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Elitism in cricket and society at heart of new book

Publication title: Different Class: The Untold Story of English Cricket
Author: Duncan Stone
Publication type: Book (Paperback)
ISBN number: 9781913462802

Different Class (Repeater Books, 2022)has been years in the making, but its publication is timely, coming in the wake ofthe racism scandal that has engulfed Yorkshire County Cricket Cluband the game across the countryfollowing testimonyfrom ex-Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq.

Duncan completed his PhD,Suburbanization and cultural change: the case of club cricket in Surrey, 1870–1939, in 2013 and it provides the basis for his first book.

Competitive club cricket banned for decades

Rather than racism, hisoriginalresearchlooked at howand whycompetitivecricket – in the form of cups andleagues –was bannedin Surreyand the Home Countiesfor 50 years.Unlike the Midlands and the North, where the culture of competitive cricket remained consistent, the banning of meritocratic competition enabledmanymiddle-class cricketersin the Southto create their own discrete realm of club cricket where they got to choose who they played with or against.

Having highlighted howthis process led totwo entirely different cricket cultures in the North and South of England,Duncan’s bookdraws parallels withhowSouth Asian and African Caribbean communitieshavealsobeen excluded fromfirst-class (professional) and recreationalcricket in recent years.

“It was like pulling a thread, the more I found out, the more I had to pull. It is a 20-year itchthatI had to scratch,” saysDuncan.

“The nub of the book is elitism. In many respects the book is not about cricket at all,asI use cricket as context for exposing how the elites of this country operate.It willno doubtupsetmany of the game’straditionalistsand,asI have uncovered evidence of structural racism throughout cricket, Imayneeda suit of armour.And it’s all because I asked a questionabout regional identity in cricketin a lecturewhen studyingfor myMaster’s20 years ago.”

Theoutlawing of competitive cricket in the south of the country has parallels with the schism that led to the formation of rugby leaguein Huddersfield’s George Hotel, whenthe‘gentlemen’running the strictly amateur Rugby Football Union denied working class players ‘broken time’ payments for time lost at work. Accordingly, the sportsplitin 1895to create aprofessionalvariation of thesport,while rugby union clubs remained amateurand did not play in a league structure untilthe 1980s.

“Essentially, the split that occurred in rugby also happened in club cricket all the way down to village level in theSouth of England,oncethose in charge ofan organisation calledthe Club Cricket Conferencerecognisedthatthe meritocratic nature of cup andleaguecompetition poseda threat to theireminentpositionwithinthe game. But, rather than professionalism, the Conference banned competition itself.

“Inmy book,I talk about how zealously this non-competitive ethos was defended,and how,in 1949,attemptstore-form leagues in Surrey, Sussexand Essexwerequashed by asmallcartelof elite Conference clubs.Ultimately, it was not until 1968 that the SurreyChampionship was established, andothersenior leagues,involvingthesediscretemiddle-class clubs,were established in theSouth.”

‘The ladder has been pulled up for migrants from the Commonwealth

“The sad thing isthatthe barriers that were put up to exclude working class people playing cricket were then put up in front of migrants from the Commonwealth. Unfortunately, the white working class appear to have pulled the ladder up, andmany of themare now doing what the upper classes did to them by not letting the South Asian or African Caribbean communities in.”

This was not always the case, however, and Duncan also examines workplace cricket that was, for a time, the best example of multi-racial sport in the country.

“Lots of factories andworkplaces,such asLondon TransportandVauxhall Motors,had sports grounds. But deindustrialisation and privatisationspelt the end of workplace sport after thesevaluable, yetunprofitable,assetswere either demolished or sold off.

“Add in the loss ofmore than10,000stateschool playing fields,and it isno wonderthatworking class participation in cricketcontinues toplummet.”

Professional game dominated by the privately educated

This helps to explainascenariowhere the top level of the game in this countryisdominated byplayers from a privately educated background. A 2020study by The Guardian found that 45percentoffirst-classcricketerswent to fee-paying schools, whereas only seven percent of pupils overall go to independent schools.

Passion for the game is still strong among the South Asian and African Caribbean communities, and Duncan hopes that cricket can now reflect onthe fissures revealed by the racism scandaltomake it truly inclusive.

“Cricketnowhas a golden opportunity now to lead the way. Football has done rainbow laces, t-shirts and well-meaning adverts but it is hot air. Only actions and an almost zero-tolerance policyisgoing to changethecultureof English cricket, and culture comes from the top.”

Professor Barry Doyle, who supervised Duncan’s University of Huddersfield thesis, is fulsome in his praise for the book. “It’s great to see Duncan’s book come to fruition. It is a testament to passion, determination and skilful research and writing. The book builds on the thesis but takes it in new and more challenging directions that will definitely ruffle a few feathers in the cricket establishment.”

Regions: Europe, United Kingdom
Keywords: Society, Leisure & sport

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