History was etched once again at Lords, on Sunday when England won the nail-biting super-over final against New Zealand to clinch the ICC Cricket World Cup for the first time. Now, Prime Minister Theresa May has said that Eoin Morgan's cricket team is representative of modern Britain, that is batting for diversity.
History bears testimony to the fact that cricket brings the debate around nationalism, immigration, and multiculturalism to the forefront. And English cricket has been no exception to this rule. From the era when Norman Tebbit questioned the loyalties of a multi-cultural society in supporting their home team to today sporting one of the most diverse sports teams in the world, England has witnessed a gradual yet, a paradigmatic change. Perhaps, this celebration of an integrated society was at best when the English cricketers pumped on adrenaline lifted the World Cup for the first time.
“When the champagne was sprayed on the podium during the world cup celebrations, we saw Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, stepping out of the frame and that is what London is all about. It is all about respecting each other and celebrating the different faiths,” said former left-arm spinner, Monty Panesar to Asian Voice.
Rashid and Ali have been part of the team since the last World Cup in 2015. However, it was the 25-year-young debutant Jofra Archer with cultural ties from Barbados who only actually qualified to play for England in March this year. This was following the England and Wales Cricket Board’s (ECB) decision to relax its residency ruling from seven to three years from January 1, 2019.
But this is not the first of the measures adopted by the ECB to ensure greater participation from members of the BAME communities. Last year in its efforts to integrate cricket players from different faith and religious backgrounds, the ECB launched the South Asian Action Plan in consultation with the South Asian communities.
South Asian Action Plan and street cricket
“The ECB has interacted with the South Asian Cricketing community to understand the areas that were effecting the progress, growth, and participation for cricket players from the South Asian diaspora.
“Today, over 35% of all recreational cricket in the UK is played by the South Asian cricketing community. But, the reach from those communities into professional games whether it is in the field of coaching, umpiring, other administrative services, their footprint, and proportion is not as it should be.
“This is what the South Asian Action Plan hopes to achieve. It won't be an immediate change but we will see the growth of the seeds planted in the next five to seven years,” said Gulfraz Riaz, Chairman of National Asian Cricket Council.
As part of the plan, the ECB has heavily invested in core cities such as Leicester, Birmingham, Bradford, Leeds, Luton among other cities and towns with a sizeable South Asian population. This plan witnesses the ECB working at a grassroots level with faith schools, religious organisations, and community centers. It includes hosting cricket competitions at mosques and temples, the introduction of alcohol-free zones, prayer rooms, halal and vegetarian food at grounds to enhance the appeal of the game.
“Cricket is a game for everyone – it brings people together and unites communities. We believe the sport brings profound benefits and that is why we are working hard to make sure that the game is as accessible and inclusive as possible. We are doing this through our South Asian Action Plan and our game-wide strategy, Inspiring Generations.
“Over the past few weeks, our men’s team has inspired a nation and will hopefully help create a new generation of players and fans. Both our men’s and women’s team represent the very best of our sport and we are proud to call them double World Champions,” said Vikram Banerjee, ECB Director of Strategy and Corporate Development.
Some of the British Asians who have played for England at Test or one-day level in recent years include Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Monty Panesar, Ravi Bopara, Samit Patel, and Haseeb Hameed. But, this time's world cup team was perhaps the greatest examples of unity in diversity with Irish cricketer and batsman Eoin Morgan leading the attack. As the English team battled against New Zealand's bowling attack, taking the match to a super-over, Morgan decided to send Stokes and Butler to knock boundaries while handed over the bowling attack to the courageous Jofra Archer. While Stokes' father rooted for New Zealand, the English born cricketer managed to drive England to victory after the team had initially appeared to be on the verge of losing. There was also heightened discussion around how the ECB could have selected seasoned players over the more younger and IPL-ready team.
“The IPL is a platform for people to develop their skill under intense pressure and super-over was the perfect example of this. Stokes, Butler, and Archer all had the common thread of being star performers at the IPL,” said Monty Panesar.
But, perhaps the respect for players from different religious backgrounds and faiths was best highlighted during the post-match discussion when Morgan disclosed his conversation with Rashid.
“I spoke to Adil (Rashid), he said Allah was definitely with us,” said Morgan.
It is in light of this that Gulfraz believes that “it is pretty accurate of the Prime Minister to say the team is representative of modern Britain especially if one looks at the make-up of the team.
“There are two players of Pakistani heritage who are Muslims. Archer has his cultural ties with Barbados while the others have ties with New Zealand, South Africa, and Ireland.”