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|"Monty's problem, actually, is that he isn't Indian enough and is only an English spinner" © Getty Images|
I don't know what headline has attracted you to read this piece: I don't do headlines. I occasionally suggest a title, but always with the understanding that the excellent Cricinfo sub-editors will substitute their own if they can think of something better, which they invariably can. Occasionally, it has to be said, their headline strikes a note slightly out of tune with the text, after which I can expect to receive a number of comments arguing more with the headline than the words for which I was responsible.
After reading Samir Chopra's response to it, I suspect something similar has happened with Mike Atherton's Times article about British Asian cricketers. Atherton has never given me the impression that he has some kind of downer on Asian cricketers, and the phrase to which Samir objected, "culture of failure", appears nowhere in the text. On the other hand, the Times is not notably foreigner-friendly, and perhaps the sub-editor was putting his own spin on things.
Ignoring the headline and looking at the text with the expectation that the author did not believe in a culture of failure, it reads to me as a fine debunking of the idea which has begun circulating among the backwoodsmen and newspapers of the Little Englander persuasion and to which this article is mostly replying, though he also attempts to deal with the counter-view proposed by the odd Asian advocacy group that they have been dropped because the English establishment wishes the Asians would go away.
Dutifully he examines the cases of each of the British Asians who have fallen from the selectors' favour recently and assembles as much evidence in favour of either view that he can find. Stepping back to look at the resultant piles, they are pitifully small, amounting to cases with more holes than a worn-out string vest. Some are sociable, some aren't, some are very anglicised, some aren't. There is no common factor, no pattern, nothing that would lead a rational person to believe that British Asian cricketers are somehow doomed to disappoint.
The most extreme reaching comes when considering Monty Panesar, when he digs up a sociological study which shows Indians to be more deferential than Brits and pulls in his traditional Indian wedding as additional ballast, and while you might just be able to spin something out of it, it's very little when one considers the earlier question, is Graeme Swann just a better bowler?
Monty's case is an interesting one, because it was the Anglos who had the most extreme hopes for him. Here was a left-armer who wore a patka and had a beard, just like Bishen Bedi, so presumably he was Bishen Bedi reincarnated. When picked he had a brilliant stock ball - few spinners have as powerful a leg-break as Panesar's customary delivery - and we all assumed that since he was still pretty young, he would soon develop the other balls he would need to succeed as a Test cricketer. However (as I start whistling "Colonel Bogey") it turns out that Monty has only got one ball, while Swann has several. Monty's problem, actually, is that he isn't Indian enough and is only an English spinner.
But Atherton shows that all the other cases are extremely prosaic - Saj Mahmood and Owais Shah not good enough, Samit Patel not fit enough, Ravi Bopara unable to withstand a verbal working-over, or Adil Rashid by no means ready for selection. Space restrictions imposed by the printed media (by which we Different Strokers are not strictly constrained) probably prevented Atherton from making the point that it is in any case absurdly early to be writing Bopara and Rashid off.
Bopara was dropped because there was the Ashes to win and Jonathan Trott came in and saved the day, which means that he isn't going to be dropped for the Tests against Bangladesh despite failing against South Africa in exactly the same way for exactly the same reasons. That doesn't mean Bopara's career is over: he just has to wait his turn to get another chance - a chance which will surely come.
I was amazed when Rashid was picked by England last year: I've long thought he will have an important future as an England all-rounder, but he was down on my list as ready to be picked in about 2011 or 2012, not now. Trouble is, England selectors start frothing at the mouth and slavering when they hear that a leg-spinner has taken a few wickets, and so Rashid has to endure the stigma of early failure before he takes over from Swann as the No.1 spinner.
Unfortunately, those who espouse the extreme views mentioned above tend to be slightly unhinged and will point to the undeniable fact that the players have been given chances and then been dropped as proof of their case. Only when one (and then another and another) British Asian makes the grade as a picked-if-fit England player will it be possible to quite shut them up, so Ajmal Shahzad, as the next cab off the rank, would do us all a favour if he could be persuaded to be successful.
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