Kristine L Ming

Down with the reverse Tebbit test

Fan of the Indian cricket team at Edgbaston, Birmingham

There’s a minority of British-born India fans of Indian descent who give the England fans of Indian descent a hard time. They should pack it in and just watch the cricket, writes Rahul Tandon.

It is more than 20 years since the Conservative politician Norman Tebbit proposed his infamous cricket test.

If you have forgotten what it was or are too young to remember, here is a quick reminder. He suggested in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that Britons of South Asian origin should be asked which cricket team they supported.

If they did not follow England and were fans of India or Pakistan, he felt that it showed that they had failed to integrate into British society.

As a fanatical Indian fan I, like many others, was angry at his comments.

He had failed to understand that many of us whose parents had come from South Asia to the UK have complex identities. We were proud to be British but also proud of our Indian roots. And cricket was where we could display that part of our identity.

I remember my father, who forced us to watch the Queen’s speech every Christmas, saying nobody is going to tell my family who they are going to support.

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About the author

Rahul Tandon

Journalist Rahul Tandon was born in Huddersfield and moved to India five years ago. He follows the Indian cricket team and Leeds United.

So it would be interesting to see what Lord Tebbit would have made of the make-up of the crowd at Edgbaston for the Champions Trophy final on Sunday.

The stadium was full of Indian fans, most of whom were young and had Birmingham or London accents. Many had Indian flags wrapped around them and were chanting “India zindabad” – long live India. During the rain, some played a game called spot-the-England-fan as it was hard to find supporters of the home side in some of the stands.

But this match also showed me that maybe a new cricket test is emerging.

The first signs of it came when England’s Ravi Bopara came on to bowl. The 28-year-old was born in London. His parents settled in the capital after migrating from Punjab in India in the 1970s.

For some Indian fans in the crowd, that meant that he should be playing for India. So as he ran in to bowl, a group of young Indian fans began a chant of “traitor, traitor, traitor”.

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Which side do they cheer for? It’s an interesting test. Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are?”

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Norman Tebbit in 1990

When he came out to bat there were pockets of fans booing and when he was dismissed there were huge celebrations in the ground.

While I was standing in the queue to get a drink, an elderly England fan turned to me and asked: “Why are you giving Bopara such a hard time?”

Before I could answer, a young Indian fan replied: “We hate him as he plays for England. He is a disgrace.” He then quickly rushed off back to the match.

I mumbled to the England fan that not all Indian fans felt like that, and in fact the majority of us thought that he was a great role model and that we wanted to see more British Asians turning out for England. Confused, the England fan just smiled and walked back to his seat.

When I returned to mine, I noticed a Sikh fan wearing a turban a few rows ahead.

He was not wearing an Indian top or carrying India’s flag. He was proudly wearing an England shirt with the name of his favourite player, Monty Panesar, on the back. Every time England took a wicket he jumped up from his seat to cheer.

Monty Panesar bowlingEngland’s Monty Panesar in action

That did not go down well with some of the Indian fans. About five moved to some seats closer to him and began chanting “spot the sell-out”. Another shouted “coconut” – a derogatory term that means you are brown on the outside but white inside.

On hearing the chants, the Sikh fan rushed angrily over to the Indian fans and started shouting at them. “How dare you describe me as a sell-out? I am proud of my culture and you have no right to have a go at me just because I am supporting England.”

At this stage a few stewards intervened and calmed the situation down. After the match I walked up to the Sikh fan and apologised for the behaviour of those Indian fans. Still angry he told me that they didn’t know anything about their culture or India, “and [yet] they call me a sell-out”.

It reminded me of the anger I felt when Tebbit proposed his cricket test.

Now more than 20 years on, a small minority of Indian fans seem to be trying to devise their own test. If you support England, in their eyes you have turned your back on your culture and heritage.

My answer to them is simple. Just watch the cricket.

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