Last summer, the England cricket team made the mistake of not kneeling in the face of Black Lives Matter demonstrations and the fight against racism, according to a leading cricket journalist. Lawrence Booth, editor of the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, wrote in his notes for the 2021 edition of the book that the sport had “lost its nerve.”
In the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer in the United States just weeks before, both the England and West Indian cricket teams knelt on July 8, last year. On the same day, Michael Holding, a former West Indian cricketer who is now a commentator, gave an emotional speech about his own racism experience.
“It was a moment to pause, and reﬂect. Players past and present had already begun telling stories of prejudice; the trickle became a torrent,” Booth wrote in the 158th edition of the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. “The rule of thumb was simple, and brutal: if you weren’t White, you had suffered…
“For a while, cricket said and did the right things. The ECB admitted they had let things slip, and promised action… But cricket isn’t fond of radicalism (unless there is money to be made). Predictably, it lost its nerve. By the time Pakistan arrived, taking a knee had been quietly dropped, amid supposed concerns about the politicization of BLM.
“Cricket has been here before: a sympathetic ear, a pat on the shoulder, a promise that things will change. They never do, but this time they must … By not taking a knee, cricket raised a ﬁnger. If cricket’s response to racism is one of expedience rather than repudiation, everyone loses,” Booth added.
The Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack is an annual cricket reference book that has been dubbed the “bible of cricket” in the past.
It names five cricketers of the year, as well as the best cricketer in the world, in it.
For the second year in a row, England’s Ben Stokes was called the best cricketer in the world, while Zak Crawley, Jason Holder, Mohammad Rizwan, Dominic Sibley, and Darren Stevens were named cricketers of the year.
Cricket began in the United Kingdom but has since grown in popularity around the world, with large fan bases in India, Pakistan, South Africa, the Caribbean, and other Commonwealth countries.
Booth cited a few examples of suspected racism in England, including Indian batsman Cheteshwar Pujara revealing in 2018 that his Yorkshire teammates referred to him as “Steve” because his name was too difficult for them to pronounce. Azeem Rafiq, a former Yorkshire cricketer, has also accused the county cricket team of bigotry.
When contacted by CNN, Yorkshire County Cricket Club said it was “extremely concerned” about the allegations.
“Racism has no place in our society or in our sport,” it said. “We have taken the claims made by our former player, Azeem Rafiq, very seriously and a full investigation conducted by an independent law firm began in September last year.
“This is a very important investigation to the club and to our sport, and we have committed to a full and thorough process to provide an in-depth set of recommendations which we will publish in the coming weeks.”
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) launched a new anti-discrimination code of conduct for the professional and grassroots game to “combat discrimination and encourage greater inclusion and diversity around the game” in response to the allegations and the rising debate surrounding racism in the wake of Floyd’s death.
It says it will collaborate with the Professional Cricketers’ Association to carry out an anti-racism initiative, which will include bursaries to increase diversity among coaches and a “re-evaluation of the way the ECB recruits, establishes, and performance manages its match officials”, it says it will work alongside the Professional Cricketers’ Association to roll out an anti-racism program which “raises awareness of cultural differences and unconscious bias specifically in the context of racism in professional cricket, and address issues such as workplace banter and inappropriate non-verbal behavior.”
“We remain absolutely committed in our resolve to stamp out any form of discrimination and to make the game more inclusive and diverse,” Tom Harrison, ECB chief executive officer, said.