Another great example of English hypocrisy

Jul 6, 2023

Why oh why is anyone surprised by English reaction to the Bairstow stumping?

After all it is no secret that the entire history of England has been marked by deep-seated hypocrisy.

That Bairstow had tried the same thing unsuccessfully in the same Test. That coach McCullum had done the same – claiming the wicket in the process – was irrelevant.

A few voices in defence of the Australians were raised in ‘what about’ arguments about West Indians, Douglas Jardine and Bodyline but this is not really the issue – even if it does bring to mind memories of West Indian glee at the success of their fast bowlers against England when motivated by the English captain, Tony Greig’s, prediction that the English side would make the West Indians grovel.

However, what is more important than what about arguments is to put this latest outburst of English hypocrisy into historical context.

Just as it took The Guardian two centuries to come clean about the role of slavery in funding its foundation everyone (except Chip Le Grand of the Age) seems to have forgotten the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket conclusion that there is an exclusionary and elitist culture at the heart of the game of cricket in England.

Le Grand quotes the Commission: “This culture is, in part, enforced through the dominance of private school networks within cricket’s talent pathway, together with sexist, racist and other discriminatory practices and policies that lead to discriminatory outcomes across the game.”

The ages it took to appoint a cricket professional as captain is an historical example of this discrimination.

The conclusion is also eerily reminiscent of Simon Kuper’s brilliant book, Chums, about the links between power, privilege and the Oxford Union in bringing about Brexit helping create the current English political mess. It is worth noting that seventeen of the postwar British PMs went to Oxford – which cynics may think explains the mess the country is in. Although on a recent visit to Oxford at Final Exams time, and staying alongside the Examinations Hall, the sheer diversity of students – race, gender, class (still fairly easy to guess in England) was enlightening. Although a stroll through the Magdalene gardens did find a number of students playing croquet.

Interestingly the two English captains who supported the Australians, Sir Andrew Strauss and Eoin Morgan, were respectively South African and Irish born which probably gave them insights into English society most of the members at Lords have never had.

But all that was irrelevant to the pile on with the tabloids and even the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, jumping in. Given Sunak’s current dire electoral position it was probably more populist posturing than deep belief but he is – for a very slight change for British PM’s – a Wykehamist not an old Etonian.

It’s also easy to dismiss this as just another tabloid pile on but, put in historical context, hypocrisy is one of the defining strands in English history – it’s even caught up with the left wing Guardian which has recently fessed up to the role of slavery profits in its foundation after the Peterloo massacre. Interestingly, Robert Poole, the author of the best book on Peterloo, is a keen cricket fan and what he thinks about the latest on cricket ‘fair play’ would be interesting.

Right wingers were delighted at The Guardian’s embarrassment but didn’t mention the fact that England not only profited from slavery but also from the massive compensation paid to slave owners – including PM David Cameron’s ancestors. Indeed, the debt incurred in the payout has only recently been paid off.

Indeed, the hypocrisy of the English notion of fair play possibly encapsulates much about English history. Tipu Sultan- the Tiger of Mysore – couldn’t be defeated by the English East India Company on the battlefield so on May 4 1799 they bribed someone to gain access to his stronghold and killed him. An English soldier also stole all the jewelry from his body – possibly laying the foundation for another English family’s economic progress.

The great Indian rebellion – called The Mutiny by the English – was squashed by violent measure and barbaric executions were perpetrated against so-called ‘mutineers’. Indeed, was there any colony – including Australia – where massacres were not an integral part of invasion and settlement?

The 1952 to 1960 murder and torture of Kenyan freedom fighters in the Mau Mau uprising is now well-documented as are many other colonial era crimes.

Not that England is the only nation which suffers from hypocrisy. The US is probably the greatest example in human history – from slavery to First Nations genocide. Although, whereas English rhetorical hypocrisy often tends to be subtle, with the US it is relentlessly strident.

But perhaps the last word on the subject should go to the great West Indian activist, writer and Trotskyite C.L.R. James, whose book Beyond a Boundary is not only probably the best cricket book ever written, but also a groundbreaking study of emerging Black consciousness.

In a response to Kipling’s line “What would they know of England who only England know” James wrote: “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?

A timeless response to the latest lot of English tabloid and ruling class outrage.

Perhaps the only remaining puzzle in all this is what did the offending MCC members actually say to Usman Khawaja? He is too much the gentleman in every sense of the word, unlike them, to say. But, it’s fair bet that whatever it was it was racist.

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