A technician at the British Cricket Balls company tests balls in a wind tunnel, 1981. Photo: Getty
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If you want to imagine England under Ukip, think back to cricket in the 1980s

Back then when critics pointed out that England had been overtaken by hungrier and more progressive teams, a stock reply was ready: “But we’re English and we’ve always done it this way.”

I was recently asked a difficult, intriguing question. Would I be able to identify national cricket teams at a glance, even if they had randomly exchanged jerseys? What, if anything, makes the England team distinctly English?

Initially, I wondered if the answer might lie in body language. Is there an English gait or an identifiable team dynamic? After all, great Australian teams often project a macho aura. Might there be an English way of standing, walking or, perhaps, swearing? Then I realised that the answer was much simpler. In terms of race, speech and skin colour, the England team looks and sounds less uniform than any other. And because our players are so ethnically and culturally diverse, they are the most resistant to stereotype. The quality that makes it so hard to say what we are is the very thing that makes us what we are.

The squad selected to play against Sri Lanka in the Twenty20 and one-day internationals this spring is a case in point. Chris Jordan, one of the stars of the series, grew up in Barbados before finishing his schooling in south London. Michael Carberry was born in Croydon but has family roots in Barbados and Guyana. Ravi Bopara, the second Sikh to play for England (after Monty Panesar), is the son of two Indians who migrated to England in the 1970s.

Two players opted for Englishness as an adult and professional choice. Eoin Morgan, until recently rated the best T20 batsman in the world, learned his dazzling stroke play in Dublin but chose to qualify for England. Gary Ballance left Zimbabwe to pursue opportunities in English county cricket, where the sheer volume of his runs forced him into the England side.

The most exciting new face, meanwhile, is also the most recognisable. Moeen Ali’s exuberant beard instantly marks him out as the latest British Muslim to be selected by England. His cousin Kabir made his England Test debut when I was playing in 2003. Moeen, blessed with a languid bat-swing and wristy elegance, has the chance to do for English cricket what Hashim Amla has achieved in a South Africa shirt: to become one of the country’s most loved and respected athletes while looking unmistakably different.

In this revealing list, we encounter a broad variety of personal stories. For some, immigration was an individual and pragmatic decision based on professional opportunities – examples of those who made the most of the newly fluid and globalised labour markets. For others, the move to Britain changed an entire family history. In each instance, whatever the motivation, English cricket has been the beneficiary.

Other teams, it is true, are more diverse than they may look to the untrained eye. The Sri Lankan team has included Tamils and Christians as well as Buddhists; India were captained by a Muslim, Mohammad Azharuddin; Australia recently selected Fawad Ahmed, a refugee from the north-western frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan; South Africa’s post-apartheid quota system has insisted on opportunities for non-white players. But England’s diversity is the most organic and complete.

What about the argument that “native” players have been starved of opportunity as a result of English cricket’s policy of relatively open borders? Here, we see the flawed and misleading paranoia at the heart of anti-immigration rhetoric.

English cricket (last winter’s 5-0 trouncing in the Ashes notwithstanding) has enjoyed a very healthy few years. Since 2009, England have conquered Australia in three separate series and briefly became the top-ranked team in the world. The top tier, as usual, reflected progress in the whole game. For all the criticism levelled at “mercenary foreigners” who have plied their trade in county teams, their hunger, determination and work ethic raised the standard of the league – to the benefit of our national team. The improved quality of county cricket, driven by foreign and adopted English players, helped make the England team much more competitive on the world stage.

The benefits have extended beyond the pleasure of watching England play well (itself not to be underestimated). New money from sponsors and television has poured into the sport, and much of it has been reinvested in grass-roots projects and charities. Erase the contributions of Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior, Andrew Strauss, Jonathan Trott, Eoin Morgan and all the other foreign-born players and the English game might well be on its knees.

Cricket turns out to be a classic example of how immigration affects an economy: by raising the standard of employment, it increases the size of the whole pie. Conversely, English cricket in the 1980s was at its most insular, introspective and stereo­typically “English”. Back then, it was assumed that the solutions to new problems had to reside in imitations of past glories. To critics who pointed out that England had been overtaken by hungrier and more progressive teams, a stock reply was ready: “But we’re English and we’ve always done it this way.”

Nostalgia for past triumphs, which were often exaggerated, morphed into a bizarre methodology; it was as if the semi-conscious inflation of bygone reputations was a practical solution to present-day problems. These arguments and prejudices were presented in committee rooms and corporate boxes around the country, powerfully articulated by overheated middle-aged men wearing ill-fitting blazers and ties depicting small birds.

The performance of our national team, meanwhile, was at its most lamentable. Just what we could expect if Ukip ran English cricket – or the country. 

Ed Smith’s latest book is “Luck: a Fresh Look at Fortune” (Bloomsbury, £8.99)

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 04 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, 100 days to save Great Britain

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The UK must reflect on its own role in stoking tension over North Korea

World powers should follow the conciliatory approach of South Korea, not its tempestuous neighbour. 

South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in has done something which took enormous bravery. As US and North Korean leaders rattle their respective nuclear sabres at one another, Jae-in called for negotiations and a peaceful resolution, rejecting the kind of nationalist and populist response preferred by Trump and Kim Jong-un.

In making this call, Jae-in has chosen the path of most resistance. It is always much easier to call for one party in a conflict to do X or Y than to sit round a table and thrash through the issues at hand. So far the British response has sided largely with the former approach: Theresa May has called on China to clean up the mess while the foreign secretary Boris Johnson has slammed North Korea as “reckless”.

China undoubtedly has a crucial role to play in any solution to the North and South Korean conflict, and addressing the mounting tensions between Pyongyang and Washington but China cannot do it alone. And whilst North Korea’s actions throughout this crisis have indeed been reckless and hugely provocative, the fact that the US has flown nuclear capable bombers close to the North Korean border must also be condemned. We should also acknowledge and reflect on the UK’s own role in stoking the fires of tension: last year the British government sent four Typhoon fighter jets to take part in joint military exercises in the East and South China seas with Japan. On the scale of provocation, that has to rate pretty highly too.

Without being prepared to roll up our sleeves and get involved in complex multilateral negotiations there will never be an end to these international crises. No longer can the US, Britain, France, and Russia attempt to play world police, carving up nations and creating deals behind closed doors as they please. That might have worked in the Cold War era but it’s anachronistic and ineffective now. Any 21st century foreign policy has to take account of all the actors and interests involved.

Our first priority must be to defuse tension. I urge PM May to pledge that she will not send British armed forces to the region, a move that will only inflame relations. We also need to see her use her influence to press both Trump and Jong-un to stop throwing insults at one another across the Pacific Ocean, heightening tensions on both sides.

For this to happen they will both need to see that serious action - as opposed to just words - is being taken by the international community to reach a peaceful solution. Britain can play a major role in achieving this. As a member of the UN Security Council, it can use its position to push for the recommencing of the six party nuclear disarmament talks involving North and South Korea, the US, China, Russia, and Japan. We must also show moral and practical leadership by signing up to and working to enforce the new UN ban on nuclear weapons, ratified on 7 July this year and voted for by 122 nations, and that has to involve putting our own house in order by committing to the decommissioning of Trident whilst making plans now for a post-Trident defence policy. It’s impossible to argue for world peace sat on top of a pile of nuclear weapons. And we need to talk to activists in North and South Korea and the US who are trying to find a peaceful solution to the current conflict and work with them to achieve that goal.

Just as those who lived through the second half of the 20th century grew accustomed to the threat of a nuclear war between the US and Russia, so those of us living in the 21st know that a nuclear strike from the US, North Korea, Iran, or Russia can never be ruled out. If we want to move away from these cyclical crises we have to think and act differently. President Jae-in’s leadership needs to be now be followed by others in the international community. Failure to do so will leave us trapped, subject to repeating crises that leave us vulnerable to all-out nuclear war: a future that is possible and frightening in equal measure.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.