Wednesday, January 17, 2007

This Charming Man

London Radio DJ Danny Baker once memorably described footballer Dennis Wise, then professionally getting-up-noses for Chelsea FC, as being the 'school snide'. By that he meant an irritating wind-up merchant (or 'agent provocateur' if you don't fancy the London vernacular) happy to provoke and needle opponents, but always on the periphery of any serious trouble, safely out of harms way hiding behind the school bully when any retribution was meted out. The McAvity of the football world for the more literary minded amongst you.

Hershelle Gibbs has always struck me as being the Dennis Wise of the cricketing world.

There's always been something vaguely dislikable about Gibbs. It's nothing serious that I can put my finger on, but just a general sense of unease. For example, I didn't share the shock of most of the cricketing world when news came out that he'd accepted a bribe, and I was equally unsurprised that he'd ultimately bottled it when the chips were down. No surprise at the drug allegations either... and I bet he broke 'Rule One' under cross-examination and shopped his dealer.

In the league of irritability, he's probably in the same division as the sanctimonious Jonty Rhodes (Mike Atherton's autobiography is rather outspoken about Rhodes to say the least!). Batting against SA in the late 1990s, with Rhodes wittering away at point and Gibbs doing the same from midwicket must have been somewhat trying, to say the least.

So this then doesn't come as a huge surprise.

To be honest, as an anti-apartheid campaign veteran, it's still difficult to come up with a considered rational judgment when thinking about the issue of racism and South Africa. It's hard to forget that people like Gibbs, along with most of the South African side, lived their formative years under a repellent system where Makaya Ntini and Ashwell Prince would have probably had to eat in a different restaurant and stay in different hotels to the rest of the South African side. - had they actually been allowed to play in the first place.

So when you read about sensitive white South Africans getting upset because they're copping some abuse from the crowd, (Gibbs in this instance, and Andre Nel in Australia last winter) it's hard not to raise a quizzical eyebrow and point them in the direction of the chapters headed 'Sharpville 1960 ', and 'Soweto 1976' in their history books.

Of course, it's easy for me to say. I've never been on the end of any racist abuse, and have no idea how I'd react if I was - though I've always been an adherent of the 'sticks and stones' school of thought when it comes to verbal confrontation.

On a related issue, remember it was Graeme Smith the Doomsayer who warned that Monty Panesar would receive a load of racist abuse from Australian crowds this winter. As predictions go, it was as wide of the mark as those that said that England would be competitive in the Ashes series. Instead, Monty became a cult favourite amongst the Australian crowd, and not in a patronising way either. There was, and is, genuine respect for his bowling prowess and general enthusiasm - and respect from Australians hard earned.


Anonymous said...

Interesting piece; I guess it is hard to know how one would react in the heat of the moment.

Also, do you fancy exchanging links with my blog - I'll add your link in a bit.

Tony.T said...

Here's one for you, Mark: Mike Coward in The Australian.