Mandy's Boyfriend Has Been Given It. So Has an Albanian Pimp. but This Man, Whose Grandparents Were British, Whose Father Fought in the War - and Who, Oh Yes, Could Win Us the Ashes - Is Denied Citizenship. Could It Be Because He's White, Middle Class, Heterosexual and from Zimbabwe?

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ALONG with half the nation, I shall be glued to the fifth and final Test which begins on Thursday, as I have been to the preceding four Tests. To win the Ashes, England need to win or draw. Only a couple of years ago, the notion that we might beat Australia would have seemed absurd. Now it is possible.

If England do regain the Ashes after 18 years, one man above all should take the credit, though by all accounts he is far too self-effacing and modest to do so. Most people who know about cricket believe that England would not have pulled themselves up from the also-rans of the game without the inspiration and leadership of their Zimbabweanborn coach, Duncan Fletcher.

In normal circumstances the coach of an England team achieving world supremacy - and that is what victory over Australia would represent - might expect a knighthood. That is what happened to Alf Ramsey after the 1966 World Cup and to Clive Woodward after England's rugby union team triumphed in Australia in 2003.

But Duncan Fletcher is unlikely to be holding out many hopes of receiving a knighthood because for 15 years he has been battling without success to gain British citizenship. Incredible though it sounds, the man who has presided over England's cricketing renaissance is not considered a worthy recipient of a British passport.

Ah, you will say, there must be a snag. Not even the most bulletheaded bureaucracy would deny such a man British citizenship without a good reason.

Perhaps he has a dodgy past? Or maybe he holds another citizenship which he is unwilling to give up? The answer to both questions is: no.

Duncan Fletcher has as strong a case as is conceivable. In 1984, he left Zimbabwe with a few pounds in his pocket, having captained that country's cricket side. He spent some years in South Africa coaching Western Province before arriving in this country in 1997. He restored the fortunes of Glamorgan before being appointed England's coach.

All four of Mr Fletcher's grandparents were British. During the last war, his father fought with the Royal Artillery in Italy. Although his two younger brothers and his sister have been given British passports, he has been forced to apply for British citizenship, and made to wait in vain for 15 years, because he was born in September 1948, months before a change in colonial citizenship rules which benefited his younger siblings.

Here is a man to whom the nation not only owes its everlasting thanks for helping to rescue English cricket.

He has shown himself by his rectitude and application and hard work to be an ideal citizen. He also, by any sensible definition, comes from British stock. If this were a sane society, he should simply be able to say that his four grandparents were British, his father fought for the British, and that he would like to claim his birthright - and come home. But no.

As always, of course, there is something parading as reason behind the bureaucratic lunacy. The Home Office says that it cannot give Mr Fletcher a passport as he does not satisfy the requirements of having lived in Britain for five years. And why might this be? Because Mr Fletcher has been spending so much time touring overseas with the England cricket team, whose fortunes he has moved mountains to improve.

Can these bureaucrats be classified as serious, grownup people?

Obviously not. But one cannot help wondering whether their clinging to a monstrously unjust interpretation of the rules does not betray a deeper prejudice. If Mr Fletcher were, say, a disadvantaged Albanian with no British connections whatsoever, would he have been required to struggle for 15 years for British citizenship? …