On sport, and identity | Part II

3 01 2014

‘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 Englandas 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?

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On sport, and identity | Part I

31 12 2013

“… culture isn’t something that people exist and work within, but something that they are inextricably part of and contribute to, for better or for worse … You are the culture, so are you going to be a force for good or bad? “

Philip Darbyshire

The Australian, 25 June 2013.

“Kimberley, a bit of PATRIOTISM please.”

I received this admonishment via Twitter direct message for my vocal support of the English cricket team during the Brisbane Test.

It’s a question posed fairly regularly whenever cricket is played. You’re Australian. How can you cheer for the other side?

The answer is twofold.

I was a cricketing child of the late 1970s and 1980s and I loved watching the West Indies play. I loved the relentless pace attack, a production line stretching from Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Joel Garner through to Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose. I loved the devastating panache of one I.V.A. Richards. I loved the immutability of the best opening partnership in Test cricket history: Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes. I had a ‘C’mon Aussie C’mon’ World Series Cricket beach towel, but I always put my hand up as ‘Big Bird’ in the daily matches played in the wide, grassy areas at Moby Dick Caravan Park, Pacific Palms. I loved the game, and the Windies captivated my soul.

I shared the love among individual players from all nations. Dennis Lillee, Richard Hadlee, Imran Khan, Sunil Gavaskar, David Gower. I loved the genuine contest between the cricketing nations of my youth. That seemed to disappear with the resurgence of Australian cricket under Allan Border. Border was the captain Australia needed after the DLP-style schisms of the Packer years and rebel tours of South Africa, but I just couldn’t warm to the ‘hard-edge’ mentality. As Border himself warned in 2005, Australia’s dominance became a negative. The brilliance of Lara disguised the Icarus-style plunge of cricket in the Caribbean. Post-apartheid South African sides including Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock under performed. New Zealand? I don’t remember anything about New Zealand cricket apart from Daniel Vettori and the change from brown to black one-day colours. For a shining hour, I cheered on Zimbabwe until the Mugabe regime’s fuckwittery made the country (never mind the cricket team) a horror show of hyper-inflation and internal displacement. I became more interested in the cricketing fault lines on the subcontinent, as the Pakistan of Wasim and Waqar gave way to the slumbering, lumbering Inzi and the crazily-gifted laziness of Shoaib Aktar. Sri Lanka, relatively new to Test cricket, delivered the doosra, Jayasuriya and Jayawardene; but the treatment of Murali Muralitharan in Australia was abject. A great of the game labelled a ‘chucker’ by our Prime Minister and viciously attacked by spectators who could not or would not entertain the thought that we were privileged to witness two very different masters of spin bowling. Wiser heads shook in disgust. Andrew Symonds was subjected to disgraceful racial vilification on tour in India. The Barmy Army booed Ricky Ponting in England. Bottles were thrown at Australian players on the pitch in Jamaica. For every event, there had to be a repulsive comeback. On field hostility and the sheer ugliness of cricketing crowds across the world were enabled by the dismissiveness of the cricket establishment. Perhaps naively, I never imagined I would witness it first hand, but I did in the summer of 2003/04. That’s when I fell completely away from Australian cricket. India’s batting line up was the first to rival the West Indian pacemen for a place in my heart. Sehwag, Laxman, Dravid and Tendulkar. They were individually astonishing, but the Sydney Test was something special. Sehwag swashed and buckled. Laxman’s lyrical big ton. Ganguly’s refusal to declare until day three. Dravid’s elegant, unbeaten 2nd innings They weren’t just raining on Steve Waugh’s parade, they were dancing in the Australian captain’s place, on his home ground, in the match he had dictated would be his final Test.

And then there was Sachin.

I saw Sachin Tendulkar at the crease for hours, plowing his way to his highest Test score. Not so much a pretty innings, but character writ on his bat. It should have been everything anyone who loved cricket could hope to see, regardless of your allegiance. Sitting near me on the boundary in the Noble Stand, a group of Australian men sprayed racial abuse at Tendulkar, to the obvious distress of Indian families around them and the oblivion of the titan at the crease. An Australian fielder turned his back on play, and laughed with the men. ‘Little Master? He’s a fucking little curry muncher!’ A pantomime shake of the head. Roars from the drunks. The player resumed his attention to the game, too late to hear me stand and spit venom at ‘my fellow countrymen’. I copped an earful, of course and gave it back until a friend dragged me away. The behaviour of the spectators was appalling, and the player joining in took the biscuit. I didn’t go on Day 5. There was no joy in my heart for what had become the Steve Waugh Show.

I am reminded regularly that other teams and other crowds behave just as poorly, if not worse. I don’t yearn for a time when cricket spectators the world over sipped cups of tea and clapped politely regardless of the team they support. It never existed. Everyone sledges, ‘patriotic’ fans stick it to the enemy, and we’ll just paper over the cracks by serving mid-strength hops-flavoured water and ban beer snakes and beach balls. ‘Everyone else does it,’ is the excuse of squabbling siblings in the back seat of a car. Grow up. I’m not English, or South African or Indian. I have the privilege of an Australian birthplace and passport, but I choose not to be part of a culture which does not strive to lead on and off the field. I’ll congratulate Australian players on their milestones even if boorish, sulky English players don’t. That’s my code. I’m not asking your permission, or for you to join this club of one. I’ve watched plenty of cricket, from the NSW Country Cup, T20, one-days and Test matches and not seen anything else remotely like it, but the memory of that January day a decade ago feels like a tattoo of an ex-boyfriend’s name. From reports and images of crowd behaviour in Bays M1-M10 at the MCG during the Boxing Day Test, it’s not getting better. Not yet.

PS: I’m crazy for the Southern Stars, but you know, they’re just ‘ladies … looking good as always‘.