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Play Like David


I don’t like cricket. I love it. But it has a deep-seated problem with exceptionalism, elitism and racism. And if it were to ever overcome this, it would undoubtedly be the world’s greatest sport.

There is no global sport which inflames the passion and the intellect the way cricket does; which takes into account one’s playing environment so vital to the ability to play and technical aspects of the game. From drops of dew making the ball skid on to the willow, to a crumbly top soil making for a spit burner of a spinning wicket, or those cloudy conditions making the seam cut through the heavy air for the ball to swing. Beyond the weather conditions lies the player, one amongst a team. One player can, with a harmony of mind, body and soul, rescue a nation’s hopes and dreams versus eleven determined opponents, who would have a rock-hard ball thrown at you at almost 100 mph, which you must defend and attack when every one of your team mates has fallen on the battlefield. The crowd. The passion from so many poor and disenfranchised around the world. Truly, no sport is better positioned to unite peoples, nations and provide avenues for romantic heroism on the field of play. It is like no other sport. It is a rose amongst thorns. It is the thing of legend.

I have always loved this sport. As long as I can remember. I have loved it as a child, a player of some mediocrity, and then as a league and cup winning coach and head of girls cricket. And now as a father of county cricketing sisters and husband to a cricket-obsessed Nordic import.

As a young British Asian boy, I long fantasised about, and adored, the import of cricketing goods from India and Pakistan. Brands we didn’t get in England. Made by our people. With our labels. With our wood. We played in the streets, in the garden, at the local park, on any pitch we could find. We didn’t have whites, we didn’t have umpires. We played until sunset and beyond. Against tree stumps. Walls. Lamp posts. Bins. Sticks. Even sometimes on a municipal pitch with stumps and bails. One person brought the bat. One had a ball (of sorts). Another had a pad. Another had wicket-keeping gloves. We didn’t have helmets. Only idiots wore helmets. Idiots who couldn’t bat. Oh, and posh white kids. The bowling was fiery and fierce. It was fresh off the Rawalpindi Express. Spicy. There was multi-lingual chat, amidst now common shouts of ‘doosra’, ‘booling’ and such tirades of sledging behind the stumps. No batsman ever stepped away during sledging. You answer back. With a sharp word or better still, a series of back-foot, one-legged, swashbuckling drives to the boundary. We were all about wristy flicks. Let’s see the stiff-limbed English kids try this. There was screaming hell-hath-no-fury bowling unleashed. There was seam tampering. Lots of it. And there were deliveries swinging in circles impossible to face, with one pad and no gloves. And if the ball hit you on the leg, body or face… well just play better or don’t play. It remains the fiercest brand of cricket I have ever seen. A crucible of seemingly limitless, uncoached, raw, sizzling, natural talent.

But we never played with the English kids. They stayed away. We didn’t go to them and they didn’t come to us. We weren’t included. Even at school, the Asian lads who had cricket in their DNA, struggled to get a look in amongst the cucumber sandwiches and cups of tea. And the expensive kit. So very expensive. The sons of immigrants, of butchers and taxi drivers – how were they ever meant to compete? Yet beyond that was the cultural divide, the sneers and patronising attitudes. The excuses for exclusion. Comments. So many comments.

Often in England, black and Asian communities have felt the white establishment against them. From Viv Richards to Inzamam, it was and continues to be in the cricketing world, a source of post-colonial angst. In the world of direct politics and hard extremes, this is fuel for the machine. I have witnessed with my own eyes and ears it is still very much prevalent in clubs and structures up and down the land, and very few are free of this malignancy. It is a changing world but often not fast enough for the abundance of cricketing talent up and down our country which we are failing. Our structures haven’t developed quickly enough, and still coaching, economic and social models are far from where they need to be. However, I’m glad to see our new cricketing world beginning to face the realities of inclusion with women and girls sport beginning to look for parity (NB. we have some way to go). There is in some quarters, a real desire to sweep away the old ideas and usher in the new.

Change is never easy but cricket remains a bastion of honour in a world too often bereft of it and I believe that the scourge of racism and elitism, can with the right support, become far less prevalent. Woe betide any who think we can eliminate it entirely, which is why we must remain vigilant and mindful. Which is why we must police these lines and hit it hard when we see it. Ugly ideas set back the progression of this noblest of sports and when it does so, it is disenfranchised black and Asian kids, poor white kids, those disabled and from hard to reach communities, who pay the price. I for one am tired of seeing life and career limiting racism and prejudice marring this sport I love so dearly. I know of so many stories of incredible young talent from minorities denied opportunities. Each and every one has been deserving of so much better.

The IPL is not County Cricket for a vast number of reasons. That an establishment was unable to accommodate change, diversity in thinking and game play, has deeply hurt the development of the game. Prejudice is not merely skin deep it is the fear of ideas which can change the status quo. Ideas which can change the world. Cricket is about ideas. It is about change. It is about how the world once was and how it now wishes to be.

Ahead of the World Cup T20 Final, the West Indies – one of the greatest sides of recent years – faced the indignity of abuse from white Western commentators and former players. This was beyond sledging on the field and technical critique, it carried with it a bitter taste of ugly exceptionalism and prejudice. It is a familiar taste that black and Asian people know all too well. We don’t need to play a game of semantics and hoop-jumping. We know it when we see it. We know it before you’ve even been made aware what the hell you’re doing.

In response to this ugly barrage of dehumanising comments and utter disrespect, the West Indies did as so many former colonies (and I should more correctly say enslaved and ruled peoples to their former slave owners and oppressors); they reached into their souls and showed the world what they were made of. First the under 19s, then the women, then the men. Triple world cup winners. As Sammy put it, with a Christian pastor in their team and prayer at their core, they played like David against Goliath. Believe you me, what we see and know is beyond a sporting giant. It is rather more the Goliath of racism and oppression, of hypocritical friendships, of cutting words, of mockery and treachery, of exclusion and never being good enough no matter how good you are. It is the Goliath of economic and corporate structures set to undermine not empower you. It is history itself.

As someone who has so often called for unity beyond races, religions, nations and politics, for once I could do nothing but wipe away tears and applaud, to give support to our age old struggle; to the fact that when the old ugly enemy arrived, our peoples do what we have always done. We rely on us. We have pride. And we have power. And with God on our side and fair wind behind us, what can not the righteous and deserving achieve?

“How could you describe people with no brains? Even animals have brains.

We’re not an object, and for me, that comment really set us off. You have seen me talking about it.

It’s really emotional, for somebody who I respect and have a good rapport with generally, to describe our team – who two years ago were world champions – as guys with no brains. That’s really out of order.

This passion, these emotions, this anger – what these people have been saying – this has always been there from the inception of the tournament. God don’t love the ugly, and we are very wonderful and beautifully made. That’s why we play exciting cricket….

We’re always David. David is a winner. Look, even now I still don’t think people give us a chance. Goliath was big and strong but David defeated him with a sling and one shot. We always see ourselves as David. We will play like David, be smart about it, believe in ourselves and in each other.”

                                                              ~ Darren Sammy, World Cup winning West Indies captain

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This entry was posted on 04/04/2016 by in Diversity, Sport and tagged , , , , , , , .

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