Like rugby in South Africa, cricket in England is a game blessed with both class and the classes.
Selection for the English cricket team is by merit alone but, some now say, this English team — good as it is — doesn’t really look like England.
How so? English teams are drawn from 18 county teams. Over the years, a growing number of players with South Asian origins have made their way into the these teams.
From there, some have been picked for the national teams, including Nasser Hussain, Monty Panesar, Mark Ramprakash and Ravi Bopara.
But more need to be picked and not just from the pool of county players, says campaigner Wasim Khan, a former professional cricketer who now heads a charity called The Cricket Foundation.
The English cricket team, in other words, must reflect the ethnic make-up of England’s towns and cities.
Khan, whose biography is titled ‘Brimful of Passion: from Ghetto to Pro- Cricket’, is targeting cricketers who play in an unofficial domestic circuit of South Asian sporting clubs. They play among themselves in their own leagues for cups that few outside know about. They don’t have their own grounds and don’t get any money from official bodies.
They are, if you like, the sporting equivalent of the Asian-owned corner shop in an Asian area serving mainly Asians. As many as 80 teams compete every year in the Birmingham Parks League alone, according to the BBC.
Where does class and ethnicity come into all of this? This unofficial league is made up overwhelmingly of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis — young working class men and their dads and uncles. On the other hand, the Indians who play professional cricket in England are said to be mainly from middle class families.
Admittedly, doing a social-background check on Indian professional cricketers in England isn’t an easy task.
The ‘evidence’ is anecdotal at best, but the English accents of Hussain, Panesar, Bopara and Ramprakash are a giveaway.
What sporting difference would the inclusion of more South Asians make to the English cricket team? According to the veteran cricket writer Scyld (pronounced shield) Berry, more wristy batsmen with the ability to hit the ball over the heads of fielders would make for a better one-day team.
And therefore, he adds, “We might have more of a chance to win the World Cup.”