Cricket Australia picks an Indigenous player and searches for more
PERTH, Australia â"
For six months in 1868, a squad made up exclusively of Indigenous Australians went on a cricket tour of Britain, the first trip of its kind by an Australian team. The squad performed well, but the trip was never repeated. A year later, the Australian authorities gained complete control over the residence, employment and marriage of their countryâs indigenous people, the start of a heavy-handed form of oversight that rendered future tours impossible.
The loss of opportunity foreshadowed how many Indigenous Australians â" those who are Aboriginal or hail from the Torres Strait Islands â" were excluded from cricket for the next century. In 1902, Jack Marsh, an indigenous fast bowler from New South Wales, was dropped from a state match against a touring England team after the England captain refused to play against him. In the 1930s, Eddie Gilbert was consider ed one of the worldâs fastest bowlers, but he had to obtain written permission merely to travel outside his indigenous settlement in Queensland. He was never picked for Australia.
Even as recently as 2015, one indigenous cricketer complained to researchers that in his local clubâs locker-room fine system â" where players were sanctioned for mistakes like dropping catches â" he was always fined a modest amount simply because he was indigenous. âEveryone thought it was hilarious,â he said in a report on the state of indigenous cricket in Australia. âI never said anything though, âcause in a way the blokes thought it was kind of including me, but it actually really hurt me.â
âCricket has this unfortunate trait where cultural bias sits there, and itâs unconscious,â said John McGuire, who played in grade cricket â" the level below the state team â" in Western Australia for two decades from the mid-1970s, and is a former chair of the Western Australia Aboriginal Cricket Council.
McGuire spoke from bitter personal experience. In the 1980s, McGuire â" who has two indigenous parents and said he endured racial abuse in âjust about every gameâ of his career â" became the 24th batsman from his state to score 7,000 runs in grade cricket. The other 23 all had been selected for Western Australia at some stage; even though he reached 10,000 runs, McGuire never was.
âPeople will say, âItâs not a race thing; weâre not racist; our best mates are black Australians,'â McGuire said. âBut the unconscious bias wonât allow them to select an Aboriginal person.â
In this context, Mondayâs selection of DâArcy Short for Australiaâs Twenty20 internationals against England and New Zealand at the start of next month was a powerful symbol of change. Short was chosen by Australiaâs national selectors because he is an explosive T20 batsman; he also happens t o have indigenous heritage, making him a member of an exclusive club: Only a handful of indigenous cricketers have ever represented Australia in international competition.
His selection is another sign of progress in a campaign by cricket authorities to bring more diversity into the game. Every Australian state and territory association, for example, now has a staff member specifically responsible for driving indigenous participation programs, and the countryâs top league both recently held themed matches to bring attention to those efforts.
Playing numbers among indigenous people have risen significantly in recent years â" from 8,000 in 2011-12 to 54,000 in 2016-17, according to the governing bodyâs figures â" but still lag behind those for Australian rules football, the sport that traditionally rivals cricket for the mantle of Australiaâs favorite game.
Today, there are 82 male Aboriginal players in the Australian Football League, the Australian rules pro fessional competition â" about 10 percent of the total number of contracted players. (There are no official statistics for the female competition.) But there are only seven Aboriginal players across cricketâs Big Bash League and the Womenâs Big Bash League â" about 2.5 percent of the total player pool. Indigenous people make up 3.3 percent of the total Australian population, but the figure is significantly higher for those in their 20s, the prime age for playing professional sports.
âAussie Rules have promoted themselves a lot better than cricket,â said Larry Kickett, a prominent indigenous Australian rules football player who became the Western Australian Cricket Associationâs first Aboriginal programs coordinator in 2015. âThat transition from school to community cricket is the roadblock weâve got to knock down.â
Before Short, only five cricketers with acknowledged indigenous heritage have represented Australia in menâs or womenâs cricket. And onl y two of the 623 Australians to have played Test cricket, the five-day format traditionally regarded as the most prestigious, are indigenous.
In 1996, Jason Gillespie became the first, but the general public only became aware of Gillespieâs heritage several years later. âWhen I was a player I felt a little bit more could be done,â Gillespie said. Now, he said, Cricket Australia is âmaking a really concerted effortâ both to increase participation but also to celebrate indigenous history.
Since 2001, Cricket Australia has held an annual national competition, now called the National Indigenous Cricket Championships, to showcase indigenous cricketers. In 2016, Australiaâs Test players wore indigenous artwork on their playing shirts in a Boxing Day match. This year â" to mark the 150th anniversary of the first tour â" Cricket Australia will send national indigenous menâs and womenâs squads to tour Britain.
âItâs a proud story, itâs a wonderful st ory,â said Paul Stewart, Cricket Australiaâs indigenous engagement specialist. âItâs something that we want to continue to promote, to show that Aboriginal Australian people have been involved in the game for more than 150 years.â
William Fogarty, a co-author of the National Centre for Indigenous Studies report in 2015, praised Cricket Australiaâs effort, saying it is to be âbelatedly commended on moving this area of development of race relations and the game forward.â Nine of the 10 recommendations in the report he helped create have been adopted.
âTheyâre starting to realize that thereâs talent around in indigenous players â" itâs just finding it and trying to keep them on the right path,â Short said. âItâs always in the back of my mind that I want to be a role model for young indigenous players.âSource: Google Australia | Netizen 24 Australia