The battle for the soul of English cricket
August 1, 2022 5:01 AM   Subscribe

Middlesex - and the UK as a whole - is home to thriving leagues and park teams that exist with little support from official bodies. This has led to a farcical situation in which some traditional, predominantly white clubs complain about a lack of new players, while oversubscribed Asian teams struggle to find grounds. It might seem obvious for the former to hire out their pitches, or follow the example of Crouch End (and other clubs such as East Lancashire) by involving Asian players in their organisation and outreach. However, Ankit Shah, co-chair of Middlesex's equality, diversity and inclusion committee, told me he does not see this happening. "This conservatism, protectionism, whatever you want to call it, is out there," he said. "It's not just the clubs - it's the private schools, too. They often have three or four pitches that aren't used from July to September. And you're talking about some of the best facilities in the country." posted by smcg (20 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
I was gratified to see the term "racism" right there in the article. They could have also used the word "classism" because in Britain they go hand-in-glove. Really there's nothing kind to say about racism, classism, sexism etc in sport which all conspire to keep mediocre rich white men the "champions" while vastly more talented others languish unseen and unappreciated. There's nothing so fragile as the ego of a mediocre rich white man.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:57 AM on August 1 [26 favorites]


The two pitches near me, in a hydro corridor/park behind a slightly shabby suburban technical college, will be absolutely jumping right now. It's a provincial holiday, so no-one's at work. The teams will be in their colours, all reds, blues and yellows. Under the shrubby trees at the edge of the coned-off field, families will be sat on folding chairs, all set for the day's sports. Stacks of coolers hint at tea filled with samosas rather than sandwiches.

The game's played fast, not just because of television influence, but there a lot of overs to get through on these two little pitches today. I'm sure the old white men of the MCC would decry the style as crowd-pleasing, but there can be no doubting the players' dedication. The nets have been filled for weeks from sun up to last light.

Yes, the quality of play isn't always the best. There's the guy who tries to deliver a doosra far too often, and doesn't quite almost every time. But once, just once, I saw him nail it: the batsman thought he saw a chance, stepped out but got stumped magnificently. The bowler's team went wild, and the bowler couldn't believe what he'd just done.

I've seen local cricket go from tapeball in the schoolyards two decades ago to this lively league scene. The forlorn softball pitches in parks are mostly repurposed for cricket. There may even be formal cricket clubs in Toronto, but I bet they don't see one tenth the action these wickets do.

English cricket? That stuff's for the museums.
posted by scruss at 6:27 AM on August 1 [26 favorites]


Though I've walked by many a game, I have never seen a white person play cricket in the US, am shocked to discover some people think it's a white/English thing?
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:45 AM on August 1 [5 favorites]


If you're not playing cricket with the express purpose of mocking the nobility's sport of jousting, you're not really playing cricket anyway.
posted by ocschwar at 7:13 AM on August 1 [4 favorites]


Though I've walked by many a game, I have never seen a white person play cricket in the US, am shocked to discover some people think it's a white/English thing?

I think this is largely dependent on your location in the US. I’ve lived in the US West (Utah, Texas, California) my whole life and have never ever seen a cricket game in real life.

Consequently, for many years my only exposure to cricket was various British media via PBS, so I thought it was a mostly-British sport until I traveled to India for work and learned more about it there.
posted by Doleful Creature at 7:56 AM on August 1 [5 favorites]


Desai had been inviting Middlesex scouts to watch Crouch End in action for more than a year....

Rivals began rumours that its success was not legitimate, calling it a “brown envelope club” (one that pays its players – a practice strictly forbidden in the amateur leagues). “People say, ‘Yeah, I might leave my club and join yours, how much are you offering?’” said Desai. “We get it all the time.”
Racial discrimination in sports is fascinating because it requires so many people to plainly act against their own interest. The stated goal of an athlete or coach or team is to win, and yet coaches, scouts, teammates, etc. find (or piggyback on) delusions and elitist norms to get around the plain fact that their discrimination makes them less competitive .... which is easier when they agree, explicitly or implicitly, to form a cartel and exclude new entrants. I might imagine that this dynamic is easier to keep going in amateur sports than in pro sports, because the profit incentive makes it more likely that someone will break the norms, yet Emma John notes that ethnic diversity declines as players reach the pros, and that a big part of that is about interpersonal dynamics within a team:
Middlesex’s own research has identified a major decline in diversity once players reach the professional game. Until then, 65 per cent of the talent is of Asian ethnicity. “In the pathways, you play with people you’ve grown up with, who look and sound like you,” said Shah. “In the professional squads, you get a lot of players from public schools – because that’s when they enter the system, having developed their game through the university set-ups. The dynamic in the changing room is different, and it’s not what some of the working-class kids are used to.”....

a cultural reserve is held against his Asian players, who can appear less sociable in a dressing room setting. “We constantly hear: ‘Yeah, he can play, not sure about the personality, though.’ A lot of our lads are fairly quiet. They’re not going drinking, they’re not boisterous, and we’re told, ‘I’m not sure they’re going to fit in.’”
And I gotta wonder how much of that "quiet" demeanor is just trying to stay under the radar and avoid becoming a target.

Question for people who know stuff about international cricket: the article doesn't discuss whether cricketers raised in the UK but with heritage in South Asia might prefer to move and play for cricket teams based in Pakistan, India, etc. when they're ready to go professional. Is that a factor?
posted by brainwane at 8:34 AM on August 1 [8 favorites]


I was in a Manchester park recently. Over HERE were lots of white (and Black, to be fair) people doing some US cultural import, involving loud dance music and feel-good modern "yeah! well done everyone!" attitude and T-shirts and selfies. (This was me!)

Over THERE was a bit of the park with lots of (I assume) British Asians just quietly getting on playing cricket, in proper cricket whites and all, like a scene from a Tory election broadcast.

I don't have any criticism or complaint to make, everyone was getting on with enjoying the park in their own way. I was just amused at who was enjoying what on a Saturday afternoon in England in 2022.
posted by one more day at 8:46 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


I think this is largely dependent on your location in the US. I’ve lived in the US West (Utah, Texas, California) my whole life and have never ever seen a cricket game in real life.--Doleful Creature

I see a cricket game being played every now and then here in Sunnyvale (in Silicon Valley). I think that is mainly because of the large population from India in the region. I heard somewhere that Sunnyvale has one of the best cricket teams in the US, but I think that's similar to a team claiming to be the best American Football team in Europe.
posted by eye of newt at 8:53 AM on August 1 [3 favorites]


Found a link.. It turns out the Sunnyvale Cricket Club dates back to 1893! That's amazing considering the first land grants to Europeans were given in the 1840s.

Also, an article in India Today about this and other clubs in the US.
posted by eye of newt at 9:22 AM on August 1 [6 favorites]


it requires so many people to plainly act against their own interest. The stated goal of an athlete or coach or team is to win

That's the stated interest. Maintaining white power is also an interest. When those interests collide and you get to see which one is really more important to them.
posted by BungaDunga at 9:24 AM on August 1 [10 favorites]


I think this is largely dependent on your location in the US.

Sure, I only saw cricket much in areas that were pretty dense and cosmopolitan, never saw it in real life as a kid at all. My point is, has anyone seen white people playing cricket in the states? I'm sure there must be a few, and the joke is not all that great. But I wanted mention the sport is brown, full stop, as seen first hand in my lived experience. The sport must have far more POC players and fans than white Europeans, right? And that makes this racism even sillier and sadder.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:40 AM on August 1 [3 favorites]


Globally, it is undoubtedly the case that South Asians have the numbers in terms of those playing and following the game. I'd like to say the racism is at village/town level but the evidence is that the English game is riven with racism.
posted by biffa at 11:42 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


The local Minor League Cricket team here in Seattle is majority South Asian for sure. (MiLC is the developmental league for Major League Cricket, a professional T20 league starting next year in the US.)
posted by mbrubeck at 12:29 PM on August 1 [2 favorites]


This article is fascinating, and nothing like my recollections of Middlesex cricket.

My dad played cricket (not brilliantly) for a local team in the Middlesex leagues during the 80s and 90s, in our quite middle-class suburb on the outskirts of NW London. It was by no means an amazing team, and was pretty typical - First and Second XIs, and plus a Sunday team, midweek evening practice, and nets during the winter. Never really big enough for a Colts side. My dad was not an amazing cricketer, but these were his friends when he moved to London from the north, I spent a lot of time at the side of a cricket pitch when I was young. By the 90s the team had a sizeable contingent of Asian cricketers, starting I think with the Ansaris, father and two sons. The sons were very, very good first team players. I thought this was pretty normal for a local and nothing special Middlesex team, reflecting the changing demographics of the outer suburbs.

I've just looked the club up, and it still exists. From the names I would guess that the majority of the current players are Asian, and there are some surnames I recognise from 20 years ago. The fixture list shows that play in a different league organisation now, which plays a lot of village sides just out of London. The settings of some of those will be exactly like the stereotypical village cricket scene.

I wondered perhaps if I had misremembered things. The club looms large in my memories of my dad, and it wouldn't be surprising if I had overlooked reality. Having looked them up now, I think instead that our club actually was more or less as I remember it - nothing special. But I guess the rest of cricket in Middlesex did not match up to us.
posted by plonkee at 12:42 PM on August 1 [7 favorites]


Mod note: A few comments deleted, let's not continue to derail things!
posted by travelingthyme (staff) at 3:24 PM on August 1


On the same theme, the Guardian had a very good article recently about the white and asian cricket scenes within Bradford; I really like the way they gently tease out the complex reasons why there are such splits and differences, which go way beyond simplistic ideas of racism.
Yorkshire cricket’s great divide: ‘We’ve got to stop looking over the fence at each other’
posted by vincebowdren at 4:02 PM on August 1 [2 favorites]


My point is, has anyone seen white people playing cricket in the states? ... the sport is brown, full stop, as seen first hand in my lived experience.
Well, that's not really relevant to an article about racism in cricket in England, but it's possible that cricket has largely travelled to the US via long-distance connections between people of the same ethnicity pursuing shared sporting dreams.

There's no doubt that most sports have struggled to throw off the chains of elitism and the sexism, racism and various other isms that sit within a sport, especially one as steeped in 'tradition' as cricket. To be fair, changing deeply embedded attitudes in any organisation is a challenge, but the biggest challenge in sport is that the people with power to drive change don't want that change to happen. It really is as simple as that. It's yet another case of the metaphorical old white men (often much more than metaphorical) protecting their domains, as the expense of everyone else.
posted by dg at 7:02 PM on August 1 [4 favorites]


The English invented a sport that relies on five consecutive days of without rain. Then they compete with countries like Australia and India. It's like on some level they want to be punished for colonialism.
posted by adept256 at 3:09 AM on August 2 [15 favorites]


the article doesn't discuss whether cricketers raised in the UK but with heritage in South Asia might prefer to move and play for cricket teams based in Pakistan, India, etc. when they're ready to go professional. Is that a factor?

Interesting question! I don't think so, though. It seems to be really rare for any cricketers born outside the sub-continent to achieve success there; the exceptions seem to be mostly those who were born abroad but whose family moved back home e.g. Imad Wasim of Wales/Pakistan.

Several factors count against it happening; for one thing, the pool of available players in the origin country is already vast, so any incomer has weight of numbers against them. Secondly, even if you're good, it's difficult to break into a domestic system with its established clubs, academies, and development programmes, if you weren't already in from a younger age. Thirdly, legal permission to live and work in the origin country might not be available.
posted by vincebowdren at 5:14 AM on August 2 [3 favorites]


Mod note: Quite a few US-centered comments deleted - thread is discussing cricket in the UK.
posted by travelingthyme (staff) at 3:21 PM on August 2 [2 favorites]


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