In 1976, when Clive Lloyd’s West Indies were set to tour England in the Summer, English captain Tony Greig, in a television interview, uttered words he would grow to regret.
“I intend to make them grovel,” he said when discussing the upcoming series. For the West Indies, many of whose players came from slave ancestry, this comment had downright racist connotations. So when an image of Grieg falling to the ground after a particularly brutal bouncer from Andy Roberts splashed across the front page of the newspapers with the words ‘Look who’s groveling now’ it was a moment of catharsis for the West Indies.
Three years later, England lost the World Cup final to the same West Indies at Lord’s.
Greig passed away in 2012, so we’ll never know he would feel about how an Irish captain trusting the Super Over to a Barbados-born fast bowler, who led England to a win in a World Cup final at Lord’s. But one thing is for certain – English cricket has come a long way from the racism that underpinned it in the 1970s. Six of the 15 members of the squad were born outside of England. Two are children of Muslim immigrants.
A lot of cricket fans, upset at England’s win, have pointed out on social media that the team was “hardly English” or “not English enough”.
Of course, they point to Dublin-born Eoin Morgan, the team’s captain who played for Ireland till 10 years ago, and 24-year-old fast bowling sensation Jofra Archer, who wasn’t even a UK citizen until two months ago. Many spoke of the irony of Ben Stokes, born in Christchurch, New Zealand, beating the Kiwis with that gritty 84 from 98 balls. Jason Roy, the star of the English top order, was born a South African, much like his teammate Tom Curran.
In 2010, when Morgan made the English team, he told an English daily, “From the age of 13, I wanted to play cricket for England. I’ve never felt any shame in saying this is what I wanted to do. And the people at home involved in cricket, they were like, 'Fair play, it’s going to be unbelievable if you make it'. So I’ve never had any shame about this and my father’s never had any shame about it.”
But what is perhaps most worrying is social media users pointing to Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali, sons of Kashmiri immigrants and the only Muslims on the English team. Rashid was born in Yorkshire and Ali in Birmingham. And yet, for many, they are not “English enough”. If you find yourself saying that Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali don’t “look English”, ask yourself it comes from some deep-rooted Islamophobia or fear of immigrants.
England has had cricketing heroes in the past who’s “Englishness” has been questioned. Madras-born Nasser Hussain was booed by English fans after he took over the captaincy in 1999. But “Nass” was there at Lord’s on Sunday to watch his team win that prize. Kevin Peiterson, a hero of the 2005 Ashes – England’s greatest triumph till the World Cup win this year, was born a South African and his relationship with fans has always been, well, testy. Who would’ve thought English cricket would come so far that an Irishman leading England to a Cricket World Cup win would say, “We had Allah with us?”
In a world where borders are becoming more rigid, nationality is being defined in terms of religion and ethnicity and race, in an England which is seeing increased hostility to immigrants as the narrative around Brexit gets more complicated, this English team, in all its multicultural glory is what we all need.
They've opened their team and their hearts to people with diverse backgrounds and they're better for it. It is not up to us to decide how “English” Jofra Archer or Eoin Morgan or Adil Rashid are. Because whatever their differences, the English love to win.
It doesn’t matter that Jofra Archer wasn’t born in England, his over still prompted a drunk Londoner to jump into the Trafalgar Square fountain in celebration.