I read Tim Wigmore’s piece for Cricinfo, and it got me thinking about the situation in County Cricket and the lack of interest in the game by the Asian community. In his piece, Wigmore uses Leicestershire as a case study as the city boasts the largest percentage of British Indians in the UK, and yet this isn’t shown in the Leics squad and in the weekly attendances at Grace Road. The same could be said of counties like Warwickshire, Yorkshire, Middlesex and Surrey. The only representative of the British Indian community in the Warwickshire senior squad is Varun Chopra; who was born in Essex. Middlesex have Gurjit Sandhu and Ravi Patel who both came through at the club – Patel via Loughborough University. Surrey have Vikram Solanki, Arun Harinath and the hugely talented Zafar Ansari. Solanki spent most of his career at Worcestershire and Ansari is a Cambridge University graduate. Yorkshire though, possess four cricketers of Asian origin. Moin Ashraf and Adil Rashid (both Bradford born), Gurman Randhwa (Huddersfield) and Azeem Rafiq (Karachi) head up a decent representative for the ethnic population in the area.
There are a few players who straddle the line between the senior England squad and the Lions squad. The likes of Samit Patel, Ravi Bopara and Ajmal Shahzad will never have full England Test careers, but that isn’t for a lack of trying or opportunities, especially in Bopara’s case, although Monty Panesar could emerge as the first British Indian since Ramprakash to have a ‘proper’ England career. The England U-19 team has a few players of ethnic origin; Ramanpreet Singh (Durham), Kishen Velani (Essex), Aneesh Kapil (Worcestershire), Shiv Thakor (Leics), Shozair Ali (Warks) and Muhammed Abid (Lancs). The Cricinfo article suggests that the pathway into County Cricket for members of ethnic minorities is blocked, and it partly depends on who you know, as opposed to what you know. A cursory glance at the Academy squads around the counties shows that most clubvs have at leasoungt a couple of British Asians on their books. There is no doubt that for a lot of these youngsters there is a pressure to tie their cricket in with full time education and perhaps there the education side takes over at the cricketing part’s expense, and that in my eyes is not a bad thing, just a personal decision on whether to continue into the world of sport or into a career. No doubt a lot of players regardless of ethnicity would have been lost to the game not just in this country but in others where a life of cricket isn’t a particularly lucrative ambition. Players like Shiv Thakar took the step not to go into higher education, but he will continue to be the exception to the rule.
Nobody is suggesting that there is discrimination against ethnic minorities when it comes to Counties drafting in youngsters into their Academies. Certainly a lot of them might come from middle-class upbringings but even the finances of a family does not stop someone becoming an Academy player. Wigmore makes the point that crowds at County matches do not seem to have been swelled by the amount of British Asians in the country. Certainly if India or Pakistan play tour matches there will be a massive groundswell of support, but the interest just isn’t there for your average County match. The article carries a very interesting quote from Leicestershire Chief Executive Mike Siddall;
If you say your favourite sport is cricket, you’d think you might come and watch county cricket here, but it doesn’t happen. I think their favourite sport is Indian cricket, so a game between Leicestershire and Derbyshire doesn’t make them want to go and cross the road to watch it
It seems then that the large ethnic population in Leicester haven’t developed an attachment to their County side, despite the majority of them probably having cricket as their number 1 sport. It would be interesting if someone did a study comparing how the ethnic population of Leicester is represented at Grace Road and how it is represented at the Kind Power Stadium for Leicester City football matches. Both clubs are in the second tier of their domestic games, although the dynamics of Division Two cricket is vastly different to Championship football. But the ethnicity of the attendances should by an large be similar as both sides would not really attract that many British Asians from outside their ‘catchment area’. One method of drawing in attendances would be for Counties to lower ticker prices for students. Many Universities have t large numbers of British Asians enrolled and could no doubt be tempted to skip the odd lecture and go down for a day at the LVCC. Perhaps more Asian directors are needed to boost the general appeal, and instill some knowledge of the local ethnic communities.
At the end of the day this isn’t a case of pushing forward the drafting in of Asian youngsters at the expense of others. At a fundamental level it is about generating more interest and attendances for County matches. On the face of it it seems absurd that with a large immigrant population who love cricket, the county system cannot find a way to engage them sufficiently that special measures have to be taken to try and get them to attend matches. Perhaps a more pressing issue would be the lack of involvement from youngsters of West Indian descent. Recently we have seen the emergence of talented players such as Chris Jordan (Surrey/Sussex), Chesney Hughes (Derybshire), and Essex’s young quick Tymal Mills. Hughes has represented the Windies at U19 level and no doubt will one day play for the senior side if England don’t come calling. Jordan was born in Barbados and although injuries might have put paid to any hopes of an international call up, he is still representative of this country’s West Indian population who are even more under represented at County level and there is even less representation at the Academies and 2nd XIs. For this demographic, football seems to be a bigger draw as the amount of players from Afro-Caribbean descent in the professional (and semi-professional) football system in this country far outnumbers their cricketing counterparts. Of course it can be argued that cricket in the West Indies itself is suffering from competition from football and other lesser American sports. I do not know what more can be done to encourage Afro-Carribean youngsters to take up cricket. Perhaps the answer lies with examples like Warwickshire’s Keith Barker who didn’t make it as a footballer and subsequently took up cricket, forging a decent County career. With the amount of kids lost to football every year, some of them who possess natural cricketing talent could be convinced to switch to cricket. Much of them are more integrated into British life to a more wholesome extent that most Asian kids anyway.
It might not be within the remit of the County system to work towards the inclusion of more ethnic players in the full England team. I certainly do not want there to be some sort of quota system involved which would be a bad move for everybody. I also don’t think that there are the same barriers in place that are mentioned in Wigmore’s piece – at least not to the extent suggested. I certainly don’t think that English cricket suffers from any discrimination. I think the Counties for their own sake should do more to attract as many people from as many demographics as possible, not by spending more money on signing big name Indian player (Sehwag playing for Leicestershire did not see attendances increase by that much), not by reducing ticket prices for folk with a slightly higher than average skin pigmentation but by simply engaging them more and trying to build up a sense of identity in the same way that someone who lives in Leicester might call themselves a Leicester City fan. This isn’t restricted to ethnic minorities; it is the same spiel that will be trotted out when discussing how to attract more fans of any ethnicity. As for more ethnic players, I don’t really think it matters that much from a pure cricketing point of view. The England senior team are thriving with a strength in depth that they have not had in years and that is a credit to the County system, no matter how much Andy Flower will emphasize the importance of the England coaching staff (and rightly so). You might see more players of South African descent coming through or you might get more players who were born in India, Pakistan or Yorkshire at the end of the day it doesn’t matter to the England team as there will always be players to chose from and the grounds for England matches will sell tickets. From a personal view, it would be great to see a player of Sri Lankan origin play for a County side- although I think the chances of that happening is slightly higher in Australian State Cricket (like Western Australia’s Ashton Agar) given the amount of Sri Lankan immigrants in the country (Dimi Mascherenhas’s parents are from Negombo) but it would not make a difference for me as a County Cricket fan and nor would it make a difference to cricket fans I know who do not follow County cricket. I guess the domestic game in this country will remain an acquired taste for a while longer.