An Irishman, a Bajan, a New Zealander, two South Africans and two members of the British Asian community make up almost half of the England squad that will play in the 2019 Cricket World Cup. Their muti-ethic team will take the field at a time when the country is still negotiating its exit from the European Union and anti-migrant rhetoric is high, and may be able to show that there is unity in diversity in the UK.
The Irishman, Eoin Morgan who grew up on a housing estate in Dublin, will captain the team. Morgan does not sing the national anthem for personal reasons.
The New Zealander is Ben Stokes and is regarded as being among the most powerful all-rounders in modern cricket. He was cleared of affray charges in August last year after a brawl outside a nightclub. Stokes’ defence revealed how he was standing up for two gay men when punches were thrown.
The South Africans are Jason Roy, from Durban and a UK resident since the age of 10, and Tom Curran, a Cape-Townian by birth but a Zimbabwean at heart. Curran is the son of the former Zimbabwe captain Kevin and came to play for England thanks to a scholarship from Wellington College.
The British Asians are Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, both Muslim, both spin bowlers and both regarded as role-models for the minority ethnic communities.
And the Bajan is Jofra Archer, who was first capped for England earlier this month. His late inclusion in the squad was subject to much scrutiny, not least because the England Cricket Board changed the qualification rules for non-residents from seven years to three. Some senior commentators and players convinced it would affect team culture to bring in someone relatively new to the English cricketing scene for such a major event. One journalist, The Independent’s Jonathan Liew, called out on the consternation as veiled racism and his argument was sound. Just last year this country was witness to the Windrush Scandal and preserving a culture of so-called ‘Britishness’ has been a key campaigning tool of the Brexiteers.
But, as the make-up of the England squad suggests, this is a country of many cultures. And exchanges are inevitable. Embracing difference appears to be the best way forward and sport could be one way of doing that, particularly if sportspeople are willing to talk about the challenges they face in seeking inclusion.
In football, that is starting to happen. Raheem Sterling, the Manchester City millionaire, declared himself “black and proud,” in the face of racial abuse from fans is the most recent example. Sterling, like Morgan, comes from the humble beginners of a council house and has worked his way to the top of the professional sports pyramid.
There are thousands of others who are not able to do that and for whom the glamour of a World Cup will mean very little. It’s these people, the marginalised, that I have always been most interested in.
In my career as a sports journalist in South Africa, I wrote extensively about the need for transformation following the fall of Apartheid. I also became interested in health and wellbeing, trained as a menu and meal-planner and a yoga teacher. After more than a decade in the media, took a sabbatical from my job as an ESPNcricinfo correspondent and used my saving to self-fund an MA Traditions of Yoga and Meditation at SOAS. Here, my two passions have found each other.
I am researching the impact of yoga as a wellbeing tool for those members of society who face the greatest stress. Since arriving in London last September, I have been volunteering at Ourmala, an organisation which holds yoga classes for refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers. My work has delved into the mental health benefits of yoga but also highlighted issues of cultural collision which is hurtling towards appropriation. I am interested in developing a culturally-conscious form of yoga, which respects the roots of the practice, acknowledges the changes it has gone through and speaks to the concerns of modern life.
This is an ideal time to pursue this project, as the increase in mental health illnesses has grown to the point that a UK All-Party Parliamentary Group has labelled the situation a “crisis.” At the same time, the NHS is under severe pressure to deliver services, which shows no signs of slowing. An empowering and effective practice of self-care, which also acts as a preventative measure against anxiety and depression could make a major impact on what is becoming a pandemic that needs urgent solutions.
I believe this research could have an impact on public policy and development and am seeking funding for my PhD in the Culture of Contemporary Yoga: From Corporate Studios to Socially Conscious Projects. Before that, I am briefly returning to my roots, sports journalism, to work on the Cricket World Cup and to assess first-hand how a multicultural English team are cheered on by its public. They take on the rainbow-nation South Africa in the opening match of the tournament on Thursday.
The 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup is the 12th edition of the Cricket World Cup, an international cricket tournament contested by men’s national teams from the International Cricket Council. It is being hosted by England and Wales from 30 May to 14 July 2019.