Zimbabwe: Race is Real – Religion Is Not

By Jessica Collins, author of The Ashes: Inside the Old World and New World of Cricket. There was some difficulty following that Australia interview yesterday. The conversation got lop-sided from the start, and it…

Zimbabwe: Race is Real - Religion Is Not

By Jessica Collins, author of The Ashes: Inside the Old World and New World of Cricket.

There was some difficulty following that Australia interview yesterday. The conversation got lop-sided from the start, and it became apparent they were interested in talking about how cricket is a fluid and ever-changing and genuinely global game, even as Australia continues to play cricket one man at a time. I know, I know – but what about when Colin de Grandhomme speaks up about being racially abused by some of the crowd? The next time that country plays India in a major series, Australian players will be terrified.

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The diversity of the game, the level of interest and broadcasting, and the high rates of play-offs at the world’s elite tournaments all mean the game has managed to avoid becoming a watered-down, white-washed version of itself in its pursuit of commercial success. Aged just 24, Azeem Rafiq, 24, has no such aspirations.

Never mind the fact that the famed Oval Test, when the underdog Pakistan chased England all over the park for their second-ever win in a final, was built in the middle of Watts Lane. It is not true that all big cricket nations are destined to play the same dominant brand of cricket in all of their championships. England used to be such a team, playing a similar brand to Australia. Like Pakistan, England were rich in talent, but lacking in professionalism. The once-great England squad appeared to have come apart at the seams under John Emburey and Bob Willis, who used to pound on home players in the middle of the day about their inadequacies. And they didn’t really change – it was only in the middle of the 90s that Mike Gatting, for example, became entirely self-motivated and unstoppable. This was the England we all used to know and love.

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Suddenly we were playing pretty much as we wanted, with equipment, player and umpire salaries paid by the success of the tour, not in the hopes of locking in a lucrative broadcasting deal.

On the same tour, the new white-haired Latvian epi-celebrated player Ricky Ponting reacted angrily, pointing to De Grandhomme with clenched fists in what became known as the ‘Ponting statement’.

It came towards the end of the 2007 World Cup, but now this will be remembered. England, Australia and South Africa will all play in the same elite Champions Trophy tournament next year, but there is nothing saying they will play the same brand of cricket.

As a black Australian, I feel this extraordinarily fortunate to have a game that allows me so many different voices to voice their opinions. There are often abuses on social media, about perceived superstars, but it does mean there is a built-in protection system in place – so that some Australian players, regardless of ethnic origin, may play with this brush as they travel to play countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where the abuse is likely to be even worse. This isn’t to say that such abuse should be excused, but it does save many in a country that often reveres on the back of Australia playing the same style of cricket on-pitch with no built-in domestic security.

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Cricket can be a daunting game in most countries. We live in a society where racism is real and often ugly, and it is too easy to use this idea as a shield. However, social media can be a useful tool – instead of a flag waving, inflammatory way of talking about race, a beautifully clever one. Racism should be visible; why should this be? Yet everything the best racism has done is to remain hidden and protected.

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