Cricket: No home heroes for young hopefuls

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The Independent Online
Had cricketers of the equivalent quality of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Sachin Tendulkar been available to England this winter, the Ashes would now be on their way back. Immigration from Asia has brought a steady supply of prospective talent to these shores for more than 40 years - yet first-class cricket has little to show for it.

Nasser Hussain has played for England (though he was born in Madras), Mark Ramprakash was born in Bushey; Min Patel (born in Bombay) may be the next to be capped. Why have there not been more England players of Asiatic origin from Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol and Bow?

"It's a puzzle," the Middlesex chief coach, Don Bennett, admits. "It's not as if these lads are not keen. I should think that 80 per cent of those who write in for trials, as opposed to those who come through our colts structure, are coloured. The West Indian lads are more extrovert, they muck in, but I suppose they are used to Western ways.

"The Asiatic boys are much quieter and tend to keep themselves to themselves. That said, we are very happy with two lads, one a batsman and one a leg-break googly bowler in our second team, who have come on so well that their entry into first- class cricket looks like being months rather than years."

English cricket is innocent of the charge of racial discrimination. The Commission on Racial Equality is looking into possible infrigements in both football and rugby, but no cricketer has ever complained (at least officially and publicly) that he has been prevented from playing first- class cricket because of his race or colour.

Andy Stovold, Gloucestershire's coach, says: "Most of the Asiatic lads are reluctant to leave their own environment. They don't like being one to 10 English lads in the dressing room. They love to talk about the game all day long but it is noticeable that their heroes and the players they want to emulate play for Pakistan and India. They do not see themselves as English, although the great majority were born here."

Taj Butt was born in Pakistan and is now a Sports Development Officer for Bradford City Council and chairman of the Quaid-e-Azam Cricket League in the area: "I've seen huge changes in my 25 years in England but it is still difficult at some clubs, in some areas, for an Asian kid to walk in and ask to play cricket.

"It's a lot to do with history. It's 30 years now since Asian immigrants started arriving and in many families professional sport was regarded with great suspicion. A lad coming home late from school and offering sports practice as an excuse would be in trouble.

"With India and Pakistan winning the World Cup and Imran and Wasim becoming world celebrities, that attitude has changed a lot in the last few years and in this city, at Under-14 and 15 level you'll find a majority of school teams come from Asian backgrounds. In fact the problem here is recruiting the white lads. Apart from Ian Botham they don't seem to know any English players and tend to be more interested in other sports. It's the white kids now who need heroes."