MARTIN SAMUEL: British Asians are the beating heart of park cricket, so where are they at counties? And Man United stars are getting WORSE under Solskjaer… Bruno Fernandes was a better player fresh from Sporting Lisbon
- It is estimated a third of cricket’s recreational players are Asian within the UK
- However, when it comes to county cricket British Asians are not well represented
- Manchester United’s malaise under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is only growing
- Under-performing Red Devils are going backwards under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
If the ECB are serious about combating institutional racism in their sport, they do not stop with Yorkshire. The culture at Headingley should be the reference point as they then move through the counties.
For where are they, the British Asian players? They’re in the clubs, we can all see that. Walk past any grassroots match, at any level, around any urban area, walk past any school game, and the Asian community is fully represented. In many clubs, they are the beating heart of it. The most dedicated, the most enthusiastic. Yet this involvement is simply not reflected in the professional sport, and it is the duty of the ECB to discover why.
Not to come up with a slogan or a T-shirt, or another campaign. Not to scratch the surface, as they so often do. To ask why the counties do not reflect the way the game looks when it is played in the park. To get to the root of this.
The Azeem Rafiq scandal highlighted the lack of British-Asian participation in county cricket
What we see on the football pitches of Hackney Marshes is a mirror to the make-up of most Premier League squads. Yet that isn’t true in cricket. So something is wrong.
We’re not talking the village greens of Middle England here. That’s not where the counties are based. They’re in Leeds, Manchester, Derby, Nottingham, London, Bristol, Cardiff, Leicester, Birmingham – cities with significant ethnic populations. In their local leagues, clubs will be driven by British-Asian involvement, and have been for decades.
It is estimated a third of cricket’s recreational players are Asian. So why can we still pretty much name all of the Asian origin players at the top of our game? Why is it that just five per cent of county cricketers are Asian?
The ECB have the South Asian Action Plan ‘to better engage with South Asian communities’ and it means well. But this isn’t a participation issue. Asians play cricket, but not enough of them professionally succeed. Given what we already know about the culture in Yorkshire, an investigation is needed as much as a plan. Coaches and executives summoned, tough questions asked. Too much follow-up from Azeem Rafiq’s complaints has already descended into squabbles over procedure and, heaven forbid, who pays the bill.
Saqib Mahmood is one British-Asian playing county cricket – representing Lancashire
Yorkshire asked the ECB to co-fund their inquiry – the ECB wished to maintain their independence as a regulator. These are the debates we prefer to have rather than asking how a third of grassroots cricketers equates to just 22 British Asians professionally contracted in 2020.
Yorkshire’s squad last season was 28 strong. Multiplied across 18 counties that’s 504 professionals. If a third were of Asian origin, that would total 168 players. Instead, in the year Rafiq took his case to Yorkshire, 22.
Too many of you lot? It is hard to imagine a sentiment wider of the mark. The ECB investigate more widely or mirror Yorkshire’s complacency.
UNITED RUIN REMEMBRANCE AGAIN
For the second year in a row the marking of Remembrance Day at Old Trafford was a shambles.
The passing of Walter Smith was conflated with the dead of two world wars, as happened 12 months ago after the death of Nobby Stiles. So the applause that is the modern response to the loss of a great football man was in the mix with The Last Post and what should have been a brief period of respectful silence and contemplation.
Spending slightly less than a year as assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson 17 years ago is not the same as giving your life so others could live theirs. It is an insult to merge the tributes this way. If football does not know how to remember properly, maybe better not to remember at all.
The Remembrance Day marking at Old Trafford was a shambles during the Manchester derby
Andrew Gale, now a coach at Yorkshire, stands accused of sending an anti-Semitic tweet when he was captain of the club in 2010. During some football chat with Paul Dews, then Leeds United’s head of media, Gale sent the message: ‘Button it, yid!’
Given the present crisis at the club, this has aged extremely badly. Gale has apologised and said he was unaware that the word was offensive. Yet is it offensive? The police don’t think so, and the Oxford English Dictionary ruled it can be just a slang word for a Tottenham supporter.
If Gale had simply claimed he thought Dews had a season ticket at White Hart Lane, he would have been in the clear.
PLAYERS GOING BACKWARDS UNDER OLE
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been in charge of 4.7 per cent of the Premier League games played at Old Trafford, yet has been responsible for 21 per cent of Premier League defeats at the ground. Still he sails on.
Once again this weekend, we listened to pundits with Manchester United allegiances trawling through a familiar list of failings, while stopping short of advocating the change that might solve the problem. Players are going backwards under Solskjaer.
Manchester United’s players are continuing to go backwards under boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Aaron Wan-Bissaka, arguably the strongest of the young English right backs defensively, is now playing a wing-back role more suited to Reece James or Trent Alexander-Arnold, and is drowning.
Jadon Sancho has gone from a player who looked to be part of England’s future to one who cannot make Gareth Southgate’s squad. Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood have not improved at all, season on season.
Bruno Fernandes was a better player fresh from Sporting Lisbon. The longer he spends around United, the worse he gets. The worse they are all getting, in fact.
Bruno Fernandes was a better player fresh from Sporting Lisbon than he is now at United
RANIERI WRONG ABOUT ARSENAL’S SPORTSMANSHIP
Everyone likes Claudio Ranieri, but he’s wrong about Arsenal’s lack of sportsmanship. They had no reason to return the ball that was put out of play to allow treatment for Ozan Tufan.
It was kicked out by Danny Rose, who is a Watford player. Tufan is his team-mate. So it was Watford’s choice to stop the game to allow one of their men to be treated. Why should Arsenal then give them further advantage?
Had Rose kicked the ball out for an injured Arsenal player, that is completely different. Sportsmanship, and good manners, dictate the ball should be returned to Watford. In this case, Arsenal took the throw, kept possession and eventually scored through Emile Smith Rowe. Watford had ample opportunities to thwart the move and did not take them. That is not Arsenal’s fault, either.
In Germany, the practice is made simple. Kick the ball out for your man, the opposition plays on once it is returned; kick the ball out for an opponent and the ball goes back to you.
Adopt those guidelines here and there can be no argument.
Claudio Ranieri was left unhappy at Arsenal’s conduct in the build-up to their winning goal
LIONS WOULD MAUL KIWIS
A panel is considering the worth of forming a women’s British and Irish Lions and as many of those involved have already spoken in favour of the idea, it is not hard to predict which way this will go.
Yet, at the end of a week in which England put 99 points on world champions New Zealand across two matches, what would be the purpose of such a one-sided contest?
New Zealand are the only southern hemisphere nation capable of holding their own in a match, and if they cannot compete, what chance when England’s squad is boosted further? Mismatches are a real problem for women’s sport, killing spectator interest and undermining quality.
Until there is a genuine challenger for a women’s Lions team, a series of walkovers would surely do more harm than good.
INTERNATIONALS ARE A TOUGH SELL
It is a great pity that, whenever England meet up, Gareth Southgate has to explain which players have ducked international duty, who has refused to join the Under 21s and what negotiations have taken place to secure the release of others.
This time it was Mason Greenwood who again didn’t want to play, Callum Hudson-Odoi who felt age-group football beneath him, and Jude Bellingham who had to be prised out of Borussia Dortmund like a shy winkle from the shell. Leaving aside that neither Greenwood nor Hudson-Odoi look international class on this season’s performances, part of the problem is that qualification has lost all meaning. Bloated tournaments have made it a cakewalk.
If England beat Albania at home on Friday, the only way they can fail to reach Qatar automatically is by becoming the first country to lose to San Marino in a competitive game. Even if that happened it would still require Poland to win their last two matches, and overturn a goal difference disadvantage of four. And then? England would simply go into the play-offs.
By watering down competitions, FIFA and UEFA have killed the spectacle for millions and the desire of an elite few. There should be honour in representing the country, but they have made internationals an increasingly hard sell.
Mason Greenwood (left) has again decided against being selected for England duty this month
KEEP OPPOSING ROTTEN CABBAGES IN EUROPE
Controversy over Champions League qualification continues. UEFA proposed that future editions would keep two places back for historical entrants, those clubs who have not made it through by league position but have the highest co-efficient ranking. They would get in via past performance.
This is nothing more than a safety net for the biggest and richest, to guard against those rare years when they underperform. Bayern Munich could come sixth in the Bundesliga one season, yet still get in. Unsurprisingly, those outside the elite were not impressed with a failing team leapfrogging others into the biggest competition. After the failed Super League breakaway, resistance hardened.
The irony being that two places might no longer be enough for all the useless, entitled elite clubs that are falling short of Champions League standard. As of now, Barcelona (ninth in La Liga), Juventus (eighth in Serie A) and Manchester United (sixth in the Premier League) would be jostling for two spots.
All the more reason to oppose historical qualification. Competitions thrive on what is fresh and new, not rotten cabbages.
FANS TURNING UP HEAT ON BOSSES
Football is nothing without fans, we were told during the pandemic. It was safer, though, for managers. With Dean Smith’s dismissal at Aston Villa, there have been five Premier League managers sacked this season, more than in the whole of 2020-21.
Why? Fans. Clubs that would have ridden out a storm with the ground empty now feel pressured to act. The poorly received 54th-minute substitution of Lucas Moura certainly did for Nuno Espirito Santo at Tottenham, while Norwich’s decision to dispense with Daniel Farke – taken prior to the game with Brentford – was another reaction to a home defeat, by Leeds. Smith’s last game was also at home, as was that of Steve Bruce at Newcastle.
For all the fear of social media, these managers would have had more time with the ground empty. It’s hard to block out a 60,000 crowd, as Daniel Levy discovered.
Dean Smith was sacked as Aston Villa manager – the fifth Premier League sacking of the term
NOTHING TO FEAR IN QATAR, FOR NOW
Josh Cavallo, the world’s first openly gay major league footballer, says he would be scared to play in Qatar at the World Cup, due the hosts’ intolerance of homosexuality.
We can understand the sentiment, but Cavallo’s fear is misguided. Qatar will be safer than it has ever been for homosexuals during the tournament. Before it, after it, don’t take a chance; but for the duration of the World Cup, Qatar will be doing its utmost to be something it is not.
‘I would like to assure any fan of any gender, orientation, religion or race that they’ll all be welcome here,’ said World Cup chief executive Nasser Al-Khater. And they will. Just as there was no crime in South Africa in 2014 and no racism inside stadiums in Russia in 2018.
It’s when the circus moves on that the default setting returns. There was no racism in Ukraine during football’s 2012 European Championship, but a black ice hockey player, Jalen Smereck, left Ukrainian club HC Donbass last month after being racially abused by an opponent from HC Kremenchuk.
Similarly, Saudi Arabian authorities have told Formula One teams there will be no restrictions on dress at the inaugural Grand Prix in Jeddah next month. ‘It is our aim to ensure that everyone who visits Jeddah experiences what a warm and welcoming place this is,’ read a statement from the Ministry of Sport. Although try a bikini top when the Grand Prix is over, and see what happens.
Josh Cavallo, the world’s first openly gay major league footballer, says he would be scared to play in Qatar at the World Cup for Australian – due to their intolerance of homosexuality
BALE REALLY DOES PUT WALES FIRST
Gareth Bale has not kicked a ball for Real Madrid since lasting 90 minutes for Wales against Estonia on September 8. He then picked up an injury on his return to Spain.
He is insistent, however, that he will be fit to play this week – for Wales once again, versus Belarus on Saturday. Carlo Ancelotti tolerates Bale’s priorities in a way Zinedine Zidane would not. Remember Wales, Golf, Madrid. In that order. Many a true word is spoken in jest.
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