Sunil Gavaskar on George Floyd’s death and racism in cricket

Discrimination, subtle though it maybe, is seen in English as well as Australian cricket. In South Africa, too, where the apartheid regime was thrown out almost 30 years ago, a remnant is still around.

Australian batting coach Graeme Hick was relieved of his duties during the coronavirus pandemic.   -  Getty Images

George Floyd’s death at the knee of a police officer in America has caused upheaval not just in that country but all over the world. America has been rocked by racial riots since Floyd was black and the police officer, whose knee on his neck strangled him, is a white officer.

It also brought to the fore the divide that is there in sport. Darren Sammy, the likeable former captain of the West Indies, suddenly found out the meaning of a Hindi word for black and asked for an explanation from his franchise team-mates who called him by that name during his time with them in the IPL. He had, however, during that time also sent birthday greetings to his franchise mentor and referred to himself as the dark k..... So, did he have an inkling even then what that word meant or has he really understood the meaning only now?

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Many black cricketers came up and told stories of how they didn’t quite get the opportunities they should have, only because of their colour. The discrimination subtle though it maybe, is seen in English cricket as well as the Australian game. In South Africa too, where the apartheid regime was thrown out almost 30 years ago, the remnant of discrimination is still around.

My earlier columns have often alluded to this aspect without directly mentioning the word discrimination because then you get labelled as a racist. Often the discrimination is not necessarily because of colour but whether a person is a pucca Englishman or Australian. A player could be born in those countries but he is more likely to get the wrong end of the stick if he is of darker colour. Look at the number of players who get dropped after a couple of failures if they are not white, while his competitor gets more chances and opportunities. Usman Khawaja is the latest example. Look at how Moeen Ali was made the scapegoat for the loss of the Ashes series in Australia a couple of years back, while other failures were hardly mentioned.

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Even in the recent reduction of staff in Australian Cricket, Graeme Hick was sacked even as Justin Langer came out singing his praises for the work he had done. So, if the idea was to save costs why not sack the assistant coach? Why sack a specialist batting coach? The answer is simple. The assistant coach is a true, blue Australian while Hick is a Zimbabwean who played for England. So, even though this is not a colour issue it boils down to being thought of as a pucca Aussie or not. Khawaja may have lived the majority of his life in Australia but was he born there?Many years back when Tony Greig was one of the main players in getting World Series Cricket off and running even while he was the England captain, an English journalist said he (Greig) is not a proper Englishman since he was born and brought up in South Africa.

Many years back when Tony Greig was one of the main players in getting World Series Cricket off and running even while he was the England captain, an English journalist said he (Greig) is not a proper Englishman since he was born and brought up in South Africa.   -  Getty Images

 

Currently in South Africa Graeme Smith, the director of cricket for the national team, declared that since Quinton de Kock is the captain in the 50 overs and T20 formats, he won’t be the Test captain. Now, Smith meant it with the best of intentions as he felt that the burden of keeping wickets, opening the batting in the limited overs format and the captaincy might be heavy enough as it is, so why burden de Kock with the Test captaincy too? Good intentions, but shouldn’t that be the job of the Proteas selection committee and not the director of cricket?

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Suddenly after that announcement there were a raft of articles in a popular website by a white journalist eulogising the leadership qualities of a player who is not even a certainty in the squad but, of course, he is white. Several other candidates were mentioned but when it came to one black and one of Indian origin there was a certain disdainful arc to the article almost poking fun at them about their chances to lead South Africa in Test cricket. At the same time there was an excuse made for a white South African player, who, in an interview, used an unacceptable word for the non-whites, with the writer suggesting that this should not be held against him. The cricket media there is still white-dominated and so constantly finding faults with those running South Africa cricket. This has lessened since Smith took over.

Having said that, let’s not kid ourselves that we in India are above all this. Courtney Walsh is probably the first West Indian to get a coaching assignment in the IPL. Before that there was the incomparable Viv Richards, who was a mentor which is not the same as being a coach.

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Despite the West Indies being such a dominant force in the game till the start of the century and also being twice winners of the ICC World Twenty20 events, there’s not a single West Indian even in the thoughts of the franchises for a coaching assignment. We, still, would have an inexperienced Australian as assistant coach but a West Indian? No way.

Those two ICC Twenty20 trophies by the West Indians and the emergence of the Indian cricket team as a force in all forms of the game under Ravi Shastri and Co should be proof enough that other colours also can make champions.

Stop being brainwashed and being complexed.