Cricket: Spectators happily fail Tebbit test

The next month can allow minority communities and ex-pats to return to their roots.
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The Independent Online
IF BACKSIDES on seats are any indicator of support, it is not England, but India, who are on course to enjoy the strongest advantage in the World Cup. The latter are the only nation of the 12 competing whose five group games have completely sold out. England have managed to sell out only four of their opening fixtures, with tickets still available last night for next Tuesday's match against Kenya at Canterbury.

Most of the tickets for India's games were gone by March, and it is probably no coincidence that the Indian population in the UK - 900,000, as defined by ethnic origin for census purposes - is higher than any other competing nation bar England and Scotland.

The Pakistani population, at 600,000, is the next highest, followed by the West Indian population (500,000). Strong ticket sales for these nations' games, and for the games involving South Africa, Australia and New Zealand (all of whom have substantial UK-based support) indicate that the tournament's "Carnival of cricket" slogan may yet be borne out.

The only country which has yet to sell out any of its group matches is Bangladesh, despite a potential UK-based support of 200,000. Local observers think it is only a matter of time before interest intensifies. "There's a lot of World Cup interest among the Bengali community, especially with this being the first appearance for Bangladesh," Suzad Mansur, an editor with Janomot, the longest-established Bengali newspaper in Britain, said.

"We've been covering the run-up for a couple of weeks and there'll be a special cup supplement this week. Bengali people are very excited." Mansur added that around 2,000 Bengalis in total had attended their side's warm-up matches, and said that more are likely to go to matches once the tournament is underway.

Support among British Pakistanis for Pakistan is likely to be fervent, according to Shahed Sadullah of the Daily Jang, a London-based bilingual Pakistani newspaper.

"Most, if not all, of the Pakistani population here would fail the Tebbit test," Shahed said, in reference to former Conservative cabinet minister Norman Tebbit's statement that English-born members of minority communities tend not to support England. "Cricket is one area where the countries from the subcontinent have made progress and can stand amongst the best," he added, and said there were several reasons why South Asians have a particularly strong affinity for the game.

Aside from that fact that cricket is the major sport on the subcontinent and that three of last four World Cup winners have come from there, Shahed said that minority communities in the UK look to their countries' cricket sides to show they can excel on the world stage.

"For a community which considers itself underprivileged and facing bias, it [supporting a team which can win on your behalf] is a way of getting back," he said. Shahed added that he thought the side would receive good support in the cup, a belief backed up by sell-outs for Sunday's game against the West Indies in Bristol and the 28 May match against New Zealand in Derby.

At the other end of the popularity scale - probably not unrelated to having small UK-based support and being minnows - are Kenya and Zimbabwe. "Kenyans aren't interested in cricket really," a High Commission spokesman said. "I have to support my team," he added, "but cricket is not a game that's spread in our country, not among black Kenyans anyway. Those in the Asian community are more interested." Robson Sharuko, a cricket writer for the Zimbabwe Herald, said: "Except for a small clique that follows cricket, not many people even know that there's a World Cup happening."

The same cannot be said of South Africans - who organisers said were amongst the quickest to buy tickets for their side's game - or Australians or New Zealanders.

Mike Stead is a Kiwi who's lived in England for 10 years. "When it comes to sport, you'll always fall back to where you're from," he said of the type of support that he and his compatriots will offer their side. "The English, apart from the Barmy Army, are quite subdued and polite. The cucumber sandwich image is still here. We're a bit more yahoo, a bit more raucous. New Zealanders here will go to watch wherever they can a ticket."

HOME FROM HOME

UK-BASED SUPPORT BY COUNTRY

Australia *100,000

(+200,000**)

Bangladesh ***200,000

England 50,000,000

India ***900,000

Kenya *50,000

New Zealand *40,000

(+172,000**)

Pakistan ***600,000

Scotland 3,500,000

South Africa *100,000

Sri Lanka *150,000

West Indies ***500,000

Zimbabwe *30,000

*Long-term UK residents as defined by embassy

**Short-term residents on working visas

***UK population by ethnic status as self-designated for census purposes

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