Sunday, 28 February 2010

Little Britain

Is Ian Bell 'too English' to ever really succeed in Test cricket? Is Matt Prior a better player because he's given up eating sausage and chips and sunday roast? Is Steve Harmison a victim of Durham's insular community, and is Chris Tremlett just a big Southern jesse?

These might be at best tangential explanations of their failings. They probably wouldn't gain much traction in any lengthy debate. Every man is to a greater or lesser degree a product of his environment, and it's unlikely that a selection meeting involving Geoff Miller will offer the world an answer to a 'nature versus nurture' conundrum that has defied both science and philosophy.

The cricket correspondent of the Times, Michael Atherton, posed some similar questions in a piece this week, though: Is Monty Panesar too Indian to succeed for England in Test cricket? Is Ajmal Shazad in the squad because he's given up eating his mum's curries and chapatis? Has Samit Patel made that same dietary commitment, and if not, should he? Is Owais Shah not deferential enough and Ravi Bopara less mentally tough than other batsmen? Is Adil Rashid a 'slow learner' [and, by the way, is 'slow learner' now some kind of euphemism]?

It's a tortuous path to negotiate, this question of 'British Asian' cricketers, and Atherton has, to his credit, been unafraid to go into print with some of the arguments that are heard in dressing rooms and board rooms. Yet being set down in the paper somehow exposes them as bogus, from another age. Athers scrabbles for a foothold, but crashes to earth around the time he suggests that Monty's 'full blown Indian' wedding is somehow indicative of his dilemma.

Atherton asks if South Africa's outstanding batsman in India, Hashim Amla, has succeeded because he is 'better, or mentally stronger' than British Asian players. That's a bit like trying to compare apples and oranges, but within Amla's stats lie a different, and more revealing argument. He debuted in November 2004, and his average did not hit 40 until his 31st match, almost exactly four years later in November 2008. After two years and nine tests it was 22.47; after three years and 18 matches it was 32.56. After 41 tests it was 40.75, and it is only after his success in India that it has risen above 47. In short, Amla, had he been England-qualified, would have been in and out of the side like Bopara and Shah. Only South Africa's selection policy has allowed him to flower so late. Perhaps there is a lesson there - one of how some talent develops rather than how positive discrimination works.

In the Guardian, Mike Selvey made a far more acute point than Atherton's. 'Of the 30 or so batsmen to have played U19 tests between 1999 and 2006, only three - Ian Bell, Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara - have reached the test team at all'.

That is the real question, and the answer lies in 'British' rather than 'Asian'. It's that question that we need to address. 

NB: One thing did Athers no favours - the lack of quotes in his piece. Surely he knows the players involved well enough to pick up the phone and ask them the question?


Patricia said...

Occasionally Michael Atherton hits on a topic of interest as he has done in his latest article, Time to end depressing culture of failure among British Asian players, but as usual has suffered another failure to understand the underlying problem which is - sorry to use this word - racism. Don't all shout and say there isn't any!

All that is needed to produce the results we have had with Asian (and other ethnic minority) cricketers is that they are treated slightly less favourably than their white counterparts. It is obvious to me that this has happened and a recent report on employment tells us that people with Asian names are discriminated against.

MA fails to understand that Amla has done so well because he was backed by the system.

MA thinks that curries and chappati's are making asians fat!!!!!!!!!!! How come the Indian team is so successful?

MA fails to realise that Mark Ramprakash is always being forced to defend himself - not merely whining.

The Times will never normally post any replies which are negative about MA. On this occasion they have allowed more criticism than usual. Perhaps they were as shocked, as was I, at his lack of perspective and indeed truth. Bumble has tweeted that MA was not permitted to reply to those who disagreed with his article.

The OB has opened this discussion to the wider issue of white, or perhaps all, England batsmen and their failure to thrive and I’m only guessing here. Perhaps it is because of the influx of foreign cricketers with connections to England that so few English born candidates of all races have made it into the national team. I guess that cricket is more important in SA and that many more juniors take part in the sport – tell me if I am wrong! Even without a little tweaking within the SA team to help minorities there will always be cricketers of high calibre wanting to play international cricket and after all a team consists of only eleven players.

Should the England selectors be picking these mercenaries or supporting cricketers who are genuinely English?

Brit said...

I'll do no more than poke gingerly at this one from the other end of a bargepole. No doubt race is sometimes a factor in the way that race is sometimes a factor in all of humanity's sorry and cackhanded affairs, but I would observe the following:

- true institutional racism would deny Asian players opportunities to get into the team. But as MA's list shows, the problem all the way down has simply been their failure once in the team (Saj Mahmood has been given far too many chances, he's obviously not good enough to play at international level)

- countless white players have similarly come and gone with the England team after being given a brief chance and failing to take it, particularly ODI batters and wicketkeepers. We only notice race if we look for it.

- comparing the situation of black in SA with that of Asians in the UK is comparing apples and oranges.

- not long ago Nassar Hussein was captain of the England team. Nobody ever mentions his race because he succeeded.

The Old Batsman said...

The more I think about it, the more I'd blame a kind of deep-rooted conservatism [small c] in youth development, rather than any sort of race argument.

Patricia said...

Sorry Old Batsman but you are wrong.