October 08, 2020
England cricketers are more likely to be privately educated than peers in the House of Lords. Is that a problem?
The class ceiling: does the England cricket team suffer for its elitism?
By James Wallace for Wisden Cricket Monthly
Test cricket is a game of contrasts: bat/ball, spin/pace, out/not out. It’s risk v reward, creamy whites and cherry reds. Days of meticulous planning against a moment of sheer instinct. Division is also at its core: batsmen play bowlers, county v country, a history of amateurs and professionals. Great rivalries give the game oxygen. So when things become too samey, too comfy, it’s a problem. Scyld Berry has covered a lot of cricket – 43 years of the stuff – so when he notices something, it’s worth paying attention. Last month he wrote a column for the Telegraph titled “Why England would be a better team with more state school players in it,” in which he noted that the top-six batsmen for the second Test against Pakistan and, unprecedentedly, nine of the total XI, were the products of a fee-paying education. Too samey. Too comfy. Berry believes that this homogeneity leads to group-think on and off the field, pointing to the example of the interchangeable dismissals of their batsmen when England were reduced to 27-9 (eventually 58 all out) against New Zealand at Eden Park in 2018, and their “stiff upper lip” reactions off it. He describes the omission of Lancashire batsman Liam Livingstone – who was part of the squad but is yet to make his Test debut – as a “lamentable waste of talent and failure to embrace heterogeneity”. Livingstone was in good form, having scored a fluent 88 in a warm-up match and shown an aptitude for audacious shots. The point being that his more homespun style may have given the Kiwis something more – or at least something different – to think about.
“Of course I’d have stopped the rot and got a hundred,” says Livingstone, tongue firmly in cheek. He saw Berry’s piece and was flattered. “The way I grew up, playing club cricket is different to lots of lads. I wouldn’t change anything, even if some of the pitches in the northern leagues were terrible. It stood me in good stead.”Boys against men in club cricket is a schooling of different sorts and a pathway that Graham Thorpe, England’s assistant coach, recognises. “It was very much the clubs,” he says. “Our club set-up locally was fantastic. A lot of the counties now direct a lot of these younger players to the private schools. With Surrey, Rory Burns, Jason Roy, Dom Sibley all went to Whitgift [an independent school in Croydon]. It’s possible they get directed in that way.”
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