I had this piece published in Wisden Cricket Monthly in 1991. The situation has not changed substantially. The re-entry of South Africa to Test cricket has removed the excuse for South Africans to play for England but this has in practice had little effect, vide Trott and Pietersen in the present side. The position with foreigners in county cricket has significantly worsened following the Kolpak judgement which resulted in the right of anyone with a passport from any EU country and those with associated EU status to work in any EU state.
The foreign invasion of English cricket is matched in all our other important team sports: football, rugby Union and rugby league. The situation of such sports is an accelerated microcosm of what is happening to English society in general. Those with power, influence and authority are wilfully allowing our country to be invaded (there is no other word which adequately describes what is happening) by those who cannot or will not fully assimilate. It is the most fundamental form of treason because once here they have effectively conquered our territory as they form alien outposts in which they attempt to replicate the cultures from which they came and this isolates their descendants born here.
A Fundamental Malaise
If the loss of the Ashes series [1990/91] is to be a watershed, it must be seen for what it is; not just a defeat but an humiliation; and an humiliation heaped on many others in the past ten years. Until that unsavoury fact is accepted the process of renewal cannot begin, because the causes of the truly sorry state of English cricket will not be honestly sought. Instead, comfortable excuses will be made, false comfort found in thoughts about cricketing cycles, of how things will take a turn for the better simply by the passing of time.
Many reasons have been given for England’s present cricketing weakness; too much limited overs cricket, poor opportunities in the schools and so forth. The problem with these excuses is that other, more successful countries, experience the same difficulties, if difficulties they truly are. This being so, it is reasonable to look for a deeper, more general, cause.
The quality which distinguishes contemporary English cricket from that of other nations is a lack of pride. This I ascribe largely to the destruction of any real sense of national cricketing identity. How can an eleven substantially composed of ex patriot South Africans, Asians and West Indians command any sense of belonging? It is, in effect, no more than a team of ‘All Stars’. The same defect operates at the county level. It is this loss of the cricketing equivalent of patriotism, which I believe to be at the bottom of the present failure to produce a worthy England eleven.
Too readily, I fear, British nationality is used as no more than a legal convenience; vide Nasser Hussein, who before departing for the West Indies blithely stated that he thinks of himself as Indian although – how big hearted of him – for cricketing purposes he considers himself to be “English” (this was reported in the Daily Telegraph). And this is a man who has spent the greater part of his life in England. What then of the Smalls, Lambs, Smiths, and Malcolms who spent either all, or the greater part of their childhoods, in foreign cultures?
The rot began in 1969 when the residential qualifications for county sides were considerably relaxed, and foreign players, both official and unofficial, flooded the county scene. The self-interested such as Imram Khan may argue disingenuously that their presence improves the standard of English players. That this is a demonstrable nonsense can be shown by reference to the steady decline in England’s performance since 1969, the date at which qualification rules were greatly relaxed. The decline is particularly marked since the mid nineteen eighties by which time, interestingly, most of the pre-1969 generation of cricketers had retired.
Some might argue that the decline would have been more pronounced without the introduction of foreign players, but this is an illegitimate form of reasoning. I can say as a matter of fact that England’s performance has declined since 1969 by reference to the years prior to 1969. No one can say as matter of fact that England’s performance would have been worse since 1969 without the participation of foreign players in county cricket, because there is no point of comparison. The only way to test the matter is to have a comparable period (twenty one years) with foreign players excluded (I say a comparable period because an English first class cricketing generation is approximately twenty years).
The disadvantages arising from foreign players are generally well rehearsed – lack of opportunity for English players, the improvement of foreign players and so forth – but there is a consequence which I have never seen or heard discussed, in print or over the air, namely, the evasion of responsibility. The general attitude of English players seems to be that of the amateur to the pro in a league side. They assume a subordinate position to the official foreign players almost as a matter of course. If English players do not feel that they can take the leading part in their county eleven what chance can they have when promoted to the England side?
I believe the qualification for England should be the same as that which I consider would be a sane basis for the citizenship of any country, namely, the imbibing of a culture. Where a man is born is irrelevant. What distinguishes him is his instinctive allegiance to a culture and the assumption in childhood of the manners and values of that culture. The successful ingestion of manners and values produces the social colouring necessary for any coherent society and allows a man’s peers to accept him without question as one of themselves. That unquestioning acceptance is the only objective test of belonging. The most unhappy and unnatural beings are the Mr Melmottes of the World who ‘…speak half a dozen languages but none like a native.’ These are men without country or psychological place. 1
The problem was crystalised by the Duke of Wellington. To those who insisted on calling him an Irishman he replied “if a man is born in a stable it does not make him an horse”. To this I would add that if a man is born in a house but later chooses to live in a stable, he does not become a horse.
What practical measures can be taken to recreate a true English first class cricketing community? The first step should be to exclude all cricketers classified as “Overseas Players” under the present rules. The second is for counties to agree to a self-denying ordinance to ensure that genuine EEC nationals and those with passports of convenience, for example, Kevin Curran, are excluded. The third and most contentious, is to accept only those players who have either spent their childhood in this country or have received what is a effectively a British upbringing abroad – Dermott Reeve would be a good example of the latter. All eligible players would have to pass the test of being accepted as English, Irish, Scotch or Welsh by their peers.
In the coming season we have the prospect of Graham Hick playing for England. Now, as a runscorer (although not as a stylist), I rate Hick very highly indeed. In fact, young as he is, I will stick my neck out and say that he is the nearest thing to another Bradman (although he is no Bradman) the cricketing world has yet seen. Having watched him bat on five occasions, on all of which he has scored more than fifty, I am left with a memory of the sort of mechanical efficiency which is recorded in contemporary descriptions of the Don. If he played for England I do not doubt that he would score heavily. On cricketing grounds the temptation to include him in the England side is very great. Yet objectively, there is no more reason to play Hick now than there was seven years ago. All he has done since then is spend approximately half of each year in Britain and refrain from playing for Zimbabwe. In no discernable sense is he more British now than he was at the age of eighteen. Let the selectors signal a new beginning by telling Hick openly that they will not select him, now or in the future.
But apart from the question of practical success or failure, there is another reason why English cricket should be restricted to those with a genuine cultural stake in Britain. For me, the present England side mocks the very idea of national teams. Why? Well, it is essentially an aesthetic judgement. The inclusion of South Africans, West Indians and an Indian in recent elevens offends my sense of rightness or proportion, just as a badly drawn picture or self conscious acting performance does.
My feelings about the England side apply equally to county cricket. If I go to a county match I want to see twenty two players who have an unquestioned and primary allegiance to Britain. I do not want to see “All Star” elevens. When I see Yorkshire take the field I feel satisfaction, notwithstanding their often disappointing play in recent years. It simply feels right, that sense of what is fitting again. How sad that the thin end of an extremely broad wedge has been forced into Yorkshire CC during the winter. Let us hope that it is not the harbinger of something worse.
1 Melmotte is a character in Trollop’s ‘The Way We Live Now’