The higher class restrict: is the English cricket group affected by their elitism?


T.est cricket is a game of contrasts: bat / ball, spin / speed, out / not out. It's risk versus reward, creamy whites and cherry reds. Days of meticulous planning against a moment of pure instinct. The division is also at its core: batsmen play bowlers, County V Country, a story of amateurs and professionals. Great rivalries give oxygen to the game. When things get too the same and too comfortable this is a problem.

Scyld Berry has said a lot about cricket – 43 years – so if he does notice something, it is worth paying attention. Last month he wrote a column for the Telegraph, "Why England Should Be a Better Team with More State School Players," stating the top six batsmen for the Second Test against Pakistan and an unprecedented nine of the XI's the products of paid training. Too same. Too convenient.

Believing this homogeneity leads to groupthink on and off the field, Berry cites the example of their batsmen's interchangeable layoffs when England fell to 27-9 (ultimately 58) at Eden Park in 2018 against New Zealand. and their "stiff upper lip" reactions from it. He describes the omission of Lancashire batsman Liam Livingstone, who was part of the squad but has not yet made a test debut, as "a deplorable waste of talent and failure to accept heterogeneity". Livingstone was in good shape, with a fluent 88 point in a warm-up match and a talent for bold shots. The point is, his more homely style might have given the kiwis a little more – or at least something different – to think about.

"Of course I would have stopped the putrefaction and got a hundred," says Livingstone with a firm tongue on his cheek. He saw Berry's play and was flattered. “The way I grew up playing club cricket is different from a lot of guys. I wouldn't change anything even if some of the courses in the northern leagues were terrible. It was good for me. "

Boys vs Men at Club Cricket is a school of different kinds and a path that Graham Thorpe, England's assistant coach, recognizes. "It was very much the clubs," he says. “Our club line-up on site was fantastic. Many of the counties are now directing many of these younger players to private schools. With Surrey, Rory Burns, Jason Roy and Dom Sibley all went to Whitgift (an independent school in Croydon). It is possible for them to be directed that way. "

The Cricketers & # 39; Who’s Who is a decent place to judge the makeup of the English professional game. As you leaf through the annual compendium, compiled of questionnaires completed by the county's cricketers, you will see who lists the Kamasutra as their favorite book and whose spirit animal is a turtle. If you dig a little deeper into the 2020 edition, you can see that of the 462 listed cricketers in the men's district, 152 went to paid schools and 184 to non-paid schools, with 126 trained overseas. In other words, 45% of the men trained to play county cricket in this country have a private school background. An even separation? Not really, considering that only 7% of the population attend independent schools.

The Sutton Trust and Social Mobility Commission's report, Elitist Britain 2019, found that men's cricket in England was geared towards those who attended private schools. The national team at that time reached the top 10 professions with the highest independent school attendance with 43% fee-based composition. About a year later, the men's game seems to be fishing at the highest level from an even shallower pool.

The 82% makeup on the English side that Berry drew attention to would now comfortably take it to the top, appearing above the judges of the High Court and House of Lords, looking down on diplomats and armed forces. It's difficult to measure yourself against a game that is currently promoting its inclusiveness. The ECB's strategy document for 2020-24 is entitled “Inspirational Generations”. One of their six priorities is to reach new audiences through their “elite” teams. This is problematic when these teams represent so little of the audience they are trying to attract.

Of England's 55-strong, cross-format training team selected earlier this summer, 24 were state-trained and 26 privately, five of them overseas. This is reflected in the corridors of power in men's cricket: Andrew Strauss (Radley), Ed Smith (Tonbridge) and James Taylor (Shrewsbury) follow in the footsteps of James Whitaker (Uppingham), David Graveney (Millfield) and Peter Moores (King & # 39; s Macclesfield). Unconscious or not, does that persistence at the top of the game cause an old boy's prejudice to gently swirl through the game? A drop of ink in a glass of water?

These people are incredibly well qualified and may be the best candidates for the roles, but this is not about individuals. Historian David Kynaston and economist Francis Green (both wanting to highlight their own privately educated backgrounds) insist that no one should get away from discussing the issue of private education – as they describe the "root of inequality in Britain" as they describe it – or should feel left out. In their 2019 book Engines of Privilege: Britain's Private Schooling Problem, they argue that the problem is the responsibility of society as a whole: “Everyone in the world must live and make decisions as it is, not as one it wishes to be. "

Joe Root, Jos Buttler and Rory Burns team up for a bad guy during the English series against Pakistan this summer. Photo: Mike Hewitt / PA

Zak Crawley, 22, and Dan Lawrence, 23, are two young batsmen who are likely to play many games for England over the next decade. Both have already shown commendable commitment and exceptional talent. On the eve of the New Zealand tour last fall, Crawley's first taste of the senior setup, the Kent batsman told the Times’s Simon Wilde: “I saw in a magazine once that Johan Cruyff was living on the floor in Ajax … So I thought I'd have an apartment here (on the St. Lawrence Ground in Canterbury). Living above the store isn't always the best. That's why I was never a boarder at school (in Tonbridge). But that's different because I love it. I didn't really love school. "

Lawrence spent his formative years in an apartment in Chingford CC, Essex, and like Crawley, had an almost insatiable desire to hit a cricket ball. He recently told Berry on the Telegraph, “I spent most of my childhood on the indoor networks. I remember coming back from school every day and spending hours there. "

Crawley is the son of a multimillionaire stockbroker and Lawrence is the son of the Chingford CC Groundsman. One was given the opportunity due to geographic circumstances and the other was fortunate enough to have choices. Both had a desire to get to where they are today.

This is more nuanced than just a reductive state versus private slug-out. The scholarship system, in which talented young cricketers with a state school background are selected by private schools, which in turn act as feeders for certain counties, could distort some of the numbers. Joe Root and Jos Butler are notable examples. Another is Haseeb Hameed, the Bolton born opener. But what about the children left behind? With a few years of development, could it have been you with the golden ticket? Too late, the chance is gone. Bad luck.

Chance to Shine is a charity, partly funded by the ECB and Sport England, whose mission is to fight the decline of cricket in state schools. General Manager Laura Cordingley says: "It's inspiring for kids to see players with a similar background at the highest level and we'd love to see more state-trained players join the national team." She also highlights "the incredible benefits that the game brings to physical, social and mental wellbeing and teaches key life skills". In city centers with dwindling green spaces and traditional cricket clubs, the charity runs street cricket projects to provide young people with a safe place to play for free all year round.

Wayne Rooney has been described as "the last footballer on the back street". The country's roads are considered either too unsafe or too busy for others to develop in the same way. Football writer Jonathan Wilson says the game is now a real problem. Youth academies have children when they are six or seven years old, they get used to being trained and playing a regulated form of the game on carpet-like training grounds. Football in this country is losing something. "The rough edges, the inspiration and the imagination you'd get if you played on a back street, a favela in Rio or a dusty street in Accra in the 1930s," says Wilson.

The goal posts in Liverpool where Wayne Rooney played as a child.The goal posts in Liverpool where Wayne Rooney played as a child. Photo: Christopher Thomond / The Guardian

Cricket has always had characters who did it in their own way, despite or because of their surroundings. Steve Cannane's book First Tests: Great Australian Cricketers and the Back Yards They Made them describes the importance of these early environmental factors – Doug Walters becomes a skilled spin player because the ant bed in his back yard made the ball wrench in all directions, or Neil Harvey's sparkling footwork on the cobblestones at the back of his house that would spit and slide off a tennis ball. That's before we get to Trumper, Grimmett, and of course Bradman. Wilson and Cannane both lament the loss of innovation that results from curiosity, ingenuity, and environmental responsiveness, with teens increasingly learning their sport in the same way in the same selected locations.

The slope at Lord & # 39; s is measured at 8 feet 2 inches from northeast to southwest of the ground, far from a level playing field. The state school children who are lucky enough to make it there one day will be used to this unevenness, at least metaphorically. State schools across the country are being forced to destroy their own "assets" to cope with budget cuts and years of austerity. The government website shows that there have been 215 pitches sold in England over the past decade. This statistic undoubtedly contributes to the strong NHS numbers of 2016 that 28% of two- to 15-year-olds are overweight or obese. If you're a child attending a school with no playing fields, living near a cricket club, or having a sibling, parent or guardian with an interest and the means to get you there, you're very unlikely to play.

Someone who has a lot of experience with this is Dr. Sarah Fane, the newly appointed director of the MCC Foundation, who for the past 18 years led the Afghan Connection charity, which she founded in 2002. Fane has seen how cricket can transform lives and work, reaching places untouched by sports or education. She is confident that a network of 55 (and growing) MCC hubs that are "outrageously talented, completely free, and totally government-educated children" can help reach the children who might fall through the cracks.

There are plans to control the hubs in inner-city areas and to work closely with existing community groups and networks. She mentions plans for a new hub in Croydon in partnership with the Refugee Cricket Project, which brings together young refugees and asylum seekers to not only provide opportunities to meet and play, but also advice and support on issues such as homework and safe usage offer the Internet and "fill out the form". It would be a story if only one of these kids were to wear an English shirt in 20 years.

Berry believes the game is in danger of becoming a "privileged and declining niche" sport in this country. The English cricket teams should be more representative of society as a whole. If the goal is to inspire the hearts and minds of the audience, the audience wants to see a reflection of themselves on the pitch. Someone to point at and say, "You did it, why can't I?" When everyone in the field comes from the same few places and has an Identikit story, the dream remains just that, too far to capture.

• This is the third track in the Wisden Cricket Monthly series, which addresses all aspects of the cricket diversity crisis. Read other articles in the series and get £ 1 off the latest edition, available in hard copy (use coupon code GSN36) and all major digital formats (discount applied automatically).


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