The controversy surrounding the England Cricket Board’s indefinite ban on Test player Ollie Robinson for some ‘racist’ tweets in the past — before he became a professional cricketer — recalls the career and personality of another fast bowler.
There was a time when fast bowling left Indian cricketers terrified. This psychological block can be traced back to an afternoon in Leeds 69 years ago when Freddie Trueman, on his Test debut, bagged four Indian wickets without a run on the board. The photograph of the scoreboard at Headingley showing 0-4 remained etched in the Indian imagination for generations. It was supplemented by a series of defeats against Australia and the West Indies. Nari Contractor’s debilitating injury in 1962 against a searing Charlie Griffith delivery that didn’t rise put the finishing touches to this Great Fear.
Trueman was not merely a great bowler and the first to bag 300 wickets in Test cricket. He was also a loudmouth and full of the earthy wisdom that once characterised idle pub talk in Yorkshire. Never one for modesty, he loved boasting about his undeniable achievements on the field. During that infamous English summer of 1974 when India was bowled out for a paltry 42, he asked Indian journalists about the wellbeing of Messrs Roy, Gaekwad, Mantri and Manjrekar — his Headingley victims, adding — with ill-concealed mockery — that when he came into bowl the batsmen were near the square leg umpire. Once he even suggested that India lacked fast bowlers because it lacked a beef diet.
After retirement, Trueman established himself as a media commentator and was known for his opinionated bluntness. He combined his formidable experience as a cricketer with gallons of plain prejudice. I recall the Test match Sri Lanka played against England at Lord’s in the summer of 1984 where Trueman was in the commentary box. Since Sri Lanka had just acquired Test status, it was widely assumed that England’s dominance was a foregone conclusion. Trueman shared that belief and laced it with the need for the home side to “bowl them out” as fast as possible. It is possible he remembered his own experience against India’s fragile batting in 1952 and 1959. Unfortunately, after early wickets, England encountered the stylistic Sidhath Wettimuny and the dogged resistance of Arjuna Ranatunga and Duleep Mendis. Lanka scored a massive 491, with Wettimuny playing the longest Test innings at Lord’s for his 190.
WOKE POLICE AT WORK: Should Robinson be punished for something he did earlier and off the field?
As the Sri Lankans dug in, Trueman became more and more livid, much to the delight of his fellow commentators. He fumed at the uselessness of England’s bowling and muttered his incomprehension that an inexperienced side could notch up such a high total. There were times when he came precariously close to using outdated racial stereotypes. He sounded like the caricature of an old Colonel fulminating against insolent natives. He was, in fact, unwittingly hilarious.
It is reassuring that the past was another country where there was neither any social media nor the exaggerated prickliness over racism. Trueman’s innermost thoughts on most subjects would possibly have mirrored the views and prejudices of the average working-class Yorkshireman. It would have combined the conviction that England was at the centre of the world with the prevailing suspicion of foreigners, not least those who now claimed to be British. These views would invariably have made their way into his social media posts.
Yet, Trueman was a devastating bowler and his Test record testifies to that. The cricketing world was in awe of him, including those who returned to the pavilion after being confronted with an unplayable delivery. Does it frankly matter whether his views on the world around him were regressive or the epitome of enlightenment? Most important, should he have been excluded from the England Test side merely because his conduct off the field conflicted with the views of a permanently aggrieved, vocal minority?
The ECB obviously thinks so. That is why it has suspended a promising pace bowler from playing in Tests because of some impulsive tweets he posted as a teenager. The action implies that a sports person must combine his/her sporting prowess with a positive vetting normally associated with those seeking a career in the intelligence services. The ECB has succumbed to the ‘cancel’ culture that is plaguing academia, the arts, the social media conglomerates and public life in the West.
Madness in the form of contrived outrage has gripped the world on both sides of the Atlantic. Let’s hope that in India, the ailment doesn’t stretch beyond the self-appointed thought police seeking to hound Kangana Ranaut out of Bollywood because they find her views unpalatable.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
END OF ARTICLE