by Girish Menon
A recent ECB survey found that 30 % of the grass root level cricket players were of Asian origin while it reduces dramatically to 6.2 % at the level of first class county cricketers. Why?
When this question was asked to Moeen Ali, he opined among other things, "I also 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," While some may view Ali's views as suffering from the Stockholm syndrome, in my personal opinion it resembles the 'Lazy Japanese and Thieving Germans' metaphor highlighted by the economist Ha Joon Chang. Hence, Ali's views should not be confused with what in my perspective are some of the actual reasons why there is a dearth of Asian faces in county cricket.
economist Ha Joon Chang has acquired a global reputation as a myth buster and is
a must read for all those who wish to contradict the dogmatic neoliberal
consensus. Chapter 9 of Ha Joon Chang's old classic Bad
Samaritans actually discusses this metaphor in detail. He quotes Beatrice
Webb in 1911 describing the Japanese as having 'objectionable notions of
leisure and a quite intolerable personal independence'. She was even more
scathing about the Koreans: '12 millions of dirty, degraded, sullen, lazy and
religionless savages who slouch about in dirty white garments...' The Germans were typically described by the
British as a 'dull and heavy people'. 'Indolence' was a word that was
frequently associated with the Germanic nature. Cambridge
But now that the economies of
Korea and have
become world leaders such denigration of their peoples has disappeared. If
Moeen Ali's logic was right then Pakistanis, Sri Lankans and Indians living in
their own countries should also not amount to much in world cricket. But the
evidence is to the contrary. So the right question to ask would be why has
English cricket not tapped into the great love for cricket among its citizens
from the Indian subcontinent? Germany
If it wants the truth, English cricket should examine the issue raised by the Macpherson report on 'institutional racism in the police' and ask if this is true in county cricket as well. Immigrants, as the statistics suggest, from the subcontinent can be found in large numbers in grassroots cricket from the time they joined the British labour force. There are many immigrants only cricket leagues in the
UK, e.g in Bradford, where players of good talent can be found. But,
as Jass Bhamra's father mentioned in the film Bend it Like Beckham they have
not been allowed access to the system. Why, Yorkshire
waited till the 1990s to select an Asian player for the first time.
Of course, if the
team is intended to be made up of players of true English stock only then we
need not have this discussion. Some of the revulsion towards Kevin Pietersen
among some of the establishment could be better understood using this lens.
However, now due to its dwindling base if the ECB wishes to get the support of Asian cricket
lovers it will have to transform the way the game is run. England
Secondly, to make it up the ranks in English cricket it is essential to have an expensive well connected coach. Junior county selections are based on this network and any unorthodox talent would be weeded out at the earliest level either because of not having a private coach or because the technique is rendered untenable as it blots the copybook. So, many children of Asian origin from weaker economic backgrounds are weeded out by this network.
This is akin to the methods adopted by parents in the shires where grammar schools exist. Hiring expensive tutors for their wards is the middle class way of crowding out genuinely academic oriented students from weaker economic backgrounds. Better off Asians are equally culpable in distorting the grammar school system and its objectives.
So what could be done. I think positive discrimination is the answer. We only need to look at South African cricket to see what results it can bring. My suggestion would be that every team should have two places reserved: one for a minority player and another for an unorthodox player. This should to some extent break up the parent-coach orthodoxy and breathe some fresh air and dynamism into English cricket.
Personally, I have advised my son that he should play cricket only for pleasure and not to aspire for serious professional cricket because of the opacity in the selection mechanism which means an uncertain economic future. He is 16, a genuine leg spinner with little coaching but with good control on flight and turn. Often he complains about conservative captains and coaches who were unwilling to gamble away a few runs in the hope of getting wickets. Many years ago, when my son was not picked by a county side, I asked the coach the reason and he said because, 'he flights the ball and is slower through the air'. With what conviction then could I have told my lad that you can make a decent living out of cricket if you persevere enough?