the reminders from old white blokes (from Clarke on down) that they prefer “the right kind of people.”

    Key reason I’m not interested in that?

    It’s not about getting Asians in the game for their benefit, it’s about stopping the declining relevance of cricket in England. If we don’t connect with the people who are naturally interested, well, the game is likely to just continue to decline.

  • Reposting what I put on an earlier thread about this:

    Points I’ve frequently made:

    1) There are still pockets of racist attitudes in English cricket at all levels. 10 years ago it was worse – and 10 years ago has a big impact on the top level now. Progress is being made, but it takes time to filter through to the top level.

    2) There are big cultural issues which I don’t classify as racist but are an obstacle.

    a) At the kids level, there are still some areas where parents of Asian kids aren’t that trusting of clubs.

    b) There’s also a class issue which probably affects more than just Asians. A lot of the talk about “lazy Asians” who don’t want to come to nets and practice just ignores the fact that many of them have to work. There’s a lot of unrealism in cricket clubs about how much time working people have outside of the weekends. Or indeed, on the weekends.

    c) At older age levels, drinking culture can be a huge problem. Team bonding is built around alcohol and those who don’t partake can often be excluded.

    d) At every level, there’s a distrust of different technique which often counts against Asian players.

    e) There has been something not right at the top level. Before Moeen it was looking very ugly. ECB supporters now hide behind Moeen. However there have been plenty of ugly mentions about the culture in the dressing room and rumours about how players like Monty, Rashid and Shahzad were effectively isolated…

    • I think there’s a lot of truth here, although I think most of it applies much wider than to just Asian players.

      The complete absence of cricket on free-to-air television and in state schools has reduced participation at junior levels, to a great extent, to those at independent schools and those with cricket-mad parents.

      Independent schools do a good job of producing high quality cricketers but that schooling is obviously available only to the few. For most, the path to the higher levels of cricket will be via a club, but it does require knowledge or luck from the parents to know that some clubs are a much better pathway to senior rep cricket than others.

      You need to go to a county league level club and, even then, some clubs are better than others for advancement. In the Middlesex county championship, for instance, whilst clubs such as Brentham and Ealing produced lots of high quality players and had lots of success, Uxbridge was the club to join if you wanted to play for the county. Middlesex was based there and several of the colts coaches were also Uxbridge coaches. They inevitably favoured what was under their noses every day over someone they may see at a trial.

      There are a lot of kids playing at clubs outside the county league system who will likely never come to the attention of a county coach. Something specific to Asian players, though, is how many play in Asian only teams, or even Asian only leagues. Either deliberately or inadvertently they are excluding themselves from contention, along with all the kids who play at lower-league clubs.

      A lot of teenagers find it hard to summon the dedication and commitment required to be an elite sportsman. Apathy, depression, changing tastes, competing attractions, various reasons – this is true across the cultural spectrum, though – the vast majority of promising sportsmen fall by the wayside before they even leave school. Not having the time for practice or having to work on Saturdays is another problem for everyone, not just Asians by any means.

      I think behind a lot of successful cricketers (and sportsmen in general) you’ll find a father who pushed them through all the pitfalls and lowpoints. How many parents would allow and encourage their son to pursue the fragile hope of making a living as a cricketer at the expense of finishing school, getting a degree? Not many. Would it be worse with Asian families? I couldn’t answer.

      “ECB supporters now hide behind Moeen. However there have been plenty of ugly mentions about the culture in the dressing room and rumours about how players like Monty, Rashid and Shahzad were effectively isolated…”

      On this, there are certainly stories about the way newcomers have been treated, but none of them have mentioned race and a number of white players seem to have suffered the same way. It didn’t seem to affect Nassar Hussain becoming England captain and playing 96 Tests either.

  • Problem is, very few people here actually have any inside information about what happens in the elite and academy coaching setup. We’re all just guessing as to what the problem is.

  • It looks to me as if the structure of cricket is the main problem that has to be addressed. If you think of it, rugby union is very much a minority game in the UK. It is played in only a few pockets of the country, in fee-paying schools (maybe not in South Wales!) and yet there seems to be a structure that allows kids from all kinds of backgrounds to get coaching at a top club and get into contention for playing for their country. How many sides do top clubs such as Harlequins, Saracens, London Welsh etc put out every weekend, rain or shine, playing in all sorts and levels of leagues?

    Something is wrong with cricket if it cannot get this level of player-interest through to the higher echelons. Cricket has a much higher profile than rugby union and yet here we are talking about how a significant slice of the populationdoes not feel involved. That is a fault of the structure. The major counties have to take the blame for that. Why are they not scouting the Asian leagues? The football clubs send scouts (paid and unpaid) all over the nation. Money is of course a factor – but not all footballers go on to earn high wages, and a lot of them are semi-pros or even amateur. The ECB seems to regard everything outside county cricket as “recreational” cricket and gives it next to nothing in terms of funding.

    So – my diagnosis: the dead hand of the ECB and lack of clarity in the structure of cricket as a national game. If you are a recreational cricketer, that is all you can ever be. If you have the chance to be taken aboard by a county then you might get into the national side if your face fits. These days, weight of runs or wickets at a lower level does not count. You can only wonder how much better Australia might be if they picked Mark Cosgrove, for example. So it is not only England that is struggling to unearth talent.

    • I don’t think anyone here has claimed racism doesn’t exist. It’s quite a leap, though, from ‘racism exists’ to establishing a conspiracy to keep Asian players out of English professional cricket, and I don’t think this article does anything to bridge it (or anything much at all).

      • yup i think calling this racism is the wrong way to go about it.

        Its mainly orthodoxy and an obsolete system that’s not encouraging new gen brash talents as well as people without high level of financial security rather than racism.. the only thing that can divide people is money and mind from my perspective.


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