By Sarwar Alam
CRICKET chiefs in Britain have said diversity was key to the England team’s historic World Cup win last weekend as they spoke of securing the game’s future for the next generation of fans in the UK.
An estimated 8.3 million people were glued to their TV screens as Eoin Morgan’s men won a thrilling final against New Zealand to claim the country’s first World Cup.
Dublin-born Morgan, who previously played for Ireland, paid tribute to the diversity within his squad and even joked that he was confident of winning, despite the nail-biting finish, because they had “Allah” on their side.
Asked if the luck of the Irish got England over the line, Morgan replied: “We
had Allah with us as well. I spoke to Adil (Rashid) and he said: ‘Allah was definitely with us’.”
“Actually, it epitomises our team. It’s one with quite diverse backgrounds, cultures and people growing up in different countries.
“They’re at the stage in their careers to actually find humour in the situation we were in at the time is pretty cool.”
British Muslims Rashid and Moeen Ali, both of Pakistani heritage, were part of England’s winning side. The team also had a number of players born in other countries. Bowler Jofra Archer is Barbados-born to a Liverpudlian father; the final’s man-of-the-match, Ben
Stokes, was born in New Zealand, and batsman Jason Roy was born in South Africa.
Reflecting on the win, Ali said the diverse cultures within the England dressing room were their “strength” and had united them.
“Eoin Morgan was dead right to highlight how the different opinions on such things in this dressing room are actually part of our strength.
“We are an incredibly diverse team from different backgrounds and cultures but, crucially, we respect this and embrace it. We never shy away from it,” Ali wrote in his column for The Guardian this week.
Video grabs showing Ali and Rashid stepping out of the champagne-fuelled celebrations went viral on social media.
Ali wrote in his column: “Once again you will have seen Rash and myself stepping away when the champagne was sprayed on the podium and I find it weird that people still think it is strange that we do it. We respect our teammates and their desire to do this, they respect our beliefs. It’s really that simple.
“The amazing thing about our team is that guys took time out very early on to talk to us about our religion and our culture. They have made adjustments for us and we have for them. And we live in harmony.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from or what you believe in, if you can come together with a common purpose – in our case winning the World Cup – and you show courage, unity and respect (our team mantra) you can achieve anything.”
Ali revealed that the team’s goal was to “unite the country” by winning the World Cup and that was “always the bigger cause for us, not just the cricket”.
Vikram Banerjee, the England and Wales Cricket Board’s (ECB) director of strategy and corporate development, said the England team showed “what modern Britain is and could be”.
“The current England team is a fantastic advert for a modern diverse Britain. We have people from all over the world. Whether you look at Moeen and Adil or Jofra, Ben Stokes, Eoin Morgan; they are all from different backgrounds, different religions, went to different schools.
“Then you look at how they gelled as a unit and became a great team, that’s an
amazing thing. It’s a fantastic reflection of what modern Britain is and could be,” Banerjee said.
ECB chief executive Tom Harrison outlined the board’s plans to enhance the
game’s appeal. He said: “Hosting the World Cup has provided the perfect springboard to launch our plan to grow cricket. This will see us invest more money than ever before in the game – over £770 million.
“We will double participation in primary schools and transform the women’s and girls’ game – creating a clear pathway from All Stars Cricket to our elite teams.
“We will also capitalise on the huge level of interest we’ve seen across the World Cup from South Asian fans via our South Asian Action Plan.”
Former England star Monty Panesar was in the crowd at Lord’s in north London watching the final with the fans, and saw first-hand how the match had united the nation.
He said: “It was a brilliant atmosphere and amazing to watch the diversity of England fans, people from all backgrounds in the audience, watching England win.
“British Asians who had previously supported India, Pakistan and Bangladesh had come together to support England. It was a celebration of diversity in the country, and a really beautiful picture. I called it the Cultural Full Monty!”
Asked what he hoped the World Cup win could do for cricket in the country, Panesar said he would like the sport to be “played in every school in the country”.
Research by the ECB has shown that only 22 per cent of schools in the UK play cricket.
Another recent report found that 43 per cent of men and 35 per cent of women playing international cricket for England attended fee-paying schools.
England’s World Cup heroes Ali and Rashid, who both went to state schools, have spoken of the sacrifices their families made in order for them to become professional players.
Rashid’s father converted the basement of his Bradford home into an indoor practice net so he and his two brothers could practise all year round. Ali’s dad gave up his job as a nurse and sold chickens door-to-door so he had the time to drive his sons to cricket matches.
Chance to Shine is a national charity that aims to give all children the opportunity to play, learn and develop through cricket. They support 500,000 kids each year by working in one in four primary schools through their street cricket programmes, which sees coaches delivering free sessions to children in local communities. Two-thirds of street cricketers live in the 30 per cent most deprived areas of the UK, with many from ethnic minority communities.
“In a lot of communities across the country, the cost of playing the game, whether that is cost of equipment or cost of joining a local club, can be quite prohibitive and is a significant barrier,” said Adam Sofroniou, Chance to Shine’s marketing and communications officer.
“We know the importance of putting a bat and a ball in a child’s hand. It is one of the best ways of getting them excited about cricket.
“Our research has found that for those children who hadn’t played cricket, one in 1,000 said it was one of their favourite sports. But for those who had played, two-thirds said it was one of their favourite sports. It just shows how important it is that kids get to play and drive their interest in the sport.”
The ECB has launched two initiatives aimed at boosting the level of participation of the game.
In January this year, the ECB unveiled its strategic plan for the next five years. Titled Inspiring Generations, the 35-document outlines how the ECB will invest £770m into all aspects of the sport, from women’s cricket and the domestic game, through to improving accessibility and diversity at a grassroots level, including a major new schools strategy with the aim of doubling cricket participation in primary schools.
The second initiative, the South Asian Action Plan, was launched in May 2018 to engage more effectively with the ethnic community. It focused on every level of the game, spanning recreational cricket, talent development and retention, attendance, administration, and culture and facilities.
The plan aimed to address gaps – including a lack of opportunities for the south Asian community – to engage with cricket and also build ties between cricket authorities and the community.
The ECB’s research found that British Asians account for 30 per cent of recreational cricket players in the UK, but make up just four per cent of players on the professional field.
More than 80 per cent of the sport’s current spectators in the UK are white and male, with an average age of 50, their research also showed.
During the World Cup, more than 320,000 tickets were bought by fans of south Asian teams, with 37 per cent of UK-based fans who attended saying they were supporting one of the five south Asian teams India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
At the launch of the Inspiring Generations strategy, ECB chief executive Harrison admitted that cricket in this UK needed to “shed the tag of elitism and privilege that we carry around with us” and “there’s a lot more we can do to make cricket more open to communities that haven’t felt part of it in the past”.
Banerjee, a driving force behind the South Asian Action Plan, believes England’s World Cup win will act as a springboard to wider participation of the sport in the country.
“I hope the win will do for the South Asian Action Plan what it will do the for
the general population, in that people can now see heroes like themselves. They can say: ‘Actually that’s what I can be. He is someone I can emulate. Whether that is Jos Buttler, Adil Rashid or Jofra Archer. I want to emulate them’.
“It will have an effect on south Asian kids, Caribbean kids, white kids, boys and girls. I think it will have a very strong impact. I do genuinely believe it can bring communities together and inspire.”
Will this win be a gamechanger for British cricket? Send us your views and comments on [email protected]