Wednesday, 26 August 2009

All in white?

There is yet another reason being given for Australia's loss in the Ashes - "The administrators can't get past thinking that anybody but a white Anglo guy with blonde hair should be in the team." It's very easy to believe that, say, particular players of Indian origin have been ignored or even discourage where white players of similar ability in some places at various levels. It also seems that at the higher levels, Australian cricket does over-represent a particular Australian sub-culture. However, there are so many things wrong with this SMH article and even the editorial that it's hard to know where to start.

Let's start with the use of language. It's hard to take seriously any article which implies that "ethnic" is something a person can be. A member of the ethnic majority isn't from a vacuum - the dominance of their culture doesn't mean that their ethnicity is not there, or even that it should be treated as a default.

Then there are the countries raised in comparison. There is a pretty obvious difference between South Africa and Australia, and I don't mean the affirmative action selection policies. In the "Rainbow Nation", the (white) traditional cricketing cultures are a minority. Even taking into account the disproportionate interest in cricket among some of the other groups, there is a comparatively huge talent pool which was previously ignored. Australia is home to many ethnicities these days, but Anglo-Celtic roots still form a majority.

What about England? There are two issues here. The editorial refers to southern Asians and South Africans. Many of the South Africans moved to England for cricketing reasons. Cricket Australia possibly could broaden the available talent pool by opening domestic cricket up to more disgruntled Saffers and others, but that's hardly got anything to do with giving all Australians a fair go, has it? (It's also worth remembering that while you would expect the selectors to make use of the situation, the ECB did not deliberately bring this on - it is a result of EU laws and trading agreements.) Strauss is a different case - he is at least as English as Symonds is Australian.

The increasing success of English cricketers with subcontinental backgrounds is a great story, but it is hardly surprising that it has been emulated to the same extent in Australia. The "Asian or Britsh Asian" category makes up 4% of the British population, while the equivalent communities in Australia account for well less than 2%. When we're talking about less than 30 South Asians in 20 county squads and one player in 6 state teams, that's a significant difference in available talent. What's more, the British Asian community is well established. In contrast, about a third of the Australian numbers are due to arrivals in the last 5 years, who are less likely to be top level cricketers. On top of that, given the way interest in cricket among the general English public is so low (compared with Australia, anyway), it is perhaps more surprising that the Asian communities haven't made even more of an impact on top-level cricket.

Now for the claims made about Australian cricket, starting with the dismissal of Greek and Chinese Australians as unlikely to play the game. Over several years helping with my youngest brother's team, it did include the expected Anglos, an Sri Lankan, an Indian and (if I remember correctly) a couple of Bangladeshis, but the coach was Greek and there was no shortage of Macedonians. If anything, the fact that names such as Katich, Hauritz, Krejza, Hilfenhaus and Kasprowicz are not singled out in the same way as the equally "exotic" Porplyzia, Petrovski, or Fevola simply shows that youngsters with "unusual" backgrounds have wholeheartedly taken up cricket and the Australian cricketing culture together. However uniform Australia's top-level cricket culture is, it doesn't depend on an Anglo background. It could be pointed out that the players mentioned are all white-skinned, but then there is Andrew Symonds.

I have only mentioned recent Test players. At the next level, there have been names like Ronchi, Scuderi, Di Venuto, Nikitaras and Chee Quee. Reading these, it's conceivable that cricket clubs have been more open to assimilating "newcomers" than to those coming with an established cricket culture - Khawaja is indeed the first local with a subcontinental background to make it onto the first class books. Also, the explanation that Asian Australian cricketers and their families place more emphasis on study and work is cliched, but not completely devoid of truth. Similar principles no doubt mould the subculture of high level Australian cricket even within the Anglo population. However, whatever factors are at play, they can't be too significant - around 10 southern Asian names in Sydney's 20 first grade XIs on any weekend compares fairly well with the English counties. Those looking to Asia for an answer to Australia's recent cricketing woes would be better off criticising immigration policies of the 50s and 60s than recent actions of cricket clubs.

Of course, the one thing the editorial gets spot on is the statement that "There are increasing numbers of players at grassroots level from southern Asia". That increase will only continue. Australian cricket needs to be ready to grow through this, and not just by expecting all the talent to fall into the traditional opportunities.


Homer said...

On a bit of a tangent Jonathan but how much of the problem with attracting talent towards cricket due to the fact that there are other sports that attract as much, if not more, attention?

Is one the the problems that cricket is not presented as attractively to the Samoan or the aboriginal as say Aussie Rules Football?

And continuing on that tangent, I had once had a long debate with the Pav on how the impact of a small population and the associated talent pool - my argument being that despite a small population, the monetary allure of tournaments like the IPL will keep more people interested in cricket than gravitating towards other sports ( vide Geoff Marsh's youngest).

However, given the slump that Australian cricket is facing, with even its coaches now suddenly out of favor and its players no longer ruling the roost in the IPL, how will these dynamics impact getting optimum talent to cricket within Australia?


Jonathan said...

Good to see you still around, Homer - your Two Cents was closed off before I got round to adding my comments. Without wanting to disagree with your reasons for stopping, I did enjoy reading, and hope I'll keep seeing you around the blogs.

As for your questions, I've got no problem with a tangent! As you can tell, my post was more a collection of gripes with the SMH articles than anything with a cogent point. There is no doubt that the wider variety of sports creates competition. This is especially true in the days of professionalism - it was once common to see people excelling in different sports (perhaps one winter and one summer), but that is no longer the case.

Taking your example, the various Aboriginal and Samoan communities by now have strong traditional links with various forms of football, despite past barriers to participation. There would be many suggestions as to why this isn't the case with cricket. I think it also observable around the world that it is rare for someone to take up cricket without growing up with family or close peers who love the game, in a way that is not true of the football codes. Perhaps cricket was and is harder to present attractively.

The money factor is relevant once people are playing at all, and perhaps the allure of the IPL helps there. There is another fact that comes into your tangent and my original topic, though - that is the fact that there are many more professional top-level footballers of various codes than cricketers in Australia.

The idea of living off football is more realistic than pursuing a cricket career. Add to that the fact that playing cricket just below the professional level takes more time than most other sports. (I suspect the idea of T20 as a solution to this will not work so easily where the longer forms are already established.) As we have discussed before, I don't think international competition is easily jettisoned, but there is a lot to be said for a thriving, self-sufficient domestic scene.

A strong domestic focus would also reduce any effect on talent pools of the national team's performance. Of course, the above factors and others mean that getting talent isn't as simple as high levels of participation - soccer is by far the most played sport in Australia, without making too much headway in other indicators. Cricket certainly benefits from its traditional status, but it would be naive to think it is completely immune from the tendency to support and imitate winners, not losers. (Sydney is particularly notorious for being fickle.)

Homer said...

Then where does Australia's future in Cricket lie? If talent cannot be developed from the grass roots and the participation is limited to a segment of the society and cricket at a lower level does not present itself as a viable future the way the football codes do, then where does Australian cricket go from here?

In the 80s, with the limited international exposure, Australia had the latitude to develop a team. And given the pace of those times, people had the patience. What now?

Has Australian cricket reached the cross roads?


PS:- I can be reached at so feel free to shoot in an e-mail anytime. As regards blogging, I had reached the end of my tether with International cricket - it wasn't fun anymore and things were getting way too repetitive. I plan to write though - on the comments fora and when the Indian domestic season starts, on the Mumbai cricket blog.

Cheers :),

Vikas said...

In South Africa,you might not see cota for blacks after 5-10 years because black player don't want to hear from others that you have been selected bacause of cota.

Homer thanks for being active,I thought you will stop commenting also.I was searching for your e-mail address finally I got.I might contact you on gmail.


Homer said...

Jonathan said...

Vikas, I had the impression that the South African cricket is getting to the point where the quota system is no longer relevant fairly quickly.

Homer, you've identified some factors that work against Australia. They're definitely there, but how large is their effect? I tend to think that things aren't that bad, even if the era of dominance is over. In particular, I don't think participation is quite as limited as people suggest. There is more advertising to try to keep this up than I remember ever seeing before - we'll see whether it works!

scorpicity said...

Hi Jonathan, How have you been?

In line with the discussion in the comments, what is the economic strength of these non-white communities in Australia. That might play a role on why many take to football etc. rather than cricket with respect to cost of equipment involved.

Jonathan said...

Hi Scorpi, I've been busy, but well.

In general, I suppose recent immigrant communities have less cash to spare. That could be a factor, especially when you're talking about getting vaguely serious. At the more basic level (unorganised, or playing with club-supplied equipment), I'm not sure there's a huge difference in cost.