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10 Shameful Instances When Racism Reared Its Ugly Head in Cricket

By: Nikhil Narain

Last Updated: June 08, 2021, 15:07 IST

monkey gate

monkey gate

From the Monkey-Gate scandal to the Andile Phehlukwayo-Sarfaraz Ahmed controversy, from Roshan Mahanama-Glenn McGrath to the latest Oliver Robinson tweets saga - the gentleman's game has been rocked by racist slurs and comments that have brought the sport to disrepute.

England fast bowler Oliver Robinson was suspended from all international cricket even after an impressive Test debut against New Zealand at Lord’s courtesy the resurfacing of some historical tweets he had posted in 2012-13 which were perceived to be ‘racist’ in nature. His suspension has triggered a massive debate in England and all over the world with some in support of the decision while others including the British Prime Minister himself labelling it too harsh.

Cricket is a gentleman’s game but every now and then racist slurs and remarks have tarnished its image and brought disrepute to the players and the sport. We look back at 5 such instances from history.

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1. The Monkeygate Scandal (2008)

This is one of the most famous cricket controversies involving racism in the sport’s history. India was on tour in Australia in 2008 and the incident happened during the infamous SCG Test. Brett Lee was charging in to Harbhajan Singh with India, at 451 for 7, on the verge of overhauling Australia’s total in the first innings. After fending off the last ball of the over, Harbhajan walked to the non-striker’s end and had a bit of a banter with Symonds.

The Australians made a formal complaint to the umpire about Harbhajan having targeted Symonds with a racist slur, calling him a ‘Monkey’. Tendulkar, the non-striker at the time, supported his team-mate and stated that no racist comment was hurled at Symonds. However, the match referee Mike Procter ruled that Harbhajan had breached Level 3 of the ICC’s Code of Conduct and slapped the Indian off-spinner with a three-test ban. The controversy blew out of proportion with the Indian team threatening to pull out of the tour. They appealed against the ban and subsequently the word of Tendulkar carried weight against the testimony of Ponting, Hayden and Michael Clarke and Harbhajan was cleared of racist charges. The three-match ban was revoked and was spinner was instead slapped with a 50% match fee fine.

2. Mahanama-Jayasuriya vs McGrath (1996)

Roshan Mahanama accused Australian great Glenn McGrath of calling Sanath Jayasuriya a ‘Black Monkey’ in a book by the former batsman and later ICC Match Referee. Mahanama said that that the legendary fast bowler abused Jayasuriya during the second final of the Benson and Hedges World Series at the SCG in 1996. Australia won the rain-reduced encounter and won the best of three finals.

McGrath denied the allegations strongly and was backed by the then Australian Cricket Board chief Malcolm Speed. Speed stated that Mahanama did not play the match and no report had been lodged with the umpires or match officials after the match. Mahanama’s timing of raising the controversy – just before the release of his book – was also looked at by suspicion by the Australians. Former captains Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh stated that it was a publicity stunt by Mahanama.

3. Sarfaraz Ahmed vs Andile Phehlukwayo (2019)

Pakistan skipper, Sarfaraz Ahmed was handed a four-match ban for racially abusing South Africa’s all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo during the second ODI at Durban in 2019. Chasing 204, South Africa were reeling at 80 for 5 but then fought back courtesy a fightback from Rassie van der Dussen and Phehlukwayo. A frustrated Pakistani captain, in the 37th over of the innings, was heard on the stump mic saying, “Hey black guy, where’s your mother sitting today? What have you got her to say for you today?” – hurling these racist comments at Phehlukwayo.

The PCB released a statement expressing regret over Sarfaraz’s comments. The Pakistan captain regretted his comments and apologized through Twitter. Phehlukwayo accepted his apology. Incidentally, the all-rounder won the match for South Africa stitching together an unbeaten 127-run stand with Van der Dussen. He had also picked 4 wickets and was declared the Player of the Match for his brilliant all-round efforts.

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4. Moeen Ali vs the Australians (Ashes 2015)

England’s all-rounder Moeen Ali claimed that an Australian player (whom he did not name) called him ‘Osama’ during the Ashes series opener at Cardiff in 2015.

“It was a great first Ashes Test in terms of my personal performance. However there was one incident which had distracted me. An Australian player had turned to me on the field and said, ‘Take that, Osama.’ I could not believe what I had heard. I remember going really red. I have never been so angry on a cricket field,” quoted Ali.

Australia’s coach Darren Lehmann asked the concerned player about the racist remarks against Ali but they were categorically denied. “Lehmann asked the player, ‘Did you call Moeen Osama?’ He denied it, saying, ‘No, I said, ‘Take that, you part-timer.,” added Ali.

England coach Trevor Bayliss later said that Moeen “did not want to create problems for anyone” and so had convinced his teammates to drop the matter. Ali had scored 77 off 88 deliveries batting at number 8 in the first innings and also picked 5 wickets in the match.

5. Darren Sammy ‘Kalu’ Saga (2013)

Former West Indian captain and all-rounder, Darren Sammy brought to light in 2019 racist slurs hurled against him by a certain team-mate in the IPL in 2013. He added that it took him six years to understand the meaning and racist nature of the word. Sammy stated that he was proud to be a black person and being called ‘Kalu’ did not hurt him. He added that he spoke to the team-mate and did not want to criticize him but educate him on the matter.

“In hindsight, asking for apology I shouldn’t have even done that. If me and my team-mates have done something not intentionally, but now I realise that could be deemed or termed as something that could be hurtful to a team-mate of mine. So whether I get an apology or not, it doesn’t change the mentality of how proud I am to be a black person, to be a black man. It doesn’t change,” quoted Sammy.

6. The Tony Greig ‘Grovel’ Remark (1976)

Ahead of the 1976 series opener against the West Indies at Trent Bridge, the England captain Tony Greig came on TV and stated, “We’re going to make, with the help of Brian Closey and a few of my mates, we’re going to make the Windies grovel.”

This racial slur changed West Indies and world cricket history forever. Richards, especially did not take kindly to the remarks. He blasted 829 runs in 4 matches with three hundreds and two fifties. West Indies annihilated England 3-0 in the five-match series. It marked the beginning of the Great West Indies domination under the leadership of Clive Lloyd and then Richards itself – they did not lose a Test series from June 1980 till March 1995!

7. Brian Lara vs Kenya (1996 World Cup)

Kenya caused a shock upset in the 1996 World Cup when they beat the West Indies by 73 runs in Pune. Chasing 167, the strong Richie Richardson-led side were routed for a paltry 93.

Star batsman Brian Lara did not take kindly to the defeat and apparently made a dash to the Kenyan dressing room after the match hurling racist slurs at their players.

“It wasn’t that bad losing to you guys. You are black. Know what I mean. Now a team like South Africa is a different matter altogether. You know, this white thing comes into the picture. We can’t stand losing to them”.
Lara categorically denied the allegations and stated that he went to the dressing room to congratulate the Kenyan players.

8. Colin Croft Thrown Out of The Train in South Africa (1983)

West Indies’ legend Colin Croft was thrown off a whites-only Cape Town bound train in 1983 when he was on a rebel tour to the Apartheid hit South Africa. Incidentally, a white passenger came to the aid of Croft and accompanied him in a third-class carriage meant only for non-whites. The incident sent shock waves across South Africa and embarrassed the local government who had arranged the rebel tour to improve its image to the outside world.

The incident is reminiscent of the infamous incident involving Mahatma Gandhi when he was forcibly removed from a white-only carriage on a train in Pietermaritzburg due to the colour of his skin.
9. Darren Lehmann vs Sri Lanka (2003)

After being run-out in an ODI against Sri Lanka in Brisbane in 2003, Darren Lehmann allegedly mouthed abuses at the opposition players stating, “Cunts, cunts, fucking black cunts.” Although Lehmann apologised for his comments on the night of the match itself, he was banned for 5 ODIs by the ICC.
10. Dean Jones vs Hashim Amla (2006)

Dean Jones, one of Australia’s greatest ODI batsmen turned commentator was sacked by Ten Sports after calling South African Hashim Amla a ‘terrorist’ during the fourth day’s play of a Test match between Sri Lanka and South Africa in Colombo in 2006.

When Amla, who is a devout Muslim, took the catch to dismiss Kumar Sangakkara, Jones was heard to say “the terrorist has got another wicket”.

Jones apologised for his comment and stated that he he did intentionally wanted to hurt anyone. He added that he had a lot of respect for the Muslim faith and thus was sorry a making such a stupid comment.

Gerald Majola, Cricket South Africa’s Chief Executive added that “this kind of insulting racial stereotyping has no place in cricket and must be stamped on swiftly. The ICC has strongly condemned racism and we will be discussing the matter with them.”

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