Thursday 2 May 2013

Mike Gatting, rebel tourist and MCC president

Forgiving is not forgetting; it's actually remembering - remembering and not using your right to hit back. It's a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you dont want to repeat what happened. - Desmond Tutu

Forgiveness is more forthcoming for some than others. On Wednesday Mike Gatting was named the next MCC president. It completes a rapid journey back to the heart of the establishment for the once rebel tour captain.

In 1990, while Nelson Mandela was being released from his jail in Robben Island, Gatting was leading the final, and most reprehensible, tour to apartheid South Africa. The tour was a disaster from the off with Gatting waving away questions over its appropriateness by declaring: "I don't know much about how apartheid works but one way to find out is by going there." He soon discovered plenty.

The English tourists were met with demonstrations at the airport and a larger, angrier protest in Pietermaritzburg where the crowd chanted "Gatting go home!". Never blessed with an especially silver tongue, Gatting felt it all “just a bit of singing and dancing”.

Unlike the previous tours, which had been funded by private sponsors, Gatting and his team were paid directly by the apartheid regime.

The tourists have since been far happier to discuss their reasons than their regrets. Gatting had been harshly stripped of the England captaincy a little over a year after winning the Ashes in Australia. Clearly he felt no overwhelming loyalty to the TCCB. It was a time when cricketers weren't paid the substantial sums of today so perhaps were more easily swayed.

Yet their swift welcome back into the bosom of the authorities feels grubby. David Gravney, tour manager in 1990, became a well-respected ECB chairman of selectors in 1997. Gatting was back in the England team to tour India the moment his ban ended in 1992. Now, having never apologised, he has become the ceremonial figurehead of cricket's self-appointed moral anchor.

Gatting's treatment seems to jar with the authorities' more forceful condemnation of spot-fixers. Mervyn Westfield was sentenced to four-months in jail after admitting that he accepted £6,000 in return for conceding a set number of runs off an over in a Pro40 match against Durham in September 2009. He came forward and assisted the ECB's investigation of Danish Kaneria, hoping they would treat him with more understanding.

Instead he was banned from professional cricket for five years and club cricket for three. The ECB vehemently pursued his case, obtaining a summons from the High Court to compel him to appear at Danish Kaneria's ECB disciplinary panel.

Westfield felt abandoned by English cricket's governing institutions – the ECB and PCA – and few defended him after he spoke of his dismay at his treatment. “What a sad young man Mervyn Westfield must be to think that it was anyone's fault but his own that he sold the game down the river,” tweeted Mike Selvey.

Westfield was 21 years old and on the margins of the Essex team when he disgraced the game. Gatting was 33 and an Ashes-winning captain.


Brian Carpenter said...

There was always a strain in the British political and sporting establishment that failed to recognize the evil of apartheid and stuck with the view that it was wrong for South Africa to be excluded from international sport.

A few of these coals were raked over a few weeks ago when Margaret Thatcher died. She was widely known to have little or no interest in sport, but a few of her backbenchers (an individual called John Carlisle being the most prominent) held out in favour of sporting links being re-established well before they actually were.

In November 1992 I was at Twickenham for the first rugby international between England and South Africa since before isolation and had the misfortune to have to listeen to the President of the RFU, Peter Yarranton, welcome back the South African team with the clear implication that they should never have been away.

So, there are doubtless many within the MCC and elsewhere who'd need reminding of Gatting's past and considerable persuasion that there was anything wrong with it, either at the time, or with hindsight.

Anonymous said...

What a shame that intelligent commentators on radio and tv did not once raise a rememberance to what Gatting was up to, while celebrating his new appointment.
Come on Athers and co, have some gumption and speak.