Saturday, August 12, 2006

A sikh boy's love for the game

This is what his captain A.Straus wrote in Telegraph
They say that first impressions count. When Monty Panesar walked through the door to the National Academy building in Loughborough, shortly before leaving for India last winter, I was not sure what to make of him.
I
knew he could bowl, having played against him a few times, got out to him more than once, and spent endless hours listening to John Emburey praising to the rafters his pure action. What I did not know, however, was Monty Panesar the man.
There were a number of question-marks that had preceded his selection for the tour and I was eager to find out whether his batting and fielding would be strong enough to allow him to survive at the top level, and more importantly, whether a quiet, shy bloke like Monty would have the character to perform under the pressure that accompanies Test cricket.
As we convened in the gym for a pre-tour fitness challenge, it was announced that Monty and I would be partners. He would encourage and cajole me through the numerous strenuous exercises that we had to overcome, and then I would attempt to do the same for him.
I duly huffed and puffed my way to the finish, registering a decent time, with Monty trying as best he could to keep me going while my legs and arms turned to jelly.
Although Monty looked reasonably strong, I didn't really expect him to be much good in the fitness stakes and I prepared myself to offer every bit of motivational gobbledegook that I could think of to get him over the line.
He started off fast, too fast, I thought. Obviously the guy was keen to make an impression but he was overdoing it. "You have got a long way to go Monty, don't peak too soon," was my advice. He didn't reply. In fact his eyes had glazed over in concentration and my words were hardly registering.
If anything he picked up the pace and continued in a frenetic manner right up to the finish of the gruelling challenge, registering the second quickest time of the day, only fractionally slower than fitness freak Liam Plunkett's.
This was not a left-arm spinner in the Phil Tufnell mould. Watching him in the nets after the gym session, it was clear that he did need to improve his batting and fielding but it was also clear that he was not content to rely on his bowling to get in the team. He had a work ethic and a desire to improve.
Since that first training camp it seems as though the world had gone Monty crazy, and why not? His bowling, both on the first tour to India and this summer, has been right out of the top drawer. His natural bounce and pace make it hard for batsmen to come after him and his massive hands seem to be able to impart an unnatural amount of turn on the ball for a finger spinner. He has been a constant attacking threat and two five-wicket hauls in his first nine tests show that he has troubled some of the world's best players of spin.
The reason that he has turned into a cult figure, however, is not solely due to his bowling performances. A couple of fielding mishaps brought him to the attention of the English crowds at the start of the summer, but people have warmed to him because every time he goes out on the pitch, he looks like he is living his dream. A wicket brings him the same unadulterated joy that a little kid shows when he has just received the birthday present he has been waiting 12 months for.
A batsman plays and misses and Monty looks up to the heavens as if waiting for divine intervention to make his dream perfect. Even when he throws the ball in from the boundary, he studies its path back to the wicketkeeper with the absorption of someone who wants to remember every moment.
It has become abundantly clear that he is completely and utterly in love with the game. The fervour that he showed during the fitness challenge is more than matched by his practice routines. He will be on the ground earlier than anyone, getting Matthew Maynard to hit catches to him. He will then bowl through most of the net session, before staying out long after most of the guys are back in the comfort of the dressing room, working on his batting, learning new shots, and perfecting those he already has. He does this not because he is motivated by the pots of gold that a long international career can lead to, or a wish to be famous, but purely because he likes nothing more than the game of cricket.
Around the dressing room, it has taken a little while for him to overcome his natural shyness but as the weeks go on, we have come to see a thoughtful, humorous side to his personality. He is constantly trying to glean information from his team-mates. "What was it like to bat against him? Or "How do you look to play the spinning ball out of the rough?" Then he listens to the replies with a wide-eyed wonder.
There are going to be many tests for the England cricket team over the coming months and Monty will have to deal with harsh Australian crowds and attack-minded batsmen. It is not going to be easy for him to be successful in a land where even the likes of Muralitharan have struggled, but I believe his interest, dedication and, most of all, love for the game will eventually prevail.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/main.jhtml?xml=/sport/2006/08/13/scstra13.xml
MS Pannessar - Monty the strangler by Simon Hughes in Telegraph
It was not the most salubrious location for Monty Panesar, English cricket's new pin-up, to meet his public: a bit of scrubland on a Luton council estate. But, as part of Npower's urban cricket initiative, that was exactly the point - to raise awareness about the game in blighted areas of England's towns and cities. And at least the star attraction didn't have to travel far. His parents' house was barely two miles away.

Positive spin: Monty Panesar
On a rough patch of grass the man now known as The Montster gently turned his arm over to an assortment of junior players, many from his old club, Luton Town. Most were of Asian origin and confessed to usually supporting India, "but not when Monty's bowling." It's obvious that his performances can have as much impact on the two million British-born Asians as Andrew Flintoff had on all those white middle-class kids this time last year.
Funny what a difference 12 months makes. In August 2005 it was Freddie this and Freddie that, and he couldn't even pop down his local Cash 'n' Carry without it becoming a major news item. It would still be a story now, but only because he'd made it that far without crutches. Back then, Panesar was watching the Ashes on telly while quietly plying his trade for Northamptonshire. He'd got in the county side in mid-season and was successful until he got his comeuppance against Australia in mid-August, taking one for 192 from 42 overs as Matthew Hayden and Michael Clarke sought to rediscover some form before the fourth Test.
Fear not, this is a different Panesar from last year's model. Still with the same spinner's rudiments, the high arm, the swivelling body and the long, supple fingers, but a sharper, shrewder, more confident character to boot. One of his left-arm spinning predecessors for England, Phil Edmonds, used to depart the dressing room each day exclaiming "Oh well, I suppose I'm going to bowl immaculately again today." Panesar has done so, on a variety of surfaces from Nagpur to Nottingham, completely justifying Duncan Fletcher's assertion - once it was prised out of him - that he is the best finger spinner in the world.
Panesar, being as un-Edmonds as you could imagine, won't have it, of course. "It was a nice thing for Coach to say but there are other excellent finger spinners - Daniel Vettori, Harbhajan Singh - and they've taken 200 Test wickets. I've just started." And he played down his chances of emulating Flintoff as BBC Sports Personality of the Year. "It's flattering to be associated with such things. It would be one of my proudest moments, but there's a long way to go yet. I'm just concentrating on my bowling."
That's no understatement. Concentrating on his bowling is what he does. And on his batting and his fielding, too. Rarely has there been anyone before who practises as hard and as earnestly, every day, come fair or foul. He's industrious almost to a fault, whether it's additional batting practice, or to specifically work on his sweep stroke on the outfield against the fielding net, or to take an extra 20 of those awkward flat-driven catches which dip at the last moment, or to wheel away for 10 minutes each end on a practice wicket when everyone else has gone in. He's invariably glistening with perspiration when he returns to the dressing room before play. He must keep a few changes of patka in his kit bag.
Before this summer's Tests, Panesar took me to his old school, Stopsley High, on the other side of Luton. He hadn't been back for a few years and was warmly received by his old teachers who remembered him as a quiet, solid student and a fledgling left-arm fast bowler. But in his mid-teens he found he couldn't muster sufficient pace to be effective, "so I tried spin." Three years later he was playing for England Under-19s captained by Ian Bell and was filed as "one for the future."
Such a tag should be issued with a health warning. It's a guarantee of future anonymity for most. Panesar credits his development from that point to Rodney Marsh at the England Academy. "I used to think that to get batsmen out you had to bowl magic balls. But at the Academy Marsh helped me to realise that building pressure is the way. He taught me a lot, gave me cricket sense I suppose."
The philosophy has served him well. "I've improved as I've gone on this summer, learning not to be too aggressive but to bide my time. The responsibility of being one of only four bowlers has helped. I prepare myself for long spells - I know I'm going to have to bowl 20-25 overs a day, so I know I must be patient."
And the feature of his bowling - apart from his leaps of exultation at taking a wicket - has been his control. From the first over he bowled on Test debut in Nagpur (a maiden) to the last at Headingley (a wicket-maiden) he has manacled a succession of world-class batsmen to the crease and rendered most of them scoreless, never mind genuinely bowling many of them out (Tendulkar, Dravid, Yousuf, Younis and Inzamam for starters.) He yields an average of 2.5 runs an over, which is not only actually better than Shane Warne (2.64) nor vastly inferior to Muttiah Muralitharan (2.39), but is also a feat in itself amidst the helter skelter of Test match run rates.
MS Panesar: not so much The Montster as The Strangler
Monty and Saj, they ain't heard nothing yet
Kevin MitchellSunday August 13, 2006The Observer
Two days after his Headingley heroics, Monty Panesar was in the news again, lionised as British sport's 'poster-boy of multiculturalism' on a trip back to Luton to sell cricket to a mixed ethnic audience.
But the nation was looking elsewhere. Even as Monty charmed the kids of his home town, Thursday's bulletins were flooded with news of 24 suspects being arrested for allegedly plotting 'to commit mass murder on an unimaginable scale'. As some newspapers pointed out helpfully, they were 'all British Muslims'.
Monty is not a Muslim. He is the son of Punjabi Sikhs, but those drawn towards convenient stereotypes still see him as: funny-hanky-on-head, Asian kid, they're all the same. Despite that, he's had a wonderfully warm reception from the fans, even the notorious former Western Terrace at Headingley.
And there was a moment towards the end of England's second innings last weekend that went largely unnoticed, when Panesar batted with Sajid Mahmood, the Bolton-born son of Pakistani Muslims. It was a rare sight, not considered exceptional, though, and, in its quiet way, indicative of Britain's growing enlightenment about race and religion.
But later, when the tailenders turned to their day job of bowling, the crowd split into two distinct factions: there was hardly a spectator among the 16,000 who did not revel in Panesar's deeds. He seems incapable of making enemies. Mahmood, however, came in for some unsavoury stick from a group of Yorkshire-reared Pakistanis. Traitor, they called him, and reject.
The fast bowler simply cupped his ear in the direction of their jeers on his way to taking four wickets to help secure England's win over Pakistan. He was English, and proud of it. He even joked that it might have been his father, Shahid, who came to Britain as a 10-year-old in 1967, who started the chanting.
It soon could get heavy, though. Mahmood's blinding if sometimes wayward pace and Panesar's mesmeric spin will ensure both are on the plane to Australia in November, and there they will be plunged into an examination of their character considerably tougher than anything they have so far experienced.
Nasser Hussain was almost poetic in his description of Panesar the other day. 'He's had a lot of love,' he said, 'a lot of affection.' But Hussain, a tough and pragmatic individual who cared little about popularity during his distinguished career, suspects Monty will not be so loved Down Under. 'Fielding on the boundary at the MCG,' the former England captain added, 'that's going to be a different ball game.'
There is no escaping the fact that Panesar will be targeted. He is the new Phil Tufnell, who never failed to wind up the Australians. Panesar's problem is his niceness. If they perceive any weakness, they will pounce on him. Mahmood, big, fast and physical, looks as though he can take care of himself. He has a quick man's snarl, as he demonstrated at Headingley. But Panesar is only one dropped catch away from ridicule, on both sides of the boundary.
This is not an imagined fear. The West Indians have long complained that the Australians' sledging goes beyond accepted limits. Darren Lehmann infamously called a Sri Lanka player a 'black cunt' in Adelaide three years ago. Muttiah Muralitharan has been branded a chucking cheat there, and the opprobrium has not been restricted to the technical. The South Africans complained about racist remarks in the crowd last winter. I've heard it there myself when a friend, objecting to a late-afternoon diatribe against India in Melbourne, was greeted with a vicious, drunken 'Fuck off, nigger lover.'
Last week Dean Jones, the former Australia Test player now earning a living as a commentator, was sent home in disgrace from Sri Lanka for saying, 'The terrorist has got another wicket,' when the South African Hashim Amla, a devout Muslim, took a catch. Like Ron Atkinson here in 2004, his insipid defence was that he thought he was talking into a dead microphone. He apologised and yesterday the former Pakistan captain Rashid Latif said Jones 'is not a racist' and 'must have made the remark in a lighthearted manner'. Which totally misses the point; if it was lighthearted it represents an insidious acceptance of racism.
The Australian author and former cricket writer Malcolm Knox created a storm in the wake of the Lehmann embarrassment. 'I was taken to task for "inventing" trouble where none existed,' he wrote. 'Yet I'd seen racism with my own eyes. On a tour to India, I heard two Australian cricketers call the locals "niggers". I saw Australian cricketers coming across Indians sleeping on a railway platform in Jamshedpur and nudging them awake with their feet to take a happy snap.'
He had spoken to Indian-Australians who supported India, not Australia, because they had been excluded from school and club teams. It was a mirror of Mahmood's experience at Headingley - with a crucial difference. 'While English sporting clubs struggle to harmonise different cultures,' Knox said, 'Australian clubs fix the problem by leaving non-whites out.'
Every right-thinking person will be disgusted if Panesar and Mahmood are racially abused, but one Australian player, in particular, will know what it feels like. Jason Gillespie, who is descended from the Kamilaroi people of northern North South Wales, is proud of his Aboriginal roots. He was puzzled why some English drunks two Ashes tours ago insisted on asking: 'Where's your caravan?'
Last summer, the 'Pikey' chants dimmed. There were a few idiots, but they were isolated. As Knox says, assimilation is far in advance in the UK.
It upsets fair-minded Australians to admit it, but racism is a lingering problem there. It has manifested itself in so many ugly incidents at cricket grounds recently that the International Cricket Council sent India's solicitor-general, Goolam Vahanvati, to investigate. He concluded that racial abuse by spectators on South Africa's tour last winter 'could not be explained away as being the result of drunken behaviour'. It was, he said, 'premeditated, coordinated and calculated to get under the players' skins'.
He added: 'There is a grave problem in Australia relating to crowd behaviour, particularly drunken spectators.'
The ICC will issue guidelines for the tour when they meet in October. Maybe the chants will start to fade. Maybe then the likes of Murali, Monty and Sajid will feel free to enjoy their cricket there, even on the boundary at the MCG.
http://sport.guardian.co.uk/cricket/story/0,,1843757,00.html

Monty who? An unknown in PunjabBy Ashling O'Connor

WHILE some Pakistan cricket fans have labelled Sajid Mahmood a traitor for playing for another country, Monty Panesar’s emergence as a match-winner for England has been greeted with gracious indifference in his ancestral home of India.
The Luton-born Sikh, whose family hails from Punjab, is virtually unknown in the land of his forefathers, despite recent performances

More of a fuss has been made in his country of birth than his country of derivation of the fact he was the first Sikh to represent England. His story is more relevant to the emergence of a multicultural Britain than a country trying not to relate everything it does to its former colonial master.
The biggest cricket news of the past month in the industrial city of Ludhiana, about 200 miles northwest of India’s capital Delhi
where Panesar’s paternal grandparents still live, related to the arrest for opium possession of a former coach of the district cricket association
.
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,426-2307797,00.html

Figurehead? I'm just a Luton boyBy Matthew Syed

Our correspondent on Monty Panesar, a shy young man who would rather be called a spinner than a politician
TEN minutes into an interview with Monty Panesar yesterday, it occurred to me how patronising it is for us to expect sportsmen who just happen to be dark-skinned to articulate the merits of multiculturalism. How absurd it is for us to demand that a finger-spinning Sikh (or, for that matter, a pugilistic Muslim) hold forth on British race relations or the all-too-present threat of religious terrorism.
As I probed the poor lad on these non-cricket imponderables, his face slowly contorted into an expression of bemusement, as if he suspected that he had turned up to the wrong interview. “I don’t really think about stuff like that,” he said. “It all sounds a bit too deep for me. I just like to concentrate on cricket

But do you not, I persisted, feel any special responsibility as the first Sikh to make it into the British sporting spotlight? “I have not thought about that either,” he said. “All I am really focused on is getting things right on the pitch when I get selected for England.” The 24-year-old sounded like that kid in Jerry Maguire, who kept saying: “I just want to play football.”
This is not intended as a criticism of Panesar but of those of us, like myself, who indulge in this form of inverse racism. We would not expect Andrew Flintoff to express an opinion on, say, religious tolerance, so why do we demand it of Panesar? “I think that multiculturalism is, you know, OK,” he said (eventually) in desperation, hoping that it might steer the interview on to a question actually related to his sport.
“It’s good for Britain when people, you know, live in a multicultural situation.”
Panesar is an ordinary Luton boy who happens to tie both his hair and batsmen in knots. He is not an intellectual or, for that matter, particularly religious. He is simply passionate about cricket and understandably thrilled that his wicket- taking, kangaroo-jumping, catch-spilling antics have catapulted him into the national spotlight and made him the frontrunner for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.
He has not, however, allowed the adulation to turn his head. “My popularity has probably gone up,” he said with characteristic understatement (he uses “probably” to qualify almost every answer). “But a lot of the interest in cricket is because of the Ashes. Things are on the up for me but they could easily go down again, so I try not to get ahead of myself. My friends do not think that the fame has changed me but they are impressed that I am actually playing for England.”
When I asked him the extent to which his religion has shaped his attitude towards his sport, I was again struck by the matter-of-factness of his reply. “It probably helps me with my cricket,” he said. “I keep my hair covered and go to the temple, but it is all pretty low-key. I do normal things like any other young person in this country. Cricket is the most important thing in my life — nothing has made me more happy than being selected for England.”
After half an hour he was sufficiently relaxed to indulge in a bit of banter and to start posing questions of his own. He asked what kind of music I was in to and giggled when I confided a secret admiration for ABBA and Level 42. “I’m into RnB,” he said. He went on to tell me that Penelope Cruz is the most attractive woman in the world (I snorted), that The Green Mile is the greatest film (I scoffed) and that Hilary Swank is the best actress (I nodded sagely).
Panesar, who was in Birmingham to present kit to a local cricket club as part of the Barclays Spaces for Sports scheme, was starting to look completely at ease. He put his feet up on an adjacent chair and gave a belly-laugh when I ridiculed his assertion that he had not yet started to think about his upcoming speech at the BBC awards night. “You will have to see on the television,” he said. “Assuming I win.”
Only when I asked him about his personal life did he clam up once again, betraying the fact that he is no longer someone who can talk without inhibition. “I don’t want to go there,” he said when I asked if he had a girlfriend. Not wanting to hurt my feelings, however, he continued rather charmingly (if naively): “I don’t mind telling you so long as you promise not to print it.”
I was left with the impression of a shy young man who will be misunderstood by anyone who thinks that dark skin and a patka are indicative of an informed opinion on the issues of race and religion. He has rightly been hailed as an icon of modern, multi-ethnic Britain. But does that give the British public the right to demand that he perceive himself as anything other than a Luton boy done good?
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,426-2307789,00.html
The Panesar and Mahmood effect quick to take hold
By Stephen Brenkley
Published: 13 August 2006

Two contrasting images may endure from the final day of the Headingley Test of 2006. They reflect cricket, the society in which it is now played (wasn't it ever thus?) and demonstrate how far both have come and how far there is to go.
One was of Monty Panesar more or less completing his adoption as a national icon, a devout Sikh, the son of Hindi- speaking immigrants who has high-fived his way into hearts and minds. The other was less wholesome. It was of Sajid Mahmood, a Muslim, like Panesar the England-born son of Asian immigrants, being roundly abused as a traitor by Pakistan supporters in the crowd. If it was a small element, nobody should doubt the malevolence.
Both responded impeccably after their significant parts in victory. Panesar, whose rise has been as meteoric as any English cricketer, insisted amid a media scrum in his home town of Luton on Thursday that he was keeping his feet on the ground and that his faith helped him to be a more disciplined cricketer.
Mahmood said the abuse became personal from one section of the crowd. In keeping with his relaxed and relaxing nature, he also managed to make light of the taunts, suggesting jocularly that his dad, Shahid, might have instigated them. He was also asked by other Pakistan fans in the crowd to pose for photographs afterwards.
Rudra Singh has been uplifted by the overwhelming response to Panesar, and deeply disappointed by what happened to Mahmood. An immigrant from Lucknow who played one-day cricket for India, he has been a professional in the Lancashire leagues for 20 years and a cricket development officer for more than a decade. Singh has been at the sharp end.
"I was surprised Saj was given that abuse, and it shows it can still be very much part of the system, them and us," he said. "But I also know there has been so much change in the last five years: a merging of cultures, certainly as far as cricket is concerned. The way people every-where have related to Monty shows as much as anything that they care about the quality of the cricket."
Many cricketers of Asian stock have played for England. Only Nasser Hussain, the son of an Indian father and an English mother, had a durable career, and he virtually shunned his Indian background and religion. As he wrote in his autobiography, he only ever spoke a few words of his dad's native language, did not know whether it was Urdu or Hindi, and "religion just never featured in my life".
Panesar and Mahmood are different. Not only is their faith important to them, but they look to be around to stay, unlike recent Asian cricketers to have played for England such as Usman Afzaal, Aftab Habib and Owais Shah. This is a significant shift, because it means the England team will change probably forever. There is an opportunity here. It is a tall order for a mere sport, but cricket can help bridge divides.
Singh is convinced of its role. "Time is the key as in so many things," he said. "It started slowly. People from ethnic minorities were reluctant to take part in mainstream cricket clubs 20 years ago, the clubs sat back meanwhile and tended to take an attitude of 'look, we're not doing anything wrong, anybody can play'. But now there is much more real understanding. A lot of clubs depend on Asian youths to keep up their playing membership, but up here Asian families are coming out more into society, in this case cricket clubs."
Both Panesar and Mahmood resist the notion that they are role models, or that their presence in England's team can play some small part in helping society progress. Panesar said: "I just want to play cricket for England. I don't think of role models; I used to look up to Nasser Hussain and Alec Stewart. If people are getting inspiration from what's happening that's good for cricket, but I just concentrate on cricket and not beyond. I don't focus on the role of Asians in British society."
Mahmood has been slightly more forthcoming on a delicate but relevant topic. "As a family we mixed pretty well with every-one. Religion is important and it's a big part of our family. As soon as I got into county cricket I wanted to play for England. I think some kids support Pakistan because their parents do. You follow your parents a lot, but that might change in the future."
Rudra Singh has tangible evidence. "As recently as six or seven years ago, when I wanted to create interest in the schools I would ask Wasim Akram or an ex-Pakistan player from one of the leagues. But now a Lancashire player is much bigger news. That has been a remarkable change."
Singh is still concerned about leagues and clubs who while supperficially open to all are not. "There are still some people who want to just run Asian cricket, but how can they survive? I can tell you that a bridge has been built and more traffic is going over it."
Singh fears another problem. "We're losing Asian youths to football more than anything else. I dread the day when we have the first [high-profile] Anglo-Asian Premiership footballer. That will be the testing time."
Two contrasting images may endure from the final day of the Headingley Test of 2006. They reflect cricket, the society in which it is now played (wasn't it ever thus?) and demonstrate how far both have come and how far there is to go.
One was of Monty Panesar more or less completing his adoption as a national icon, a devout Sikh, the son of Hindi- speaking immigrants who has high-fived his way into hearts and minds. The other was less wholesome. It was of Sajid Mahmood, a Muslim, like Panesar the England-born son of Asian immigrants, being roundly abused as a traitor by Pakistan supporters in the crowd. If it was a small element, nobody should doubt the malevolence.
Both responded impeccably after their significant parts in victory. Panesar, whose rise has been as meteoric as any English cricketer, insisted amid a media scrum in his home town of Luton on Thursday that he was keeping his feet on the ground and that his faith helped him to be a more disciplined cricketer.
Mahmood said the abuse became personal from one section of the crowd. In keeping with his relaxed and relaxing nature, he also managed to make light of the taunts, suggesting jocularly that his dad, Shahid, might have instigated them. He was also asked by other Pakistan fans in the crowd to pose for photographs afterwards.
Rudra Singh has been uplifted by the overwhelming response to Panesar, and deeply disappointed by what happened to Mahmood. An immigrant from Lucknow who played one-day cricket for India, he has been a professional in the Lancashire leagues for 20 years and a cricket development officer for more than a decade. Singh has been at the sharp end.
"I was surprised Saj was given that abuse, and it shows it can still be very much part of the system, them and us," he said. "But I also know there has been so much change in the last five years: a merging of cultures, certainly as far as cricket is concerned. The way people every-where have related to Monty shows as much as anything that they care about the quality of the cricket."
Many cricketers of Asian stock have played for England. Only Nasser Hussain, the son of an Indian father and an English mother, had a durable career, and he virtually shunned his Indian background and religion. As he wrote in his autobiography, he only ever spoke a few words of his dad's native language, did not know whether it was Urdu or Hindi, and "religion just never featured in my life".
Panesar and Mahmood are different. Not only is their faith important to them, but they look to be around to stay, unlike recent Asian cricketers to have played for England such as Usman Afzaal, Aftab Habib and Owais Shah. This is a significant shift, because it means the England team will change probably forever. There is an opportunity here. It is a tall order for a mere sport, but cricket can help bridge divides.
Singh is convinced of its role. "Time is the key as in so many things," he said. "It started slowly. People from ethnic minorities were reluctant to take part in mainstream cricket clubs 20 years ago, the clubs sat back meanwhile and tended to take an attitude of 'look, we're not doing anything wrong, anybody can play'. But now there is much more real understanding. A lot of clubs depend on Asian youths to keep up their playing membership, but up here Asian families are coming out more into society, in this case cricket clubs."
Both Panesar and Mahmood resist the notion that they are role models, or that their presence in England's team can play some small part in helping society progress. Panesar said: "I just want to play cricket for England. I don't think of role models; I used to look up to Nasser Hussain and Alec Stewart. If people are getting inspiration from what's happening that's good for cricket, but I just concentrate on cricket and not beyond. I don't focus on the role of Asians in British society."
Mahmood has been slightly more forthcoming on a delicate but relevant topic. "As a family we mixed pretty well with every-one. Religion is important and it's a big part of our family. As soon as I got into county cricket I wanted to play for England. I think some kids support Pakistan because their parents do. You follow your parents a lot, but that might change in the future."
Rudra Singh has tangible evidence. "As recently as six or seven years ago, when I wanted to create interest in the schools I would ask Wasim Akram or an ex-Pakistan player from one of the leagues. But now a Lancashire player is much bigger news. That has been a remarkable change."
Singh is still concerned about leagues and clubs who while supperficially open to all are not. "There are still some people who want to just run Asian cricket, but how can they survive? I can tell you that a bridge has been built and more traffic is going over it."
Singh fears another problem. "We're losing Asian youths to football more than anything else. I dread the day when we have the first [high-profile] Anglo-Asian Premiership footballer. That will be the testing time."

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