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A team of many colours

READERS of a certain vintage will remember Mike Marqusee’s book ‘Anyone but England’, an outsider’s look at the game we all love that went on to become a classic. Marqusee, who calls himself “a deracinated American Marxist” wrote a book that was the classic outsider’s take, not the immigrant’s, looking at cricket in general and England in particular through a lens that threw out rose tinted glasses and bacon-and-egg ties at Lord’s.  It was a runaway success because it felt the pulse of the rest of the world at the time.

England beat New Zealand to win the men’s World Cup for the first time after one of the most amazing games of cricket ever played was tied twice. It meant England were crowned world champions by virtue of having scored more boundary fours and sixes – 26 to New Zealand’s 17 – in the entire match

Readers of a similar vintage will also remember Norman Tebbit and his infamous Tebbit test, which asked immigrants in England to prove their loyalty to Queen and country by supporting their adopted nation at sport. Tebbit walked that back in his later years. “Tebbit Test is immaterial now. If I were in charge of cricket, football or athletics in the country, I would be choosing British-Asians, Blacks and people from Ethiopia. I cheer for them,” Tebbit told the Indian Express in an interview last year.

“The race isn’t an issue like it used to be. The time to talk stuff like ‘whether it’s in the blood’ is gone now. It has gradually washed away. Assimilation has already occurred. The more non-ethnic English get into the English cricket team, the more it will become obvious that the door is open to full integration.”

In 2019, when England won their first cricket World Cup, they were led by a proud Irishman who continues to live in Dublin; their best bowler, Joffra Archer, is Bajan and only recently qualified to play under this flag; their key batsman and all-rounder, Ben Stokes, is New Zealand born; their main spinner, Adil Rashid, is from the Mirpuri community, tracing his origins to Azad Kashmir, Bradford-born; Their most exciting batsman, Jason Roy, is as South African as any of the Proteas players who take up Kolpak contracts and ply their trade in this country.

But, unlike before, there is a distinct feeling that this is not a case of England stealing players from around the world to strengthen their ranks. Rather, it is the case of setting up a system where everyone wants to be included and then legally and otherwise work their way through the ranks to rightly and deservedly represent a proud cricket nation at the peak of its One-Day International cricket powers.

Take almost any street in London or Birmingham or Manchester and you will find the same mix. White Englishmen of privilege, white Englishmen from the working class, people of Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, South African, Australian and New Zealand origins, living together, working together, making the country stronger.

From a cricketing perspective it is easy to spot who is from where: the left arm spinner is likely to be Bangladeshi, the seamer local, the enforcer South African or Afro-Caribbean, the correct opening batsman from Mumbai. Yes, these are stereotypes, but they became so for a reason.

Brexit be damned, this is a country that not only attracts the best talent from around the world, it gives them a chance to shine. Morgan, who has played for Ireland, is the man who should get the most credit for turning the perception of the team around. While before there would have been serious cribbing about England being exploitative in the way it cherry picked players to fill its cricket team, now there is a sense that this is more of what the world needs.

Morgan acknowledges differences is background and upbringing while not highlighting them. Morgan assures every player that he will get the rewards due to him if he is willing to put in the hard yards to get there. Morgan makes England cricket look good at a time when it seems like he might not be around to enjoy the fruits of the legacy he helped create.

When asked if he would be right up there with Bobby Moore, who won the 1966 World Cup, or Martin Johnson, the rugby player who led England to the title in 2003, with a Mount Rushmore style immortalisation, Morgan was placid. “Not at all. There’s no Mount Rushmore. Primrose Hill, that’s about it.”

When asked if there would an open bus celebration and ticker-tape parade, Morgan was just as calm. “ I take the bus through London. It doesn’t bother me if there is one. Well, I’m just delighted to win.”

And finally, when it was put to him that the World Cup win would change his life forever, Morgan was nonplussed. “I hope it hasn’t changed that much. I enjoy my life. I lead quite a quiet one, so I hope it hasn’t changed too much. I would love it to change for everybody else who wants it to change, but I enjoy my life.” –