Episode 78: English cricket’s biggest and longest crisis: economic inequality

Cricket authors (and obsessives) Peter Oborne and Richard Heller launched a podcast early in 2020 to help deprived listeners endure a world without cricket. They’re no longer deprived of cricket, but still chat regularly about cricket topics with different guests each week – cricket writers, players, administrators and fans – hoping to keep a good line and length but with occasional wides into other subjects.

Mohammed Sadiq Patel is a long-serving activist for equality in sport – and the rest of life. As a lawyer he has pursued some notable cases in the cause and as a charitable entrepreneur launched some important initiatives. He is the guest of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller in their latest cricket-themed podcast.

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Mohammed begins by explaining his involvement as a solicitor in the legal actions against the England and Wales Cricket Board brought by the two umpires, John Holder (a previous podcast guest) and Ismail Dawood. He believes them more representative of the crisis over discrimination in English cricket, and of the workings of the Board, than the more widely followed case of Azeem Rafiq. Although aware that their actions were out of time, they had brought them to highlight long-standing failures towards minority ethnic people in the ECB’s recruitment and management of match officials, and to accelerate the promise of reform. While not downplaying the experience of Azeem Rafiq, Mohammed says that he could give worse examples in English cricket, and notes that he benefited from a major shift in media and public attitudes to alleged racism in the light of BlackLivesMatter.

He believes that there is now a unique opportunity for the ECB and counties to get to grips with the entire spectrum of inequality in cricket. The game has let down not only minority ethnic communities but also lower-income white ones. However, he fears that the present momentum could well be dissipated in new initiatives and procedures devised by consultants which do nothing for actual victims of disadvantage – as has happened in the past, in spite of the presence of prominent minority ethnic representatives on the ECB.

He discusses the obscure and much misunderstood decision-making structure and accountability of the ECB, which evolved from the old Test and County Cricket Board which itself evolved from a small committee of the MCC – a private members’ club. The Board reveals very little to the public about key decisions, including the departure of Ian Watmore as Chairman or the procedures which will choose his successor. He notes that its income is overwhelmingly dependent on its revenues from SkySports. As with football, everyday players and supporters have virtually no influence over the way English cricket is run.

Mohammed suggests that in the recent furore over racism, media and politicians may have missed an even more significant story: what happened to £62 million of public money given to the ECB and the counties by Sport England from 2009 to 2017? They need to focus on economic disadvantage. He believes this an even more lethal problem for English cricket than any racism experienced by players and officials who have the potential to obtain redress through the courts.

In company with previous guests, he cites the closure of Haringey Community College as a major blow to the career opportunities for disadvantaged cricketers, especially Afro-Caribbean ones.

Mohammed uses his own early background in Yorkshire cricket to highlight his key themes. He is grateful from the support he received in overcoming economic disadvantage and getting access as a boy to high-quality cricket facilities, especially from Hanging Heaton CC. He believes that the present-day efforts of thousands of volunteers at clubs could bring many more disadvantaged children into the game, if co-ordinated and given respect and recognition.

He discusses some of Hanging Heaton’s famous alumni, including Abdul Qadir and Dilip Vengsarkar. But he also mentions the local Asian-origin batsman who outscored the great Vengsarkar but was excluded, like others, from further progress in the county by its obsolete qualification rules. Mohammed suggests that its wholesale wastage of talented minority ethnic players has singled out Yorkshire for special attack in the new climate of opinion within English cricket.

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Previous Episode – Episode 77: Class and the myths of English cricket analysed by historian Duncan Stone

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Peter Oborne & Richard Heller 

Peter Oborne has been the chief political commentator for the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, a maker of several documentaries and written and broadcast for many different media. He is the author of a biography of Basil D’Oliveira and of Wounded Tiger, a history of Pakistan cricket, both of which won major awards.

Richard Heller was a long-serving humorous columnist on The Mail on Sunday and more briefly, on The Times. He worked in the movie business in the United States and the UK, including a brief engagement on a motion picture called Cycle Sluts Versus The Zombie Ghouls. He is the author of two cricket-themed novels A Tale of Ten Wickets and The Network. He appeared in two Mastermind finals: in the first his special subject was the life of Sir Gary Sobers.

Oborne & Heller cricketing partnership

Jointly, he and Peter produced White On Green, celebrating the drama of Pakistan cricket, including the true story of the team which lost a first-class match by an innings and 851 runs.

Peter and Richard have played cricket with and against each other for a variety of social sides, including Parliament’s team, the Lords and Commons, and in over twenty countries including India, Pakistan, the United States, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, France, Greece, Australia, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Morocco.

The Podcast is produced by Bridget Osborne and James Willcocks at The Chiswick Calendar.

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