Amol Rajan: Tackling the Tebbit Test


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The Independent Online

I'm going to work on the assumption that you are taking a holiday at some point in August. (Simon has, so you've got me all week). And so I'm hopeful that you won't think me a complete numpty for telling you that I'm not actually writing this from the office. I'm writing it in Drenagh, almost certainly the most beautiful stately home in all northern Ireland, where the White City All Stars XI are completing their annual cricket tour.

There's a Test match on, of course, and we play a bit of cricket ourselves too. But mostly what we do is argue long into the night, fuelled by wine.

Last night we got onto the Tebbit Test. In 1990, the former Tory party chairman said that British people from ethnic minorities should support England at Lord's, even if their country of origin was also represented on the field.

I'm here with a bunch of extremely patriotic, moderately wealthy men, some of whom have close links to the Tory party. In other words, the sort of people you'd expect to defend Lord Tebbit. But, to a man (women are allowed in Drenagh, but tend not to be among the players), they couldn't stand it. The reason was simple. Most of these Englishmen don't support England themselves.

Much more than with football, being a cricket fan is about love of talent rather than tribe. I was sat at Lord's last week when 28,000 people, most of them English, gave a standing ovation to India's Sachin Tendulkar, the great batsman who was playing at the home of cricket for the last time, as he walked out of the pavilion. It was a wonderful, life-affirming moment that all true patriots would treasure. That, I figured, is the only cricket test that matters: whether enough of us recognise true sporting greatness, whatever its nationhood.

There's a huge amount of concern about the far Right and the English Defence League just now, and understandably so. But the giant ovation for India's Little Master convinced me we are a nation at ease with ourselves, genuinely tolerant and generous in our affections. The White City boys don't support England; nor do they expect it off their coloured compatriots. In any case, how could an Englishman support this England side? It's full of South Africans.