Thursday, August 04, 2016

Why Tebbit's "Cricket Test" was nonsense

The only time I found myself in agreement  with Norman Tebbit, that most reactionary of Thatcherites, was when he coined the idea of the "Cricket test". The principle that if you were a British citizen, irrespective of your own or your family's cultural heritage, you should support British teams. If England played India you should support England even if you or your parents were born in Madras. After all Nasser Hussein was born in Madras and he captained England. Obvious innit? Except that it isn't.

Let's say you were born in Southall or Bradford and grew up in a British Asian community. You are British and proud to be so but when you are, say, ten years old you take an interest in cricket. Who is to be your role model? Your world is Asian. That is your culture. Yes your school reflects the diversity of Britain - White, Brown, Black, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh... But in your home it is  (say) the Sikh values of your parents (and theirs) that predominates. Just as in the home of a ten-year old in Woking where there is a dominant White, Anglo-Saxon, Middle Class culture so it is with your home. A distinctive culture and differentiating set of values. Not better or worse than if you'd been a white boy in Woking - but different. 

So back to the role model choice. Here's the offer. On the one hand Alastair Cook. Unlike anyone you've ever met. White, middle-class, independent school, choirboy. On the other hand there's Virat Kholi. Brown, Sikh, Indian (like you are - or at least you're made to feel). His culture and yours are really very similar. To have him as your role model is logical. And the extension to the support of the Indian Cricket team is a very small step indeed. You are not being anti English - when the England football team plays in the World Cup you'll support them and you'll cheer on GB in the Olympic Games. It's just that for cricket you relate more to Kohli than Cook and to India than England. 

When Moeen Ali reached a good half century at Edgbaston last Wednesday I noticed that both the England and the Pakistan supporters rose to applaud him. This was not just good manners! The Pakistan contingent were acknowledging one of their own (Ali who was born close to Edgbaston, is of course of Pakistani heritage). Let's be clear about this. Those supporting Pakistan in the ground were overwhelmingly British citizens and most, like Ali, were born in the UK. Their choice is a cultural one - they identify more with (say) Misbah-Al-Haq than they do with Joe Root. And the genuine support for Moeen Ali further demonstrates that culture is stronger than nationality.

Among our freedoms is that to support whatever sports team we like. There are good reasons for British Asians to support India or Pakistan if they want to. And there are good reasons for them instead to cheer for the country of their birth and nationality (Britain) if that is what they prefer. Norman Tebbit insulted them by saying that they should all do the latter to prove they were British. And I regret having agreed with him!