Is it in the blood? and the hypocrisy of the media

The death of the great England all-rounder Trevor Bailey prompts me to take down and dust off a classic example of the discrepancy between what mainstream mediafolk privately believe and their public obeisance to political correctness.

In 1991 I wrote to a group of sports journalists who specialised in cricket. Some such as E M Wellings and E W Swanton were at the time amongst the best known of the breed. All wrote or broadcast for the national media. My subject was the influx of foreign players into county cricket and the employment of foreigners in the England cricket team, both of which I deplored. On the grounds that foreigners in county cricket denied opportunities for English players and the use of foreigners in the England side made a mockery of the idea of national sides.

The letter I sent to the sports journalists was published as an article in Wisden Cricket Monthly in 1991. I have posted the article at

Bailey was one of those I wrote to. He replied in March 1991 with this:

Dear Mr Henderson,

Thank you for your letter and interesting comments on the effect of having so many overseas mercenaries representing England, and playing in county teams.

 You certainly have a point and I may well do an article about if the Essex middle order is Malik, Hussain and Shahid. It would have such a county ring about it!

 Yours sincerely,

Trevor Bailey.

Most of the journalists replied. All were in at least partial agreement with me and many were wholeheartedly with me. There is a selection of their letters in the appendix below.

The support was still there three years later. Here is the then editor of the Cricketer magazine, Richard Hutton, writing to me on August 17, 1994:

Dear Mr Henderson,

Thank you for your letter of August 14 and the accompanying article about overseas players in the English game, which I read with interest.

I feel what you have submitted is too lengthy for use at it stands and also contains too much restatement of existing laws and  regulations. However, I will promise you immediate publication – in October’s issue – if you rework the piece without any loss of argument or point into a 200-300 word letter. Otherwise, if it is to be considered as a feature article we will still require a substantial reduction, because we would not be able to allot more than one page to it in view of the demands on our space. Even then I cannot say when the space will materialise and by the time it does topicality may be lost.

You will probably gather that I very much favour the former option, and I await a revised submission.


RICHARD HUTTON Editorial Director

And here is the editor of the Wisden Cricket Monthly, David Frith, writing to me on 30/3/94:

“Let me just assure you that I was one of the earliest to feel a sense of unease at the number of foreign players piling into the England XI. It’s hard to separate oneself from the personal side of it all I know all of them – even the reclusive Caddick – and like them almost without exception. But the principle seems wrong, and I think that  there has been some sort of dislocation in the national psyche. How can a true Englishman ever see this as his representative side despite all the chat about the commitment of the immigrant?”

The following year Wisden Cricket Monthly (WCM) published an article by me in the July issue entitled Is it in the blood? (The title was chosen by the editor – I submitted the article under the title ‘Racism and national identity’).

The article again questioned the appropriateness of foreigners playing for England. In this I also questioned whether ethnic minority players raised wholly or substantially in England would be moved by feelings of English patriotism when playing for England both because of the way in which ethnic minorities tend to live lives segregated lives and the victimhood industry which eggs ethnic minorities to view themselves as being persecuted and used by ol’whitey. Sometimes the evidence comes from the mouths of top sportsmen who have played for England. Here is the footballer John Barnes making his anti-English feelings very clear in his autobiography:

I am fortunate my England career is now complete so I  don’t  have to sound patriotic any more.(P69 – John Barnes: the autobiography)

I feel more Jamaican than English because  I’m black.  A lot of black people born  in  England feel more Jamaican than English because they are not accepted  in  the land of their birth on  account of their colour, (P 71)

Was I more patriotic for England than I would have been for  Scotland?  No.  To keep everyone happy  throughout  my  international career,  I always  said  that  my  only  choice was England because England is where I settled,  but that wasn’t true. (p72)

When I played for England, I could never declare that nationalism is loathsome and illogical.  I couldn’t say that if I played for France, I would try just as hard, which I would. I tried hard for  England out of professional pride  not patriotism  – because I never felt any. (P72)

Is it in the blood? produced the most tremendous furore which ended with David Frith telling a direct lie by denying that he shared my views, viz:

“I tried all along to make it clear that I did not support the majority of the sentiments expressed by Mr Henderson (and a paragraph on page 1 of each issue of the magazine supports this). But I also believed that it was an editor’s responsibility to tackle difficult issues, to bring them into the open so that solutions might be found. My particular hope in respect of this article was that the plight of foreign-born cricketers in this country and those with immigrant parents — whether from West Indies, Australasia, southern Africa or Asia — might be better understood when their difficulties were considered. Publication of this particular article was, I now realise, not the best way to have gone about it. The national-identity element was drowned out.” WCM August 1995

What parts exactly of my article did not agree with Mr Frith? As for the national identity side of the debate being overwhelmed by race, how could it be that the man who declares himself wanting to investigate the question of national identity changed my title from the national identity focused “Racism and national identity” to the racially suggestive “Is it in the blood?”? It is also worth noting that in the edition of WCM in which the article was published Frith put this on the contents page: “Is it in the blood? Robert Henderson studies the foreign-born England players. No mention of concern for “those with immigrant parents”.

As the row evolved and Devon Malcolm, Philip DeFreitas and Chris Lewis issued libel writs against WCM, despite the Professional Cricketers Association taking counsel’s advice on their behalf and his opinion being that no libel existed. (Extraordinarily no writs were issued against me as the author, most probably because I made it clear from the outset that I would take any libel claim to the floor of a court). After the issue of the writs Frith distanced himself ever further from the article until this statement was read in court following an out of court settlement with Malcolm (none of the cases was never brought to trial)

‘Mr Rupert Elliott, counsel for Wisden Cricket Magazines Ltd and for the magazine’s editor [David Frith], said they  disassociated  themselves  entirely  from  the allegations made by an independent contributor’ Guardian report 17/10/95 . Bearing in mind Frith’s true feelings, that strikes me as a deliberate attempt to pervert the course of justice.

Frith humiliated himself in this fashion because the management of WCM put the wind up him. Here he is writing to me on July 14 1995

Dear Mr Henderson,

In reply to your letter of the 7th, I have to say that in view of the furore (an understatement) which has followed publication of  your article in our July edition, I have been told by the management of Wisden that I should not accept anything further from you. I  hardly needed telling, for the past fortnight has been probably the most difficult of my life.

I hope you are successful in persuading the Daily Telegraph to run your latest offering.

Yours sincerely,


So much for editorial independence and the first rule of being an editor: stand by your contributors and what you have published.

Frith added insult to injury by publishing 4 pages of criticism of me in the issue of WCM which followed then publication of Is it in the blood? whilst refusing me any opportunity to reply.

Firth found that his Maoist confession of guilt was not enough to save him and was forced out of WCM within the year.

What did those in the media who had privately agreed with my ideas from 1991 onwards do? They all refused to support me or even help me to get a hearing in any mainstream media outlet. One, Matthew Engel, then editor of Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack, was ion such a panic that he even went as far as to publish in the Guardian that he had never heard of me, despite having written to me a couple of months before the publication of Is it in the blood? congratulating me on continuing to push the question of foreigners playing for England.



1. Tony Lewis 6 2 1991

Dear Mr Henderson,

Thank you so much for writing. I really enjoyed your letter which contained so many good points.

I did write about David Gower that I would have docked him his day’s pay but I do understand that many believe an up-country match  between the Tests is as sacred as the Test matches themselves. I quite agree with you about the need to exclude overseas cricketers and those with the passports of convenience. How else will we ever grow our own cricketers if the way is blocked by late entrants into the system.

Can I add to your other points the thought that we lack true leadership. I have never believed that control can possibly come from off-the-field, i.e. through Mickey Stewart. Graham Gooch is very content to leave a lot of things to Mickey. In fact true leadership can only come from someone who is actually playing in the match. This is why Stewart, who is probably  selector-in-chief fits your bill as someone who is too closely involved with the players to be objective.

A major thesis is there to be written. Kind regards.

Yours sincerely,

A. R. Lewis.

2. Matthew Engel March 20 1991

Dear Mr Henderson,

Thank you for your Interesting letter re cricketing nationalities, Up to a point – but only up to a point- I agree with your  arguments, I could argue at length with you here but I think your suggestion of addressing the subject in a column or article is a good one and I shall try and do that shortly,

With best wishes,

Yours sincerely Matthew Engel

3. E W Swanton March 8, 1991

Dear Mr Henderson ,

Thank you for your forceful and interesting letter. I would have had time to respond at greater length if I had not returned from holiday to find a desk full of unanswered letters.

Briefly, I have sympathy for your point of view, but, of course, its implementation is unattainable. A considerable body of men  cannot suddenly be deprived of their livelihood.

I think the integration of disparate groups is largely a matter of leadership. I would however include in Test teams only those  who have been educated and learned their cricket here: for instance Lamb no, Ramprakash yes.

With best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Jim Swanton


Freelance Journalist

4th March 91

Dear Mr Henderson,

I have today received your letter, forwarded by WCM. You make a number of unquestionably valid points, not least the very first one (loss of pride). I’m not too sure that, based on recent events, the X1 can even be called a team of All Stars, though!

I have some minor reservations. On practical level, county cricket without even a hint of overseas talent (it was always so – think of Ranji) would today be painfully bereft of skills that go beyond the ordinary and mundane. I’d like to accept – but cannot- that our cricket would automatically improve, at least gradually, with a team of ‘locals’. Your remarks about cultural background are academically sound but are partly overtaken by necessary practicalities and a shifting society.

 Over the past couple of decades I have become more concerned about the declining interest in cricket at school level (the State system rather than the public schools). This, I believe, is the root cause of our depressing problems.

 Thank you for writing at such length. As an overworked freelance and full-time cricket writer in the summer months, I have scope and  time only to contribute a monthly column for WCM on regional prospects. But I do feel your well argued letter deserves a genuine ‘airing’. Would you like me to send it to the editor?

David Foot

5. E M Wellings 1991

Dear Mr Henderson,

Thank you for you most interesting letter. I enjoyed it greatly and agreed 99% with what you said. I am also grateful, for the letter crystalised my thought and ideas on cricket.

Like you I have always thought Australia’s selection method much superior to ours. It avoids the sort of blunders caused by captain’s preferences in England, including the omission of Bowes and Paynter from the 1936-37 team for the Australian tour. Gubby Allen was very anti Yorkshire and Lancashire. And they thought less than nothing of him off th field.  There have of course been several instances since the war, Bill Edrich left out of the 1950-51 team which Freddy Brown packed with immatures.

Also  like  you  I deplored the decisions  to  abandon  county qualifications. I looked at the matter from the supporter’s viewpoint. How could he feel the same about his county team when players were gathered from distant parts of the world and other counties without having to belong to the county? It did not occur to me that the ‘not belonging’ could in part account for the decline of our Test capability, but I am sure you are right.

 In fact I propose to write along those lines. How many of those who have been letting us down in Australia think of themselves as English. Off hand I should say only Gooch of the seniors has been consistent in belonging to his county and country. Gower  is a fly-by-night. Hemmings has also switched allegiance. Russell looks like remaining constant, and his reward is to be dropped.

 We are thus back to the days when Jim Parks, a very fine batsman but a hack behind the stumps, made some very costly mistakes.

 As a bowler myself I know the importance of the stumper  to the bowlers. Of course in my time the wicketkeeper stood up to all but the very fastest bowler. He probably would not stand up to Malcolm, because the fellow seems to concentrate on pitching the  ball just eyond his font foot to send the ball flying high overhead. But Russell showed the value of the stumper standing up to the other when he brought off his brilliant leg side stumping off Small.

 That brings me to what you said about the reason behind the picking of so many black fast bowlers to the exclusion of whites.

It has been done to excess, as became very obvious when a fifth rate quickie from Middlesex was bought into the alleged England  side. Of course selection is mainly done, as it has been for many years, by batsmen.  Hence the dropping of Russell behind the stumps and as you point out, the neglect of Atherton’s potential as a leg spin bowler.

Failure to understand spin bowling is one of Gooch’s faults. Another, in my view, is his insistence on super fitness, track suit  and gymnasium training. Which is probably why his players break down so often.  Trueman, Statham and company never trained in that way, and they did not break down.

General overall fitness, such as comes from the playing of games, is what cricketers need. That is all the training I ever did.  Yet at the age of 18 I bowled 36 overs out of 40 at the Pavilion end at Lord’s, and in the remaining time, upwards of 2 hours,  that day I carried my bat through our innings.  It was very slow scoring, for the soft pitch was becoming more testing. I  wonder how many superfit performers today would have the necessary stamina, i should say that my bowling pace was medium.

 Your comments on the ass Dexter and the cocky Stewart amused me greatly, I followed Dexter’s Australian tour. He  was surely England’s worst ever captain. His was a see-saw tour, bewildering to players and onlookers alike. Yet he proved an excellent  vice-captain to Mike Smith in South Africa. I still remember my first sight of Dexter in the School games at Lord’s- two beautifully struck fours followed by impetuous dismissal. Out for 8.

Would that the plan you have advanced for the revival of English cricket could be adopted. What you said about absorbing the native culture is so true. How many foreigners in the England side have done so? 1 knew two such cricketers of the past,  Duleepsinhji and Pataudi, very well, in fact I played two full University seasons with the latter. They both absorbed our  culture. Duleep was at Cheltenham College before going to Cambridge and while here was essentially English. So was Pataudi who so absorbed our culture, sense of fun and humour that in 1946 he was out of tune with the Indian team he captained here.

I fancy we shall go on muddling through, soon perhaps to be surpassed by Sri Lanka. I do not expect the TCCB to return to the use of clay soils, instead of slower producing loam, to give us again the fast true pitches which produce good cricket and good cricketers.

Surely the experience of Robin Smith this winter should make them think about our conditions. Smith’s defence always locked a trifle suspect, but on pitches lacking true pace he  prospered. Faster conditions on most  Australian grounds – not Adelaide – found him wanting . Give us fast pitches here again and he will have to work on his present jerky defence.

Normally at this time of the evening I would be watching TV news, but there isn’t any. Of all the great events war is the least productive, both sides producing false news, and at best  half news with much contradiction in official statements.  Anyone who was adult from 1939 to 1945 could have told the Media that.  Yet it went overboard about the Gulf war.

The BBC were so besotted by their many correspondents and home commentators that on day one, when there was very little hard news, and that only in outline, BBC1 kept the Gulf going with  speculation, guesswork and fiction for nearly 12 hours until the triviality of ‘Neighbours’ was deemed important enough to break into the War flow Again thank you very much for your letter, which I have already read twice and will surely read again.

Yours sincerely,


6. Peter Deeley Mar 21st 1991.

Dear Mr Henderson,

First may I apologise for this extremely belated reply to your letter of mid February concerning the loss of our national cricketing identity.

As I hope you will appreciate, I was in Australia at the tie and that tour was followed by the short (suicidal) visit to ^’  Zealand. After that I followed Australia n the Caribbean and after a short holiday have only just started sifting through my mail.

I agree wholeheartedly with much of what you say, though I would add a caveat in the instance of players born elsewhere who arrived in this country  with their parents  when they (the players)  were  but babes-in-arms. I would think that in this case they have a right  to look upon England as their true (if not natural ) home.

You outline practical steps which you think could be taken. Counties are now down to one overseas player on their hooks – though  perhaps this is not going far enough.

But you are right to raise the question of a new “invasion” – that of players from within the EEC. I suspect however that even if counties did take a self-denying ordinance towards such talent that in itself could be a reach of the Treaty of Rome (as amended) and that cricket could be accused of applying a closed shop by the EEC.

It is a complex issue. Like you, when I go to see a county gain I would like to think that not only were all the players British (English is too narrow a word in this context) BUT that they actually came  from Kent or Worcestershire, etc. Yet Yorkshire,  remaining true to this rule for so long, have paid the penalty in terms of results.

Yours Truly,

Peter Deeley

7. Richard Streeton 15 3 91

 Dear Mr Henderson,

 I am afraid I have only just received your long letter dated Feb 24. I have been in Pakistan and Sri Lanka with the England A team and only returned the UK this week.

You certainly made some extremely interesting points and there is a lot in what you said.

It was the sort of letter that must have taken  you some time to compile and I am returning it is case you want to send the gist to somewhere else. I would have thought The Cricketer magazine or Wisden Monthly might use it in their columns.

I do not think there is any way that I can reproduce it in The Times as it is, as I have readers’ letters on our sports pages and if at any time you want to write to the paper, may I suggest you address your remarks to the Sports Editor? We correspondents do not like to pass things on to him for publication when it has been addressed personally to us and the writer might not wish it to appear in print.

It is certainly a bit cooler in the UK than it was in Sri Lanka. It’s exciting to think of a new season “round the corner.”

 Again thank you so much for writing and I apologize again for not replying sooner.

 Yours sincerely,

 Richard Streeton (Cricket C) writer)

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8 Responses to Is it in the blood? and the hypocrisy of the media

  1. efgd says:

    Words fail me. But to be a British or English citizen with all its perks, and there are a lot, but wishfully dream of being loyal to another country is at odds with being British or English, or saying you will be loyal to the highest bidder in Barnes’ case. It is not really a case of being patriotic or loyal then is it, it is having $$ in your eyes as the saying goes. That is what this is really all about, wining regardless if there is not one ‘true’ Brit in the team, I mean a Brit who was proud to be British without the wispy wishing of a ‘home elsewhere’ and who was true to be a Brit without being ‘forced to’ by the mighty $$ ££ €€ . And why has England got a Italian manager? Because it was thought he would bring home the World Cup. Well guess what, he failed.

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  4. John Barnes played for England to further his career, which is something anyone passionate about sport should understand. If you live in a country for five or more years, you have the right to represent them on the international stage. He didn’t do it for the ‘$$’. The guy had bananas thrown at him by fans who I’m sure you’d probably consider ‘British’, simply because they were born in this country and proud of the fact. And in the case of your article from the mid-90’s, it was wrong, yet I’m not sure to this day you quite understand why. I do empathise with you about how your editors betrayed you. I’m a young journalist myself and their responses would sicken me if it had happened to me. But foreign players should be welcomed in the county game; apart from improving the quality of our cricket, we as a nation should be proud to represent a multitude of cultures.

    • I have extended to you what was denied to me by every single mainstream media outlet, namely, the right to reply.

      • Then if that is the case, I believe you, as a journalist, should be allowed that right. Yet, I can’t help but think that reply will be one of two things: a) a grovelling apology that would undermine your original views or b) a repeat of what you reiterated twenty years ago, which would come off as even more dated and ignorant than it did then.

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