Cricket: Third Test: McCague's full toss to outmoded values

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The Independent Online
RUNNING up to the wicket with the sort of bristling aggression that is, well, not quite English, Martin McCague completed an analysis of four wickets for 121 in Australia's first innings yesterday. England's late-evening batting collapse ensured that it will almost certainly not be enough to affect the result of this match, but he and the selectors are entitled to take encouragement from his Test debut.

The debate about McCague's eligibility to wear the blue baseball cap of England has been an exercise in high futility, and the sound of the Australians joining in on the side of petty ethnicity only made the whole thing even more depressing. Of all people, Australians should have the least inclination to quibble about geographical, racial or spiritual origins.

The sacred nature of Englishness, which has been the barely concealed subtext of the debate, is nothing more than a chimera, a delusion, an almighty waste of time and energy. Englishness itself, or what we choose to think of as Englishness when we attempt to make it apply to teams of sportsmen, is really nothing more than a socially acceptable version of what Serbs and Croats are feeling about themselves at the moment: a dangerous sense of specialness.

Of course the world will continue to be divided into national units, each developing its own identity, its own reasons for pride. In time of war, that pride can be channelled into pertinent forms of aggression. In peacetime, it can most harmlessly be expressed in the surrogate conflict of sport. And since the fact that a chap was Australian provided no barrier to him flying Spitfires at Biggin Hill 50 years ago, why should it prevent him from sharing a dressing-room with Graham Gooch at Trent Bridge this week?

It's a simple business, or should be. Only one rule need apply. If a fellow from country X decides he wants to play for country Y, then he should be required to do no more than live there and prove his right to a place in the team. Once having opted for Y, of course, and having been selected, he may no longer entertain the hope of turning out one day for X, or even Z. The decision is irrevocable, but it is his, to be made as a free citizen of the world, and it is not determined by the location of his mother's confinement or his father's workplace.

Australia, like the United States of America, was almost entirely constructed by immigrants, by people who went there, whether voluntarily or under force majeure, to make a new life for themselves. That imperative survives in the spirit of the people: in their optimism, their constructive opportunism, their unwillingness to waste their time on meaningless ceremony or other people's redundant traditions.

We, by contrast, are here because we're here and, er, that's it. Wouldn't you think that our poor, exhausted old country might be grateful for the injection of a bit of that vigour and enthusiasm? And if the McCagues and the Caddicks are exploiting our weakness, then we might consider ourselves lucky to have the chance to use their strength to help make ourselves strong again.

Rather than getting worked up about the inclusion of McCague and Caddick, it would be more useful to examine the inability of the country's cricket system to tap the talent of the many cricket-loving Britons whose origins are in the Caribbean and the Indian sub-continent. Into the Test team comes Nasser Hussain, but out goes Chris Lewis. Maybe Lewis, like Roland Butcher, Mark Ramprakash, Devon Malcolm, Norman Cowans, Neil Williams and Gladstone Small, wasn't good enough to establish himself as a long-term member of the England team. But, after all these years, somebody should have done. Look at yesterday's Yorkshire XI, all white except for the imported Richie Richardson, to see where the real scandal can be found.

Let's face it: the reason Allan Border is upset about Martin McCague's defection is that he knows Australia have let a very good, young, fast bowler get away. Bad luck for them; good luck for England. If McCague is among the best fast bowlers of the current Australian generation, which is what he looked yesterday, then England ought to be delighted to have him. He should be cherished, feted, used as an inspiration to the next generation. After all, the Aussies have got Harold Larwood.