‘Everyone has at least two flags.’
Sunder Katwala, Director, British Future
11 June 2012
For many Australians, dual citizenship and ancestry provisions to European countries are a flag of convenience, a way of avoiding the tiresome business of obtaining visas on a three-week holiday or enjoying the privileges a global economy entails for the annual exodus of 18-27 year olds we now label ‘gap years’ (a very British term). It’s de rigueur for young Australians to see how far the old countries will strain and stretch to accommodate us – ‘is one of eight great-grandparents good enough for me to get a jammy European Union passport?’ - yet we love to argue the toss about the national identity of English cricketers. Replying to tweets from cricketing commentator David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd defending the foreign-born players wearing the Three Lions of England on their shirts, I was struck by the vociferous negativity the subject generates. What makes someone ’English’ enough to wear the blue cap in our green and gold bucket-headed minds?
‘The English squad for The Ashes has 3 South Africans, a Zimbabwean, a Irishman and a Kiwi.’
‘… a changing-room comprising, say, six Englishmen, two West Indians, two South Africans and a New Zealander…’
Dennis Carnahan describes his song, ‘That’s In England‘ as a poke at the Barmy Army over the English Cricket Board’s selection policies. The usual suspects – Pietersen, Trott, Prior – feature, presumably for squeezing the tits of a universal system which places the thirst for first above immigration policy. The problem with questioning the ‘Englishness’ of these white, South African-born players is not knowing where to stop. Carnahan went on to tell an Indian outlet that players should spend more time in the country they choose to represent. How much more? Ben Stokes spent the first 11 years of his life in New Zealand. Should he pull a Gordon Greenidge? Born and raised in Barbados, Greenidge’s family moved to England when he was a teenager. He played county cricket and was eligible for selection in England, but chose to return to the Caribbean, as detailed in this Wisden entry on its 1977 cricketer of the year. As Peter Wilby noted in this excellent piece from 2006, racism clearly plays a part in the declining popularity of cricket among young Britons of Afro-Caribbean and Asian descent, and pressured the-then Immigration Minister, Brendan O’Connor to approve Fawad Ahmed’s previously ‘groundless’ asylum seeker bid, yet Cricket Australia has no problem promoting Carnahan’s YouTube clip, which includes a line on the history of ‘non-English’ England players:
‘they’ve rolled out ‘Englishmen’ whose blood was not quite blue’
… over a montage of former cricketers including the late Basil D’Oliveira and Colin Cowdrey; Nasser Hussein; Gladstone Small; Devon Malcolm as well as Allan Lamb and Derek Pringle. Geraint Jones (no, not a rugby player from the Valleys but a PNG-born, Queensland-raised Ashes-winning wicketkeeper) took the song in his stride, tweeting, ‘at least i am mentioned with some greats for one thing!’; but when those greats include the mixed-race D’Oliviera (banned from playing first class cricket under South Africa’s apartheid regime, died in 2011) and not the most instantly recognisable ‘non-English’ England captain to most Australians (the late Tony Greig), it begs the question: is Greig off limits because he spent 30-odd years working for Kerry Packer in Australia? Geraint Jones might not have a problem with the song, but given Malcolm settled out of court over Wisden Cricket Monthly’s publication of Robert Henderson’s infamous 1995 essay, Is it in the Blood?, I wonder what his reaction would be to once again having his patriotism questioned – even ‘casually’, ‘playfully’, in a song by an Australian satirist, or in the Australian press? As this piece by Derek Pringle (another furriner in an England cap) for The Independent notes, why should he have to put up with it? Why do we care about cricketers who up stumps and question the depth of their identity with the country they live in? Instead of facing our own questions on sport and identity, we frame a faux ‘debate’ over ‘Englishness’. The UK gutter press does a sterling job of the ‘Plastic Brits’ nonsense already, as British Future’s Sunder Katwala elegantly sums up here. Everyone’s got at least two flags. How difficult is it to understand?