Racism: Holding and Rainford-Brent do some plain speaking

Michael Anthony Holding, one of the feared West Indies pace bowlers from the 1970s and 1980s, bowled his best spell on 10 July, in front of the TV cameras.

Holding, in England to commentate on the Test series between England and the West Indies, took part in a roundtable on the Black Lives Matter protests which have been sweeping the world recently after an African-American man, George Floyd, was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis on May 25.

Holding speaks frankly, Very frankly. Along with former England cricketer Ebony Rainford-Brent, he spoke about the issues he had faced as a black man, the problems in cricket and how they could be resolved.

There was no bitterness in his voice, just audible pain and sadness. At one point, he came close to breaking down and later told one of the hosts that the memory of his mother being ostracised by her own family because she had married a very dark man had led to this.

Holding spoke of the need for education, to wipe out the centuries of conditioning that have resulted in black people knowing that white lives matter, while white people do not really care about black lives. He cited studies from American universities like Yale to make his points.

And much as white people will dismiss whatever he says, one could not escape the fact that here was a 66-year-old who had seen it all and some calling for a sane solution to the ills of racism.

He provided examples of racism from each of England, South Africa and Australia. In England, he cited the case when he was trying to flag down a cab while going home with his wife-to-be – a woman of Portuguese ancestry who is white. The driver had his meter up to indicate his cab was not occupied, but then on seeing Holding quickly offed the meter light and drove on. An Englishman of West Indian descent who recognised Holding, called out to him, “Hey Mikey, you have to put her in front.” To which Holding, characteristically, replied, “I would rather walk.”

In Australia, he cited a case during a tour; the West Indies teams were always put on a single floor in any hotel they stayed in. Holding said he and three of his fast bowling colleagues were coming down in a lift when it stopped at a floor on the way down. “There was a man waiting there,” Holding said. “He looked at us and did not get into the lift. That’s fine, maybe he was intimidated by the presence of four, big black men.

“But then, just before the lift doors closed, he shouted a racial eipthet at us.

And in South Africa, Holding cited a case when he and his Portuguese friend had gone to a hotel to stay. Someone came to him and was getting the details to book him in; meanwhile some other hotel staffer went to his companion and tried to book her in. “To their way of thinking, she could not possibly be with me, because she was white,” was Holding’s comment. “After all, I am black, am I not?”

Rainford-Brent, who took part in a formal video with Holding, also ventilated the problems that black women cricketers faced in England and spoke with tremendous feeling about the lack of people of colour at any level of the sport.

She was in tears occasionally as she spoke, as frankly as Holding, but again with no bitterness of the travails black people have when they join up to play cricket.

One only hopes that the talk does not end there and something is done about equality. Sky Sports, the broadcaster which ran this remarkable and unusual discussion, has pledged put 30 million pounds into efforts to narrow the gap. Holding’s view was that if enough big companies got involved then the gap would close that much faster.

If he has hope after what he has endured, then there is no reason why the rest of us should not.

David Warner must pay for his sins. As everyone else does

What does one make of the argument that David Warner, who was behind the ball tampering scandal in South Africa in 2018, was guilty of less of a mistake than Ben Stokes who indulged in public fights? And the argument that since Stokes has been made England captain for the series against the West Indies, Warner, who committed what is called a lesser sin, should also be in line for the role of Australian skipper?

The suggestion has been made by Peter Lalor, a senior cricket writer at The Australian, that Warner has paid a bigger price for past mistakes than Stokes. Does that argument really hold water?

Stokes was involved in a fracas outside a nightclub in Bristol a few years back and escaped tragedy and legal issues. He got into a brawl and was lucky to get off without a prison term.

But that had no connection to the game of cricket. And when we talk of someone bringing the game into disrepute, such incidents are not in the frame.

Had Stokes indulged in such immature behaviour on the field of play or insulted spectators who were at a game, then we would have to criticise the England board for handing him the mantle of leadership.

Warner brought the game into disrepute. He hatched a plot to use sandpaper in order to get the ball to swing, then shamefully recruited the youngest player in the squad, rookie Cameron Bancroft, to carry out his plan, and then expects to be forgiven and given a chance to lead the national team.

Really? Lalor argues that the ball tampering did not hurt anyone and the umpires did not even have to change the ball. Such is the level of morality we have come to, where arguments that have little ballast are advanced because nationalistic sentiments come into the picture.

It is troubling that as senior a writer as Lalor would seek to advance such an argument, when someone has clearly violated the spirit of the game. Doubtless there will be cynics who poke fun at any suggestion that cricket is still a gentleman’s game, but without those myths that surround this pursuit, would it still have its appeal?

The short answer to that is a resounding no.

Lalor argues that Stokes’ fate would have been different had he been an Australian, I doubt that very much because given the licence extended to Australian sports stars to behave badly, his indulgences would have been overlooked. The word used to excuse him would have ” larrikinism”.

But Warner cheated. And the Australian public, no matter what their shortcomings, do not like cheats.

Unfortunately, at a pivotal moment during the cricket team’s South African tour, this senior member could only think of cheating to win. That is sad, unfortunate, and even tragic. It speaks of a big moral chasm somewhere.

But once one has done the crime, one must do the time. Arguing as Lalor does, that both Steve Smith, the captain at the time, and Bancroft got away with no leadership bans, does not carry any weight.

The man who planned the crime was nailed with the heaviest punishment. And it is doubtful whether anyone who has a sense of justice would argue against that.

The BBL is going downhill slowly, but surely

The ninth edition of Australia’s annual 20-over cricket tournament, the Big Bash League, ended on a rather downbeat note, with the final reduced to a 12-over-a-side affair, though the fact that it would rain on the day was known well in advance.

Despite that, the Sydney Sixers, a finalist and the eventual winner, did not want the game shifted to Melbourne due to the home ground advantage that it claimed it would have.

The other finalist, the Melbourne Stars, would not have minded moving the game so that the full 20 overs could be played, but moving it to the MCG, which was the alternative venue, would have afforded the Stars home-ground advantage. Shouldn’t professional teams be able to play at any venue and win?
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Smith’s weakness to short-pitched bowling has been exposed

There are two things one can take away from the Australia-New Zealand Test series, even though it is not yet over, and the third and final match remains to be played in Sydney early next year.

One, the rankings system that the International Cricket Conference uses is out of sync with reality; if Australia, ranked fifth, can beat second-ranked New Zealand with so much ease, then whatever decides those rankings needs sore re-examination.

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Fast bowlers have lost their balls

There was a time in the 20th century when there were more class fast bowlers in the game of cricket than at any other. Between 1974 and 1994, pacemen emerged in different countries as though they were coming off an assembly line.

It made the game of cricket, which many call boring, an exciting spectacle.

From Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, to Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft, Joel Garner, the late Malcolm Marshall, Imran Khan, Sarfraz Nawaz, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Devon Malcolm, Bob Willis, Ian Botham, Allan Donald, Fanie de Villiers, Richard Hadlee, Courtney Walsh, Curtley Ambrose, Patrick Patterson and Craig McDermott, they were of several different types and temperaments as is to be expected.
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Test cricket is becoming a joke

Pakistan look like they will lose by an innings again to Australia, meaning that the two-Test series will end in a wipeout.

The question is: why are so many weak teams coming to Australia and playing matches that end up being hopelessly one-sided, resulting in very few people going to watch them?

Or is it the case that there is no other option given that India cannot come to Australia every year and play?
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RWC commentators need to be lined up and shot

While many people have raised questions about the quality of refereeing at the ongoing Rugby World Cup, nobody, surprisingly has questioned the quality of commentary that is available. If one were to compare the two, the commentators would lose by a mile.

There is a strange kind of logic that has prevailed in management circles for quite a while now, namely that a person who is good in one sector of an industry would also be equally good in another. It is this kind of logic (?) that leads managers to appoint rank and file employees to positions of leadership. It flies in the face of logic to argue that someone who is good at following orders would be equally good as a leader, but that’s the conventional wisdom that has prevailed and will never go away.
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Wake me up when the World Cup is over

The World Cup cricket tournament began on May 30 and will end on July 14. By that time, even the most ardent fan would have had enough and will be wishing that it gets over, not matter who wins. The International Cricket Council has turned what was once a short, enjoyable cricket festival into a boring tournament which is a pain in the nether regions.

Twenty-seven matches have been gone through, and four have already been washed out, giving the teams involved a singular disadvantage. No extra days can be factored in to play such washed out games, else the tournament would only end when Christmas comes around. And there are another 18 matches to go.
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Cricket Australia: anyone will do, as long as we stem the losses

Ever since the Australian cricket team lost its captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and opener Cameron Bancroft to suspension for ball-tampering, the organisation running the game, Cricket Australia, has been fighting to make the spectre of losses disappear.

The three players were found to have been the prime movers behind the use of sandpaper to change the surface of the ball during a series in South Africa in March 2018; Bancroft, the actual person caught on TV while stuffing a piece of sandpaper down the front of his pants, was suspended for nine months, while Smith and Warner were banned for a year. Warner, in addition, will never be able to hold a leadership position in the team.

After these shocks to the system, Australia has been losing one series after the other, no matter whether it be Tests or the shorter forms of the game. Thus the arrival of the Sri Lankan team to play two Tests has come as a great relief. Sri Lanka is without its skipper Angelo Matthews, a talented all-rounder, who often rescues the team when it is in trouble.
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How long has Australia been cheating to obtain reverse swing?

Australia’s Test series against India has ended in a 1-2 series defeat thanks to rain — else the Sydney Test may also have ended in defeat, making it 1-3 — but though many questions have been asked about the home team, the elephant in the room still remains.

Nobody has told the public how a team which managed to extract prodigious reverse swing during the 2017-18 Ashes series against England — played in the Australian summer — was unable to get even a fraction of that kind of swing in the series against India.
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