Cultural barriers in club cricket impeding players of South Asian descent: Sthalekar

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Cultural barriers in club cricket impeding players of South Asian descent: Sthalekar

By Malcolm Conn

Lisa Sthalekar has seen first hand the inadvertent cultural barriers which can impede the attraction and development of South Asian cricketers to the game in Australia.

The former Australian captain turned commentator was speaking to the Herald and The Age after Sydney cricket identity Darshak Mehta wrote a column questioning why more players from the sub-continent had not made their way through the Australian system, given decades of mass migration?

“Has cricket done everything it could have to attract and retain them?” Mehta asked.

“At the risk of stereotyping, these are kids who are most likely not to play the three football codes which compete with cricket in this country. In fact, for most, cricket is their only team sport. The talent pipeline should be bursting. But it isn’t.”

Born in India, Sthalekar held assistant and head coach roles at Mosman Premier Cricket Club for three years, where a number of the players were from South Asian countries.

“You find in club cricket that the club is often sponsored by a pub and everyone goes to the pub after the game,” Sthalekar said. “That’s not what these guys do.

Lisa Sthalekar playing for Australia in 2009.

Lisa Sthalekar playing for Australia in 2009.Credit:Steve Christo

“I spoke to a few of the parents and after training one day I got them to put on an Indian feast at Mosman Oval for all of us after training.

“It was a good way for the boys to interact because normally they’d just go to the pub and have a chicken schnitty or a steak.

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Gurinder Sandhu bowling for the Sydney Thunder.

Gurinder Sandhu bowling for the Sydney Thunder.

“We all sat around on Mosman Oval and had a chat. That’s the way I think of trying to bridge the culture [gap].

“While at state and Cricket Australia board level you can have some diversity, you have no diversity with administration at club land. That’s where the heart and soul of these players are going to be playing week-in, week-out.

“If the environment isn’t welcoming enough for a young sub-continental kid their parents will say go and become a doctor or an engineer or a lawyer.

“Their parents are immigrants who have left home, left their families, for a better opportunity for their kids. There’s a bit of pressure in that for some of the kids.”

There is certainly no shortage of South Asian players at junior level, as former NSW and Sydney Thunder seamer Gurinder Sandhu can attest.

“We had one white guy in our team,” Sandhu once said of his start in cricket in the Blacktown under 14s.

The Thunder have three South Asian players in their current squad, with captain Usman Khawaja and promising youngsters Jason Sangha, a former under 19 Australian captain, and leg-spinner Tanveer Sangha, no relation, who has already toured with the Australian Twenty20 squad. Until recently the club also had spinners Arjun Nair and Fawad Ahmed.

Jason Sangha has talked about how promising young cricketers he played with dropped off as they went through the age groups, with their parents focusing on education.

Sthalekar highlighted how the Indian Premier League has changed this emphasis in India.

“The IPL has transformed India because people realise you can become famous and earn a lot of money playing cricket,” she said. “That’s actually not the case here in Australia because the Big Bash isn’t the carnival that stops the nation. Whereas the IPL does. Everyone watches it.

Usman Khawaja is captain of the Sydney Thunder.

Usman Khawaja is captain of the Sydney Thunder.Credit:Getty

“They pluck guys out from rural towns that changes their world and their life. There are so many stories of those guys coming through whereas here it’s still a very traditional pathway.

“Parents would like to see their sons mainly go off and get a good career.”

Sthalekar said that perception was also a big thing when promising young players were coming through elite pathway programs at state level.

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“There are cultural differences,” she said. “Other players can think those guys are lazy.

“Parents want to carry their kits, provide the food, respond to all the emails from administration because parents dote after their kids.

“In western culture once you get to a certain age it’s ‘right, you’re on your own’.

“The perception from teammates can be that this guy is a bit lazy. He may not want to do the hard work.

“But that’s got nothing to do with how much he wants to train at cricket.”

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