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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.''
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.
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.”
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
Otherwise, Lehmann won’t be the last Australian to embarrass
himself and his country.