Keme Nzerem on why sport is about so much more than winning and losing.
Under the carpet in the hallway of a victorian semi in south east London lies a piece of history. Well it’s a piece of history that hasn’t quite been made yet.
Percy Drummond calls the cracked geometric floor tiles in his hallway a “souvenir”.
He taught his son, Daniel Bell-Drummond, to play cricket here, while he sat across from him on the stairs. Much to the chagrin of his wife, he would spend hours bowling a tennis ball to a two-year-old Daniel.
Tap, tap, tap, would go Daniel’s cut-down cricket bat on the polished ceramic. The uneven red and yellow tiles bear the scars of a professional cricketer in the making. So the family decided the floor should stay as it is – a reminder of a hobby that became a passion, which may soon propel Daniel to the big time.
Daniel currently plays first class cricket for Kent. He has already represented England at U19 level. And those in the know suggest if his county career goes well over the next few years, he could get called up to England’s senior squad too.
What makes this tale of would-be sporting glory different is that Daniel is African Caribbean.
You might have thought this would be an entirely unremarkable event – everyone stopped noticing the colour of England’s football players years ago. But cricket appears to have gone backwards.
It’s been a decade since England produced players of African Caribbean descent who became household names – the likes of Mark Butcher, Devon Malcolm, and Alex Tudor. And before them, the first generation of black English cricketers – Gladstone Small, Phil DeFreitas, and Norman Cowans.
Michael Carberry made a single Test appearance in 2010 – but unlike Englishmen of Asian heritage, who now regularly feature in the England squad, the African Caribbeans have all but disappeared.
Hence the beam on Percy Drummond’s face as he speaks of his son. And indeed Daniel, when he talks of his dad. “Without him, I wouldn’t be here – it’s as simple as that”, he says.
Percy in fact used to run the local cricket club – but it wasn’t just the informal cricket lessons he gave his son from the year dot – but the endless driving to matches. The mentoring. The money for kit.
The reasons for the decline of “black” cricket are legion.
Football is now the sport of choice. The Windies are no longer the cricketing force they once were. The role models that first inspired a generation – the likes of Sir Viv Richards, Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner have all long retired or indeed died.
Despite the efforts of the cricket foundation, and new forms of the sport like “street” and “cage” cricket, provision in state schools has collapsed. There are fewer places to play – especially in cities – where many councils no longer maintain cricket nets. And equipment these days can set you back the better part of 500 quid.
And then, there are the parents. And the planting of seeds of ambition.
How many dads – mums too – secretly dream their kids will grow up to represent their country? In football, cricket, or whatever? And indeed how many just enjoy sharing long-held passions with their flesh and blood.
For Percy it was never about international glory.
“It was so far fetched to think Daniel would one day play for England” he says. “It was just to see a child playing cricket and being so good at it – so my expectation wasn’t beyond just having fun”.
Which all goes to explain why those broken floor tiles will probably never be fixed.
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