This is not an easy topic.
Wikipedia defines “unconscious bias” as: “Unconscious (or implicit) biases are learned stereotypes that are automatic, unintentional, deeply engrained, universal, and able to influence behavior.”
It exists. It’s a thing. It might very well always be here. And yes it’s in cricket too.
Thanks to Twitter friend Granger Gab, it hit my radar yesterday. And then I saw more of it on Twitter too.
It went something like this: People — myself included — fawned over Ben Stokes innings at Headingley. The press — most of them English but not all — called it the greatest Test innings of all time. And everyone just believed them. Again, including myself. Almost immediately, however, smart people started pointing out that it maybe wasn’t the best Test innings ever, or even this calendar year, as that honor belongs to Kusal Perara of Sri Lanka, who scored 153 not out against South Africa just this past February.
Perara’s side chased down 303 and won with a wicket to spare after a 73 minute, 78 run last wicket stand that saw the man at the opposite end of the crease, Vishwa Fernando, score only six runs but defend 27 balls to help bring his side home.
Only Sri Lanka did it not in the cozy confines of one their friendliest home grounds, but thousands of miles from home, under alien conditions.
The people pointing out Perara’s innings yesterday weren’t upset at pundits calling Stokes’ innings the greatest Test innings of all time — their point was more that the press seemed to be ignoring Perara’s all together. And this is not a new problem for cricket media and for fans of the big three countries. They all have this very narrow view that if it didn’t happen in Australia, India or England, then it never happened. All that matters is the men’s high level cricket happening in those countries. Everything else is background noise.
At first, this to me felt like sour grapes. But that instantly didn’t feel right to me. I have learned over the years that if someone’s complaint sounds to you like it is sour grapes, then you are in a position of privilege, and that privilege is clouding your judgement. So I took a second swing at Twitter and really listened. And not only did I start to agree with the people pointing out the narrow minded coverage of the — still, really great — Test match, but I realized that I had argued on their side before. All cricket matters. All of it. Whether it’s a Test match in Headingley or a Test match in Durban. And there is so much cricket happening outside the system that is just flat out ignored by the mainstream cricket press — and by the ICC for that matter. Cricket played and organized by people who love the game, who are doing their best to grow it at the grassroots level, and get very little if any money for it.
But then I started to think about it more. And the problem exists outside of just what the press is doing, as for the most part they are just giving the people what they want. And I started to think about race, and unconscious bias. And I remembered how during the World Cup final I saw loads and loads of Southeast Asians on Twitter living and dying with every ball, who all went ballistic during the super over. Would I have seen English fans doing the same if the final had been between, say, India and Sri Lanka? Probably not. Does that mean those English cricket fans are racists? Of course not. Does it mean they are guilty of unconscious bias? Probably.
Prejudices against people of color in the UK — be they from Southeast Asia or the Caribbean or wherever — are so deeply ingrained into the British psyche (see also: Brexit, pro) that it’s simply not possible for it to not come into play. The unspoken narrative was that Ben Stokes’ innings was the greatest Test innings of all time, because that honor could never belong to a person of color.
I am a white straight man in the western hemisphere. I am in a position of supreme privilege. So this means I am 100% guilty of unconscious bias too. Every single day. See the sour grapes comment above, just for one example. So I am in by no means pointing the finger at anyone else without first pointing it at myself. Man in the mirror, and all that.
For cricket, this is nothing new. That fact cannot be argued either. In the UK, the IPL is roundly sneered at and has been since its inception. That sneer comes from a lot of places, but one of those places is that it’s seen as cricket by and for brown people, and therefore not really cricket.
I am from America. The most racist country probably in the history of the world. And so like I said above I am guilty of this too. Terribly guilty. All I — and anyone — can do is recognize when it’s happening to us, when we notice automatic bias, and take steps to correct it.
Again, I am not calling anyone a racist. And I am not saying Stokes’ innings were not something very, very special. Far from either. What I am saying is that the English press and England’s mostly white fan base flat out ignored Perara’s innings out of unconscious bias, and that they need to recognize this.
The best thing we all can do after recognizing the behavior — myself included — is to listen. And so that is what I am going to do here:
Are you a person of a color? I want to hear from you. The comments are open. Have you experienced racism in cricket? Do you see unconscious bias when you follow the game? Or if you don’t want to wade into all that, then talk to me about Perara’s innings. Did you watch it live? What innings have you seen that were better — no matter the format — outside of England or Australia? Or, just talk about whatever you want. If you would rather post anonymously, you can email me and I’ll post it in the comments for you.
Like Frasier Crane — another white man of privilege — said: I’m listening.