The sterling performances by Monty Panesar and Sajid Mahmood have brought the spotlight on the role of the Asian community in English cricket. There is hardly a county side in England today that doesn’t boast of a star cricketer with Asian roots, with the likes of Vikram Solanki, Ravinder Bopara and Nayan Doshi all vying for higher honours.
Even Yorkshire, traditionally accused of being discriminatory against Asian cricketers, today boasts of teenage leg-spinner Adil Rashid who has made a huge impact in his first season. He also excelled as an all-rounder for England Under-19 against the Indian tourists this year and is already being talked of as a future Test prospect.
The Asian connection goes back more than a century with Indian prince KS Ranjitsinhji scoring a century on debut against Australia in 1896. He was followed in 1929 by his nephew, KS Duleepsinhji, who also scored a century on his Ashes (thought not Test) debut in 1931.
A year later, another prince, Iftikhar Ali Khan, the Nawab of Pataudi (father of Mansur Ali Khan) made it a royal hat-trick when he hit 112 on his Test debut in Sydney in the first Test of the notorious ‘Bodyline’ series. Pataudi Sr was dropped after just one more Test and sent home before the end of the series for apparently defying the controversial tactics of his captain Douglas Jardine. But it was not till 1999 that a cricketer with Asian roots finally received the ultimate honour of being appointed England captain. Madras-born Nasser Hussain led England with pride and distinction till 2003.
Mahmood is not the first fast bowler with Pakistani roots to be blooded by England. That distinction fell to Kabir Ali who played a lone Test match against South Africa in 2003 (taking five wickets) as well as a handful of ODIs. However, it has been Mahmood’s winning spells against Pakistan in the ongoing series that have led to accusations of treachery from Britain’s Pakistan community.
That is most unfortunate and unfair, considering his cousin Amir Khan is one of Britain’s leading boxers and a silver medallist from the 2004 Olympics. Panesar, meanwhile, is enjoying cult status in England and was popular in India too last season when he was picked for his first tour.
It was Roland Butcher in 1981 who became the first cricketer of West Indian extraction to represent England. Many others followed in the Eighties and Nineties before the Asian community became the dominant force from the late Nineties onwards. Today, there is hardly any cricketer of Caribbean extraction in a prominent position in English cricket.
That era seems to have come to an end, even as another has dawned on English cricket. This should be heartening to Asian cricket-lovers and the likes of Panesar and Mahmood — both born in England of Asian parents — should be lauded for their feats rather than condemned.