Category Archives: Racism

The Harbhajan-Symonds Relationship

From Times of India, a couple of interesting quotes on the Harbhajan-Symonds relationship in the Mumbai Indians:

[Symonds]’ manager Matt Fearon confirmed the truce. “That’s definitely the case. They’ve left everything in the past. The auction for the IPL was in January. I remember calling him and saying, well, you’re going to Mumbai – with Harbhajan. He said two words: ‘Aw, true?’

“That said it all. He was a bit speechless. It would be fair to say there was a bit of uncertainty about how it would play out. There was an unknown there but yes, they are getting on great. They are both competitive animals. When two people like that are on different teams, there can be some very real tension. But put them in the same team and it’s a different story,” Fearon said.

‘Aw, true?’ has to be the most understated expression of disappointment I’ve read yet. I can’t imagine Symonds has totally forgiven Harbhajan, given his tone when asked about the affair last year by Harsha Bhogle. At the same time, there are enough other factors — namely, the need for both sides to perform and make money — that they could agree to bury the hatchet for 3 weeks.

But I wonder if Symonds insisted on an apology, or at the very least, an admittance of guilt, or if he asked Tendulkar about it once more…


Fire In Babylon

Waited in line Thursday night to catch Fire In Babylon, a hugely compelling documentary of the West Indies cricket team (1975-1985). My quick review: this is an unbelievable piece of cricket folklore. Get the DVD now. My long review:

1. I’m young, so I missed this whole era. To be re-introduced to legends like Viv Richards was hugely gratifying. It’s not just that Richards was a good batsman; he also had, as he says, a certain amount of swagger — chewing gum while batting; staring at upstart bowlers; not wincing when hit by a fast ball. Few batsmen have that same presence now, even though batsmen rule the game now. (The best part of this movie is seeing batsmen squirm; few in the audience will realize just how far the scales have tipped in their favor since the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ruled.)

2. The film itself does a good job of moving quickly (though the Kerry Packer episode could have been edited out, in my opinion). First, it sets up the political/cultural moment in the Caribbean circa 1960s/1970s, so as to explain just why the West Indies cricket team mattered so much. Then, it follows the team’s initial failure in Australia, to its never-ending victories. A good amount of political commentary as well.

2A. It could have been better with more cricket though. There’s a moment when the film slows to show Michael Holding bowling an angry over in England, and it’s electrifying. (It’s this over, against B. Close.) The producers/editors should have done more of this — though I understand why they felt wary, given that they were trying to get as big an audience as possible. (Seeing Malcom Marshall catch and bat with a broken arm — simply incredible.)

3. How brutal is cricket? I complain now about injuries to cricketers, and they are serious, but to watch what batsmen faced in those days…the audience in the cinema gasped several times, and with each one, you got the sense they had discovered a Big Lie — this cricket, it hasn’t and never has been for gentlemen! What separates this from rugby?

4. The movie’s central premise, though, is a difficult one for me. Basically, Clive Lloyd and the West Indians swear never again to fare as badly as they did while touring Australia in 1975, when Lilee/Thompson scared the form out of them. Lloyd’s answer — we can bowl just as fast as they can — is satisfying on one level (political equality; beating the masters at their own game), but also disappointing (imitation isn’t the best political protest). Now, there’s a place for this logic initially in the post-colonial moment — I just don’t think it’s useful 60/70 years on. In other words: India, please, please, don’t try to become Australia. Imagine a different trajectory! (See Gandhi/Tagore’s views on nationalism for more on this line of thought.)

5. The filmmakers made a smart, but risky, decision to feature only West Indians talking about West Indian cricket. You see almost no one else — no Ian Botham, no Tony Grieg — in the present day reflecting on that period. I like it. This is as much about history and the power of a region’s narrative as it is about what the world thinks.

6. I feel really, really sorry for Colin Croft.

7. Sunil Gavaskar comes off very badly. The next time you hear him commentating in his trademark condescending tone — oh, these batsmen, they don’t know how bad we had it! — remind him about India’s disastrous tour of the West Indies.

8. The central mystery remains, though: how did one region — mere dots on the globe, as one team member said — produce so many greats over such an extended period?

8A. It’s hard, by the end of the movie, to see these old West Indian men talk about their team. You see footage of them bowling, batting, protesting, training, and drinking beer in their dressing rooms…The best part about Fire in Babylon isn’t just that it’s a great historical tribute to these athletes; it’s also a two-hour exercise in nostalgia and lives and days gone by.

Fire In Babylon, New York City Screening

Via Peter Della Penna of DreamCricket (and a fellow N.J. resident), comes exciting news about Fire in Babylon, the documentary of West Indies cricket (long anticipated by Samir Chopra):

“Fire in Babylon” premiered at the London Film Festival in October. It also appeared at the Glasgow Film Festival in February and the Adelaide Film Festival in March. The first of four screenings at Tribeca will take place on Saturday April 23 at 8:30 p.m. Riley hopes that sports fans and non-sports fans in New York will view the film with equal satisfaction.

Timings and logistics available here. “It was like slaves whipping the asses of the masters.” Before India, before Pakistan and before Sri Lanka, there was the West Indies. See you all there! Trailer:

The IPL Cheerleaders Question

I don’t know who Tanya Aldred is, but she makes a good point about the IPL cheerleaders on Cricinfo:

2 Why are the cheerleaders all white? Aren’t there any Indian dancers? Surely they could dress in a culturally acceptable way if crop tops are not considered de rigeur. Or wouldn’t they be Caucasian enough to attract the American market? Am I missing something obvious here?

I’ve addressed my own concerns with the cheerleaders here. There are two ways to be bothered about them: the first is the sexism question (cheerleading turns women into objects, especially in the context of cricket, which has absolutely no role for women, not even as umpires). The second is the post-colonial question, which Aldred touches on: why adopt an American tradition in India, and that too in an all-white reincarnation? (You have to be careful about this line of attack, lest you find yourself next to some parochial Shiv Sainik going on about the dangers of Valentine’s Day. I think there’s a difference, of course, between a couple voluntarily choosing to do something on a particular day, and a mass audience being exposed to images on television while trying to watch a cricket game.)

The Andrew Symonds Dismissal

I haven’t read everything about what happened in the run-up to Andrew Symonds’ dismissal, but it seems a bit strange. The man had a few drinks, even though he apparently promised not to. On the other hand, where were his teammates? Did they all go to this rugby tournament, sit at a bench and order drinks, and then watch uneasily as Symonds reached for one after the other as well? Or did Symonds violate the team’s no-alcohol policy and just order one out loud? 

Poor man. When the first Harbhajan-Symonds broke out, I tried to sketch a more complicated point of view. I argued a) that Singh did in fact call Symonds a monkey, which I thought reprehensible and deserved as much punishment as Symonds should have received for provoking the dispute, but also that b) Singh did not deserve the “racist” tag as a result. Continue reading

My Favorite Cricket Photo

Kridaya has his most iconic cricket photo up, an image of a long Australian slip cordon against some Kiwi tailenders. I like the picture, but I like this one too: Michael Holding, in full flexible display, kicking some stumps over after a West Indies-New Zealand series marred by horrible umpiring:

South Africa’s Transformation Policy Yields Results

South African freelance writer Telford Vice has a strong, pro-affirmative action piece in Cricinfo, which makes sense given the national team’s recent victories:

“The first inkling of this happy day finally breaking came when South Africa won their Test series in England last year. The squad included seven players of colour, a fact that had been held up as a reason for South Africans not to be too cheerful about the impending rubber. “A mixed team went to England and came back with a series win; that hadn’t happened for 30 years,” said commentator Aslam Kota. Ashwell Prince scored two vital centuries and Hashim Amla another. A bloke with fire in his belly didn’t get a game. His name? JP Duminy.

Seven black players were also in the squad for last season’s tilt at South Africa’s Holy Grail: a series win in Australia. Duminy replaced the injured Prince, and the runs boomed off his bat much like his confidence leapt at opponents. His 166 in Melbourne, where South Africa clinched the series, is destined to be celebrated among the finest innings played in this country’s cause. Amla, meanwhile, was his regular rock-like self with three half-centuries in the series.”

Australia Attacks On Indian Students Spill Into Cricket World

There’s been a spate of highly publicized attacks on Indian stuents in Australia recently. Pretty gruesome stuff — I think one student had a “petrol bomb” thrown at him — and another one was attacked with a screwdriver. The whole affair has received a lot of attention in the Indian media, especially after film star Amitabh Bachchan refused an honorary degree from a Brisbane university because of the fracas.

Things are getting even weirder now: apparently, a cousin of Harbhajan Singh alleges a Melbourne taxi driver killed his son and left his body on railroad tracks. I really don’t know how much credence to give this story, because the Deccan Chronicle — which published the charges — is fairly respectable, but its article does not quote any Australian sources (or any Indian police sources either).

But here’s my problem: Continue reading

Cricket and The Crisis of Indian Masculinity (Or, Sydney Redux)

Rather convoluted title, no? Forgive me. I recently posted an item about the increasingly aggressive and militaristic themes used to advertise IPL teams, when I recalled another draft I never completed about the Sydney Test. 

Over a year having passed now, it’s clear that the Sydney Test between India and Australia was a seminal moment in the cricket world. You have the umpiring errors, which led to the referral system now widely in place; you had a near-split between the Indian and Australian boards, and you had the sledging moment between Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh. While Singh went  on to bigger and better things, Symonds lost his way, bitter at his team and Cricket Australia. The Australian team itself also fell a notch; they lost the next Test at Perth, drew the last one in the series in Adelaide, and then enjoyed one of their worst years in a decade. 

I want to talk a bit more, though, about the Indian side. Continue reading

Andre Nel and Affirmative Action (2)

BeerandSport had an interesting comment on my previous post about Andre Nel’s recent retirement:

Nel was dropped while in the form of his life for Charl Langevelt. The stated reason was transformation. Charl wasn’t happy so they ended up taking another player of colour, his name eludes me for the moment.

I had a huge problem when Langeveldt refused to be considered because of the circumstances of his selection. For one thing, based purely on statistics, Langeveldt was as deserving a spot in the national team as Nel. His bowling average in ODIs was an impressive 28.46, just above Nel’s 27.68. Their economy and strike rates were also roughly similar. Langeveldt should have pointed out the obvious: Nel, like many insecure members of the majority, was using the affirmative-action bugaboo as an excuse to hide his own inadequacy.

But, more importantly, I didn’t like Langeveldt’s decision because it only reaffirmed the rigidly silly contours of the current debate over affirmative action, in which merit is always weighed against color (as if the two are mutually exclusive). Even if Langeveldt’s stats were that much worse than Nel’s, he could have argued that the way we measure merit wrongly excludes existing structural circumstances that make it harder for minority players to gain access to coaching resources and other sporting infrastructure, not to mention the national team itself. I’m not saying this means we should pick blatantly unqualified players — and Langeveldt, as I just said, wasn’t — but we should recognize at least that the playing field isn’t always level.