England’s Black Cricketers exhibition is currently on display at the MCC Museum at Lord’s Cricket Ground.
It contains portraits of each black cricketer to have played for England including Mark Alleyne, Jofra Archer, Joey Benjamin, Mark Butcher, Roland Butcher, Norman Cowans, Phil DeFreitas, Sophia Dunkley, Dean Headley, Chris Jordan, David Lawrence, Chris Lewis, Monte Lynch, Devon Malcolm, Tymal Mills, Ebony Rainford-Brent, Wilf Slack, Gladstone Small and Alex Tudor.
Words by Emma John, Journalist and Author. Portraits by Tom Shaw. Additional photos by Jed Leicester.
Tom Shaw has described his project to photograph all 21 black cricketers to play for England as a “personal” one, and that’s certainly how it feels to a viewer. Poised and thoughtful, relaxed and cheerful, proud, or sceptical, or even angry – these are portraits in which Shaw has captured emotions as well as characters.
"This will hopefully act as an inspiration to young black cricketers"
Shaw, an award-winning sports photographer, began shooting during the pandemic. Shocked to learn that only 21 black cricketers had ever represented England in the sport, he determined to find a way to honour them, and with the help of Mark Butcher, set about tracking them down.
“This project is a celebration of them and their achievements,” says Shaw, “and will hopefully act as an inspiration to young black cricketers.”
These portraits of the black men and women to represent England at cricket are a celebration of those players, of their performances, of the moments of cricketing history they have given us. We see Norman Cowans and remember his match-winning 6-77 against Australia at the MCG. We look into Devon Malcolm’s eyes and know that we’re facing the same stare that the South African batters of 1994 faced, as he blew them away at The Oval.
But the photographs are also an opportunity to walk into these players’ lives; to look through their eyes into a world that some will recognise instantly, and others will never have experienced. Until very recently, English cricketers of colour found it almost impossible to talk about their experiences of racism, afraid that they would be seen as “problem players”. Stories they largely kept quiet during their active careers, because playing professional cricket was a privilege, and one they did not want to jeopardise.
Stories they have finally felt emboldened to tell in the more honest, interrogative and empathic environment that has been created in society in recent years.
We have to talk about these things, uncomfortable as they inevitably make us feel. We have to reconsider the language and stereotypes by which black cricketers (and their characters, and their bodies) have always been judged. For those of us working in the media, it can be confronting to consider what attitudes we have unthinkingly repeated, what narratives we have contributed to that derive from racist tropes – and what part we have played in prolonging them. Shaw’s photography invites us to see past the histories we think we know, to the real people in front of his camera.
African-Caribbean Engagement Programme
The African-Caribbean Engagement Programme, launched in January 2020 by Surrey County Cricket Club, was founded by Ebony Rainford-Brent to address the decline in black British professional players and encourage greater participation within the recreational game.
The number of black British cricketers playing professionally has declined by 75% since 1994; in the recreational game black players account for less than 1%. ACE, which offers an alternative pathway to young black talent, is a powerful statement of intent, but black players, administrators, leaders and volunteers cannot and must not be expected to do this work alone.
Making the game a welcoming place requires the attention – and support – of every one of us.
The exhibition also features a number of objects on display such as:
· Gladstone Small’s bat from the 1993 NatWest final at Lord’s
· Sophia Dunkley’s ODI cap – given to her on her ODI debut against India 27th June 2021
· Roland Butcher’s blazer worn on the 1981 tour to the West Indies (marking the first time a black player had been selected for England)
· Jofra Archer’s Sussex Sharks T20 shirt from 2018 where he took a hat-trick at Lord’s against Middlesex.
Black History Month Documentary
To celebrate Black History Month, MCC has put together a video featuring some of the most famous black cricketers to have played the game.