x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Not enough British Asian cricketers coming through

There are many British Asian players in English county cricket, but nobody has taken that final step to Test level yet.

With five of the starting XI for the ongoing Test having been born outside the British Isles, the English cricket team could be construed as being a triumph for multiculturalism.

Whether it accurately represents the cultural make-up of the country, though, or more particularly its cricket-playing community, is debatable.

A cross-section of the crowd at Lord's, for example, might be more instructive.

A sizeable chunk of the spectators at the Test match at Lord's have been British Asians, eager to see the touring Indians, the world's top-ranked side, in the flesh.

At the second Test in Nottingham later this week, and even more so in Birmingham in two weeks' time, where tickets should be easier to come by, the number of Asians is likely to swell further.

Without considering the separate issue of who these fans should be supporting, they might have expected to be watching at least one of their own representing England by now.

After all, the sport is followed just as fervently in British Asian communities here as it is back in the Indian subcontinent. As such, there is a deep well of talent out there.

There are enough fine Asian cricketers playing for county sides to make up a strong collective XI.

So why is not one of them good enough to hold down a place in the Test team?

Is it merely a coincidence that four of the England batting line-up were born in South Africa? What sets those players apart from Asian ones?

South African expatriates like Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen, two of the national team's finest batsmen, account for only a relatively small number of the cricket players - either professional or recreational - in this country.

So why do the South Africans reach the top, and, more importantly, succeed when they get there, when England-born Indians and Pakistanis rarely do? There are a variety of British Asians within touching distance of a place in the national team currently, as there have been for a number of years.

Samit Patel, a British Indian who captained England at a variety of youth levels, was restored to the one-day side for the recent series against Sri Lanka.

Ajmal Shahzad, the first British-born Asian to play for Yorkshire, also has a fair claim to a place in the limited-overs side.

But still, Craig Kiewswetter and Jade Dernbach, two other South Africa-born players, seem to have more solid futures in the short formats than they do.

The British Asian cricket boom has been waiting to happen for a number of years now, but it still seems to be stuck in the starting traps waiting for the gates to open.

Even back in 2006, the leading cricket magazine here, the Wisden Cricketer, was asking what the problem was. Was English cricket racist?

Not a chance, according to five leading British Asian players canvassed by the magazine five years ago.

One of them, Bilal Shafayat, is a symbol of the issue. He first played county cricket as a 16 year old in 2001, and was touted as a bright prospect to represent England in international competitions.

Yet at the start of this season, 10 years on from his debut and when he should have been reaching his peak, he was scratching around for a county first-team match.

"I've played in Pakistan, where I certainly feel that people are more racist than in England," Shafayat told the magazine in 2006.

"I can say, thank Allah, that in England you are rewarded for your performance.

"If anything there are more and more ethnics coming through," he said.

The same still holds true, but the ethnic players to which he refers need to find a way of making the final step.

pradley@thenational.ae