It was supposed to a celebration of resumption of cricket at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton on Wednesday, but it turned out to be much more than that. When students of social history dig into the role of sport in the fight against racism a few decades later - a soul-stirring speech by Michael Holding and ‘taking the knee’ by the West Indies players with black gloves in an echo of the “Black Power” protests at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics - will certainly stand out.
The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, which has now taken a life of it’s own in the wake of George Floyd’s death in the US in May, was always supposed to be an underlying theme during the West Indies’ ongoing visit of England, but the impact of Holding’s speech went much beyond the current outrage. It was not just about eradication of racism from cricket or any other sport, but a bouncer from him against the black stereotypes which has been prevalent throughout history - a raw, strong outpouring of emotion which was well supplemented by the take of Ebony Rainford-Brent, a former black England women’s cricketer-turned-TV pundit for the match.
Known as the ‘Whispering Death’ during his playing days, the 66-year-old Jamaican fast bowling legend announced sometime back that this year would be last in the commentary box as he would like to cut down on his travelling - and this would be certainly be a huge loss for his fans. There are pundits of the game, and then there are some - but very few dare to speak their minds on subjects which can ruffle the feathers of the establishment. Need an example? He still refuses to consider T20 as a serious format of cricket and had never been afraid of saying so despite the fact that Caribbeans are the most sought-after bunch in the T20 leagues across the world today.
The ‘dehumanisation’ of the black people, in his words, began long ago and while the world is still trying to find an answer to the problem - Holding feels education and sensitising of both the white and black community is the only way to end this. ‘‘In the plays of old times, Judas would always be portayed as a black man...we all know of Thomas Alva Edison being the discoverer of light, but do we know who discovered the carbon filament which keeps it burning? He was a black scientist called Lewis Howard Latimer, but how many people have heard about it?’’ asked an emotional Holding.
The perception about black people being the offenders, according to Holding, has to change when he gave example of a black man being usually followed in a supermarket by the security personnel. ‘‘How many times have you seen a white man being followed like that?’’ he asked.
There are apparent efforts from corporate giants, including Holding’s employers Sky Sports - official broadcasters - who have pledged a budget of 30 million pounds to work against this menace.
Can that bring about a change? We don’t know.
When Nasser Hussain, the former England captain and Holding’s colleague at the talks, points at his BLM badge and asks why do we even need it in 2020 - it sets us thinking. Hussain also spoke about the occasional derogatory remarks that he had to put up with while fielding near the boundaries because of his surname, but that’s a story for another day.