| A different game
This edition of The Thin Edge could have been about many things: the continuing fallout from the elections, the obscenity of billionaires’ weddings, whether in Paris or Puri, the latest on global climate-change, anything, in fact, other than cricket. It was the logic of this columnist that one’s pet subject could be given a holiday along with the Indian cricketers taking a well-deserved break after an exhausting and exhilarating season. Alas, I had not factored in the Sports pages of The Sunday Telegraph.
Despite everything one wants on an English Sunday morning in May being present and correct (a bright sun, decent coffee, a satisfyingly unhealthy breakfast, Bush-Blair continuing their political harakiri, birds chirping in the garden), I have spent the first part of the day torn between savage fury and insane laughter. I have been forcefully reminded why many Brit-Asian friends who’ve grown up in this country still, steadfastly, cheer anybody playing against England in any sport. It has been driven home to me, yet again, why, despite being a much better place to live than it was ten or twenty years ago, this country remains terminally flawed for anyone with a brown or black skin.
On page 6 of the Torygraph’s Sports section there is a small report on Rafique, the Bangladesh No. 8, scoring a maiden century against those other cricket minnows, the West Indies. Surrounding this beautiful piece of news is an ocean of prose from Scyld Berry, veteran Daily Telegraph cricket writer and ghost-scribe for the likes of Nasser Hussain and Len Hutton. The top of the page is taken up with a recounting of tense moments in Hussain’s career (of which there were many), the bottom article, also by Berry, is about what England should do, to maintain their series lead against New Zealand in the second test at Headingley. Nothing in 99.9 per cent of the writing is objectionable or contentious but the remaining 0.01 per cent is another matter. Here is the sentence that sends me scrabbling through the Ealing and Southall Yellow Pages looking for cut-price desi hit-men: “Can England take another step forward to emphasise that they are the third best Test team and will be ready for the second best, South Africa, this winter'”
Now, until there is irrefutable proof that Berry has been stealing illicit hallucinogens from his mum’s medicine-cabinet we must attach to him the burden of full, adult responsibility, harsh though this might be. England the what best' And South Africa the which best' Which planet has this man been on since the World Cup last year' Did he not watch, or at least read about, the last test series that took place in Australia' And was he distracted by inferior sports such as football when India went to Pakistan' Sadly, the answer is that old Scyldo was very much present on Earth during both those Indian tours and he probably watched a lot of the action on his TV. He would, for example, have had his bitter little heart in his mouth, as three ghastly umpiring decisions saved the Sydney test, the series and not some small face for Steve Waugh on his last day as a test cricketer — “Please, dear God, don’t let these bloody Indians beat the Aussies at home!” Not for Mr Berry Matthew Engel’s frank and warm acceptance that currently India is the only team that looks likely to beat the Aussies, nor any acknowledgment that this was a modern classic of a Test series between the two best sides in the world.
Now, if people like Berry and his colleague Christopher Martin-Wenkings were exceptions to the rule of fair-minded English cricket writers I would hardly be so exercised. The problem is this blanking out of any non-white cricket team is rife across British sports reportage from the right-wing papers to the left-leaning ones. The only team the Brits couldn’t blank out was the great West Indies side of the late Seventies and Eighties, but that had to do not only with Clive Lloyd’s fearsome supremacy but also with the growing presence of black British sportsmen and sportswomen in other sports such as football and athletics — you had to hand it to them if you didn’t want to look stupid and racist. South Asians, however, remain another matter: Waqar and Wasim “tampered with the ball” when they “invented” reverse-swing (now every English commentator waits with bated breath when the ball is 50 overs old: “I reckon Jones can get some reverse movement out of this…”), the Sri Lankans were “erratic”, and as for the uppity Indians, the less said the better.
Just after India beat Australia in the 2000-01 home series there was a wonderful issue of The Observer Sports Monthly that I still have stashed away somewhere. I have kept it because the magazine has in it two opposite extremes of English cricket concurring on one thing. In an interview Darren Gough (Yorkshire Thicko) says of the Indian win: “The Aussies should have won that series, to be honest.” In another piece, Mike Brearley, (great, astute, intellectual and cricket-savant), compares Australia’s defeat to Manchester United having a couple of bad away games against a third division side like Bradford. Our revenge on Gough was sweet — even as he sat out the World Cup as a commentator, someone in his TV channel dressed him up in clownish Maharaja costume and his reputation and his cricket never recovered from that. As for Mike Brearley, he may have had something to say after India’s tour Down Under, but I haven’t read it; all I can hope is that his wife, an Indian, and a secular political activist, shut down his food for a few days in the name of her hometown boy Parthiv Patel.
Whatever the case, for every Gough or Brearley temporarily silenced there will pop up a Berry writing utter nonsense. And now it’s going to get worse: with his retirement, Nasser Hussain has stepped from the pavilion straight into Sky’s commentary box, so not only will we have yet another objective ex-England captain to explain the game to us, but one who has expressed great disgust at the fact of his fellow Brit-Asians cheering the Indians on English cricket grounds. I’m not sure what Hussain’s politics are, but I have friends who suspect that the next doorway he will step through will be the one leading to the House of Commons, as a Tory MP á la Sebastian Coe.
While Hussain has given no indication that he can give Lord Coe a run for his money as a ladies’ man, another Tory lord, Lord Tebbit, he of the famous Cricketing Loyalty Test, better watch out if our Nass does get into politics. But perhaps that’s jumping too far ahead; perhaps the thing to look forward to is Hussain and Berry spluttering through a richly deserved Sehwaging of the newly-proud English seam attack.
Now, some people back home will point out that by making these great claims for India I am increasing the pressure on the team and, specifically, on my all-time favourite cricketer Sourav Ganguly, when he and his team next play England. To which, one reply could be: it’s part of my job to keep up the pressure and part of The Prince’s job to handle it. But, as everyone sitting here and seething like myself will agree, a better retort would be: Pressure' What pressure' By the time India get here in September, England will be in tatters; forget about the Kiwis, come July they’re not even going to get past the Bangladeshis.