Crisis of racism in Australian cricket
Bowl bouncers to those bullies
When exactly is an apology an apology and when is it time to draw a line in the sand on racism? Duminda Ariyasinghe and Siva Ilankesan report from Sydney on the recurring issue of racism in Australian cricket, and how the Sri Lankan team management almost missed an opportunity to hit racism for a six.

To call him, one of the most unplayable bowlers of his generation would be an understatement. Using his strong wrists, he had baffled some of the greatest batsmen. His unorthodox style, however allowed his rivals to label him a chucker.
His career was nearly ended when an Australian umpire no-balled him repeatedly for “throwing the ball.”

Sounds familiar? Then, think again! The bowler was Eddie Gilbert, the only man to ever knock the bat out of the hands of Don Bradman. Gilbert was one of only 15 bowlers to ever dismiss Bradman for a duck. Yet, as Mike Colman and Ken Edwards wrote in Eddie Gilbert: The True Story of an Aboriginal Cricketing Legend, while Bradman played Test cricket for two decades, Gilbert was never selected to represent his country.

Gilbert was an Aborigine, which had a lot to do with this injustice. His life was one of talent denied by the racist society of 1930s Australia. Gilbert was able to generate immense pace from a very short run up thanks to his powerful upper body and supple wrists, developed from years of throwing boomerangs.

In the first match of the 1931 season, Gilbert ran up to bowl to The Don, fresh from a tour of England where he had scored a triple century, two double centuries and a century. Gilbert bowled what Bradman later termed were the five fastest balls he had ever faced, including one infamous delivery that took the bat out of Bradman’s hand and rattled his stumps. Such was Gilbert’s talent that he again dismissed Bradman in 1936 even after the latter had dropped lower down the order. It is important to note that Gilbert was hardly the first cricketer to be labeled a chucker.

What separated Gilbert from the others was that the chucking allegation played right into the hands of bigots who stereotyped Aborigines as lazy cheats. They argued that no one should be able to bowl that fast from a short run-up without chucking.
This of course is reminiscent of a more recent argument in Australia that no one would be able to exert such prodigious turn without an illegal action.

Which brings us back to present day Queensland. How much has this great nation changed since Gilbert faced his tormentors? Sadly, not by much if you look at two incidents that occurred during Sri Lanka’s ODI game versus Australia at the Gabba on January 15th.

But first, racism is hardly a problem that grapples just one country. Second, it is not our business to tell any country how to run its affairs, except in how it affects us. By this token, are our tour management doing enough to protect our players? Are they shying away from taking a tough, principled stance in their zeal to be the Nice Guys?

The first incident was triggered when thanks to a superb piece of fielding by Russel Arnold, Darren Lehman was run out. Upon returning to the dressing room, Lehmann had leveled a racial epithet (there is dispute over whether it was “black bastards” or “black c---s“) at the Sri Lankans within the earshot of players and officials. Predictably, the Sri Lankan tour management lodged a complaint with match referee Clive Lloyd.

But this is where it gets interesting. Normally, racist comments are a serious offence and Clive Lloyd is no slouch when it comes to fighting racism in cricket. However, after Sri Lankan team management appealed for leniency, Lloyd almost let Lehman get away with a severe reprimand in lieu of a certain match ban. According to Sri Lanka team sources, Lehmann immediately sent a letter of apology to the Sri Lanka team, and the team management accepted it.

At a superficial level, graciousness seems noble. But in the face of the overt and the more insidious form of racism that every Sri Lankan tour to Australia has generated, isn’t it time to say enough is enough? This was after all not exactly an isolated incident.

During our tour of 1995/96, Glenn McGrath called Sanath Jayasuriya "a black monkey." Jayasuriya, who understandably did not have the experience then to handle such vitriol, became so upset that he lost his wicket. The team management did not even lodge a formal complaint, and McGrath went on to deny ever making a racist remark. Episode Two: Just before an Australian tour to Sri Lanka in 1999, over 50 people were killed in a suicide bombing.

A senior player in the Australian side told an Australian radio station that he wished more bombs would go off, so that they would not have to play in Sri Lanka. What goes around however, comes around. Aussies, who had thought they were immune from the rest of the world’s problems, were shaken to their roots by the terrorist bombing in Bali that killed over 100 Aussies. For the first time, Australians realized that terrorism can strike anyone. It is an absolute tragedy that nearly 200 innocents died in Bali, and coming from Sri Lanka, one can relate to the suffering.

These are just but two examples, but what these, as well as the Gilbert story, illustrate is that racism is a deep rooted problem in Australian cricket. Given all this history, just why did the Sri Lankan team management appeal for leniency? One should never condone racism by anyone.

Fortunately for cricket, ICC Chief Executive Malcolm Speed decided to step in. He had waited for the ACB to take action. But when the ACB made the laughable move of recommending Lehmann for counseling, Speed stepped into the breach. It must be stated – and stated emphatically – that not all Aussies are racists. That would be like the anxious queries from an American friend about life in Colombo after watching a documentary on Sri Lanka’s venomous snakes.

The vast majority of Aussies are decent blokes. Unfortunately, they are a very silent majority. They are also not the folks who turn up at cricket matches to taunt Murali.
.At least on Murali, it seems as if the umpires on the one hand and the press and the spectators on the other hand, are moving apart.

As the London Telegraph noted after Sri Lanka's victory over England on Monday: `Darrell Hair, one of the two Australian umpires to call him for throwing, stood in judgment again but the recognition has finally dawned in Australia, however reluctantly, that the official studies that have persistently found Murali's action to be legal must be respected. It is not before time.''

The truth, however, has still not dawned on the public or the media. In fact, the headline on Friday’s TV news was why the ICC was holding an inquiry on the Lehmann incident when the Sri Lankan team manager had asked for leniency.

The biggest moment of levity in last Tuesday’s match came when opener Marvan Atapattu wore a Muralidaran shirt due to a mix-up in the laundry room. Perhaps Jayasekera should insist that Lehmann be made to work in the laundry room as part of his ACB dictated “counseling.”

After all, it is said that only the laundry should be divided by colour! In an excellent review of the biography of Gilbert, social critic Phil Shannon wistfully hoped that Gilbert would be remembered for more than being the Aboriginal bowler who dismissed Bradman for a duck. “Gilbert's life is much more than that - it is a social history,” he noted. Australia still has a long way to go to address its racist past and present, not only on the cricket field, but also in other fields, he wrote.

One hopes that the lessons from Gilbert’s life are not lost on present day Aussies.
Otherwise, Lehmann won’t be the last Australian to embarrass himself and his country.

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