Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Not cricket

Above, title page of a book sent to me last week by a CBe author who knows I like cricket. Bought in a charity shop, which feels right. First published 1936, ‘revised and reprinted’ 1946. There was a world war between those dates but you’d hardly notice, reading the book. 'The Author': buttoned-up.

It’s not cricket: ‘said to mean that someone's behaviour is unfair or unreasonable’ (Collins English Dictionary). ‘If behaviour is not cricket, it is not fair, honest or moral’ (Cambridge Dictionary). Yorkshire cricket’s defence against the testimony of Azeem Rafiq, Yorkshire cricketer, about racism in Yorkshire cricket was – for as long as they could hold the line, for as long as they and not Rafiq held the power to decide what is ‘fair’ or ‘reasonable’ – that it wasn’t cricket.

I’m invested. I’m Leeds-born and I’ve watched not just Jonny Bairstow but his dad, David Bairstow (who played for Yorkshire and England and killed himself). I’ve even written a novel about cricket. And in football I follow Leeds, who signed one of the first black players to play top-flight English football, Albert Johanneson, I watched him too, who got monkey chants every game and who died alone in a Leeds council flat, his body not discovered until a week later, a quarter of a century ago, yesterday, today.

Yorkshire cricket is institutionally racist, clearly. (No sport has more obvious links to empire than cricket.) As is this country, as are dictionaries and Eng Lit and a whole lot of publishing and me, I grew up within these institutions. Stop arguing the toss; stop putting quote marks round that phrase. I’ve been trying to make this not about me, but I am implicated. Is Rafiq going to win Sports Personality of the Year in December (for lit readers, it’s kind of the sport Booker Prize)? I want that.

No comments: