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Thread: Australian Cricket 'Needs Ethnic Stars'

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    Australian Cricket 'Needs Ethnic Stars'

    THERE is something obviously white about the Australian cricket team - and it's not just their kit. While England and South Africa have long tapped into rich pools of ethnic talent, fielding players with names such as Shafayat, Hussein and Ntini, the Australian team remains as solidly Anglo as in the days of Bradman and Miller.

    "I have long asked myself: 'When is Australian cricket going to find its ethnic stars?' " Raj Natarajan, president of the India Sports Club and coach says. "The talent is there. Lots of young kids from India and Sri Lanka play at grade level but after that we don't see them because they are not given the same encouragement and training as an Anglo-Saxon kids."

    Natarajan played first-class cricket in Bangalore before coming to Australia in 1988, when he began coaching. He says Australian administrators need to learn from football and rugby, which have embraced ethnic and indigenous communities. "The administrators can't get past thinking that anybody but a white Anglo guy with blonde hair should be in the team. And that attitude permeates every level, from national selectors to local clubs."

    Cricket Australia disagrees, pointing to its Culturally and Linguistically Diverse program, the most notable products of which include Pakistan-born NSW player Usman Khawaja, and the Imparja Cup, a state indigenous competition played each February in Alice Springs.

    "South Africa is a bit ahead of us here because they have had a policy of fast-tracking people of colour," says Damien Bown, general manager of game development for Cricket Australia. "We select people on merit. Besides, lots of Australian players have been from ethnic backgrounds, including Simon Katich, who is Croatian, and Jason Gillespie, who is Aboriginal.''

    The absence of players from the subcontinent is "more culturally complex", according to Indian-born Australian women's team representative, Lisa Sthalekar. "Lots of Indians, Sri Lankans and Pakistanis play in the early stages of cricket but many of them drop out when it gets serious to focus more on their work. It's also the case, certainly in women's cricket, that a lot of Indians don't want to get any darker, and so they don't want to spend any more time in the sun than they have to."

    Sthalekar, a former vice-captain of the women's team, grew up playing for West Pennant Hills. "There was no girls' competition so I had to play in the boys' side. And I didn't cop too much flack."

    Suffan Hassan, 15, is in the under-16 city Emerging Blues development squad and trains four times a week. His parents are from Pakistan and he does not see that as a barrier to playing high-level cricket in Australia.

    ''My goals are to play first grade for my club, make NSW and obviously [play for] Australia,'' he said.


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