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'I react to bigotry the way Dravid does to chin music'
Excerpts from the interview
Subash Jayaraman: You are a Lieutenant Colonel in the Australian army, speech writer for the Army chief, David Morrison, served in East Timor amongst other places, and also a cricket writer. And you had a book published last summer, An Indian Summer of Cricket, which takes us through India's Test series down under in 2011-12. Let's begin with what motivated you to write the book.
Cate McGregor: I have always loved the game, although I did drift away from it. I stopped playing it in the 1980s and had a fairly complicated personal life, and I guess I lost my way both in life and cricket. I had not followed it with the passion that I was accustomed to as a young person, but I rekindled my love for cricket sometime in England in 2008 and I really became quite fixated on the England-India series in England in 2011 and recovered my passion for the game considerably. When India were coming to Australia that year, I thought it might be an appropriate time to write a book about cricket to reminisce about my love of the game and to reflect on what, by that stage, had been half my life. It just struck me as a nice time to do it and I got a writing surge. I know you write about cricket and love cricket. It was just a burst of passion that prompted me to write the book.
SJ: The book comes across as an autobiography woven into the Test series, mixing with your primary area of expertise, which is the army, politics, geopolitics - everything mingled with cricket.
CM: Yes, the book did mark something of a passage, something of a memoir as well as a traditional tour book. I tend to have a very self-revelatory way of writing. I tend to weave myself into the narrative. I think the Americans call this gonzo journalism. While I am not conscious of doing that, it just seems to be the way I write. Eventually I view events through the prism of my own experience.
I learnt a good lesson from Rahul Dravid. He gave a wonderful speech [at the Bradman Oration] down here. He said that he thought it was a mistake to use military analogies to describe sports, that it rather underestimated the sacrifices of the people in war. Having said that, I have spent most of my life studying the art of war and military history. So, invariably, I sometimes use military analogies to describe other life situations for better or for worse.
SJ: You make a comment in the book where you wonder if Australian cricket could produce a man like Rahul Dravid and you seemed to conclude that it could not. Why so?
CM: When Rahul gave that Bradman Oration, he was the oldest man in Test cricket. He was a fully formed individual. He was a grown-up and he lived a rich life. I think players from the subcontinent, growing up through that and coming from a country from such extremes of life standards, I think it tends to mature the Indian players. The Australians tend to be much more privileged. I think our young men quite often are the products of either being a single child in a family or they are part of a small family and are very rich. They tend to get a bit spoilt and they are doted on by their parents. There is a kind of a Darwinian selection process amongst Indian players. It gives them a number of qualities. One of them is humility, which I don't see a lot often in some of our younger players.
In the case of Dravid, I think he is one of the rarest of human beings. He is an exemplary man as well as an exemplary cricketer. [Players from the subcontinent] seem to be marinated in a very deep and old civilisation and it shows in the way they conduct themselves. I don't like to say it as a patriotic Australian, but I think there is brashness among some of our younger players that is not entirely edifying and not sometimes in the best traditions of the game.
I would exempt a few of the current crop coming through, though - Ed Cowan, with whom I have developed a bit of a friendship lately. He is a thoughtful man, he thinks deeply about the game and conducts himself very well, as do many others.
VVS Laxman was another player that I met on that tour. They were men who were in the twilight of their carers and they were fully formed human beings and I felt immense admiration for them.
SJ: You are in a unique position because you have the love of cricket and you come from a military background. In Mike Brearley's recent Bradman Oration, he quoted John Arlott Arlott, saying, "Nothing in cricket has the slightest importance when set against a single death from violence in Northern Ireland", and quoting Bill Shankly, he says, "Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much more important than that." That is kind of two extremes. You mentioned Rahul Dravid mentioning the military/war metaphors used in cricket. How do you see it?
CM: When Rahul gave that speech, he delivered it at the Australian War Memorial. He made two important points. One is that many people think that Australians and Indians only have cricket in common, but he made it very clear that Indian soldiers fought alongside Australians in Gallipoli and indeed in many theatres of war. Most Australians are unaware of that. He also said that in a venue as sacred as that, it felt profane to use terms like "battle", "fight" and "war" in describing cricket because even though much is at stake in cricket, nothing compares to the sacrifice of human life. I agree with him on that.
The other thing about similarities between war and cricket is, I think, the seismic changes in the global system that have occurred since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War have impacted cricket and warfare in similar ways. What I mean by that is that the fragmentation of the global system - the proliferation of non-state actors, whether they be terrorist organisations, private military companies, trans-national corporations - all undermine the hegemony and call upon the loyalties of the citizens of the nation state.
When I was a young fellow growing up, if one of my peer group wanted to play for Australia, they would have cut off their arm to wear a Baggy Green cap. I am now involved in a coaching company with a former Kent player, Simon Cusden. We are running into young men now who bowl three overs and say, "I have done enough." We ask them why, and they say, "I will never bowl more than three overs. I only want to play 20-over cricket." Globalisation is changing the power mix in cricket and it is changing the power mix in war and international relations.
One of the other points Rahul Dravid made in his Bradman Oration is that the television rights in India making the game accessible. This is to be commended. He told a very moving story about Munaf Patel. When Munaf Patel turned up as the fastest bowler in India, there was no road into the village where he lived. The media built that. He talked about Zaheer Khan never bowling with a real cricket ball until he was 19. So the money from IPL, the money from television rights, is doing wonderful things.
I think Australia is peculiarly undermined by T20 cricket, and that is our own fault. I am not begrudging television rights and I am not begrudging players' good incomes. We have scheduled the T20 really badly here, in my view. It is undermining the technique of players and disrupting the preparations of marginal Test players. That is purely a domestic Australian problem.
I think India are handling T20 cricket better than we are, because you have got some fine white-ball cricketers coming through, but you also have a raft of fantastic young Test batsmen coming through. I think this is a matter that CA has to look at and has to basically not be so greedy in the scheduling of 20-over cricket. I note that the players met informally last week to take a submission to Cricket Australia to that effect, because they are feeling that short-over cricket is starting to undermine their technique as well.
SJ: I want to talk about a dramatic shift in your personal life, which is that you transitioned from being a man, Malcolm McGregor, to Catherine McGregor. You mention in the book that you were diagnosed as transgender in 1985 but you chose to repress it. Did you seek the diagnosis or did it come through in some other ways?
"There is a kind of a Darwinian selection process amongst Indian players. It gives them a number of qualities. One of them is humility, which I don't see a lot often in some of our younger players"
CM: I'm a standard transperson, in that I had complications about my gender very young. I was very aware of being conflicted but I didn't have the language for it. As a young boy, I was very drawn to the female role but I also liked being a boy in many ways, one of which was I adored cricket. I was a good cricketer coming through. I was aware that I had cross-gendered feelings at a young age. That is very standard with transpeople. I believe I am fairly standard, but I know other transwomen who knew really young and literally could not change gender quickly enough - they transitioned in their teens. I took longer, that was my journey. I married, I lived a very conventional male life in many ways, although I was always distressed about my gender.
In 1985, I was quite suicidal, and it's very hard to put into grammar, but it's incredibly powerful and distressing. So I sought psychiatric care from a person who specialised in this area, and that doctor diagnosed me as being transgendered. At that time, however, I had no role models to aspire to. Most of the transpeople that I was aware of were either working in female-impersonator shows, or they were working on the fringes of the sex industry. I was something of an overachiever. I just didn't know how I could live the life I aspired to and transition genders. So I wrestled with my feelings and just tried to live on. In the end I decided, the only bearable way for me to live my life was to transition genders. I did that and I'm immensely happy. I only wish that I had done that a long time ago.
SJ: You were part of an institution that is very much a male bastion - the military. What kind of role did that play in you willing to suppress it and live on as a male? Also, eventually, you end up writing about cricket, which is also a male bastion.
CM: Yes, subconsciously I chose very masculine pursuits. I played sport. I was an army officer. I went into a combat arm, the infantry. I think what I did was that I really applied myself to excelling at those things. In terms of how I was perceived, I have spoken to my friends since and they were all convinced that I was a well-adjusted heterosexual male, and to an extent I was. Although at the deepest levels, I was very much in pain. Since transition, my friends have told me that the contrast between Malcom and Cate is quite staggering and leaves them somewhat aghast, but none of them ever entertained any doubt that I was male when I was living as a male.
SJ: The Indian Summer has so many different connotations. You were falling in love with cricket again in your later years, in the afternoon of your life, this new life, rediscovering yourself, being adjusted to who you are, being comfortable to be out with it. In the book, you mention only in the last chapter your [gender] transition. What were your thoughts as you were writing the book?
CM: I covered the tour starting with New Zealand at the 'Gabba in November and that summer was very, very difficult. I stayed in hotels in some of the cities where the Test matches were being played, and they were some of the most loneliest and distressing times that I have ever lived through. It was a hideous summer in some ways, and I don't know how I finished the book.
I came back from the Adelaide Test match and you might recall [from the book], I encountered the Indian team on their way home on the last day of that summer. I started writing the following weekend and I wrote it in a compressed period of about six or seven weeks. During that time I found the writing kind of healing. The way I'd explain it is, I knew by then it was almost like the book was the last will and testament for the life I had lived, and I felt it was that closure in the book.
SJ: How has it been since? I have seen some of your interviews on YouTube, with Trans Health Australia and others. The internet is a fertile ground for trolls - ignorant, close-minded people. How has it been overall for you in terms of your workplace, your colleagues - both in the military and in cricket writing?
CM: In terms of the workplace in the military, it has been wonderful. I have been admirably supported by the Chief of the Army, David Morrison, who is now globally renowned for his courageous and principled stand on equality, especially gender equality, in the Australian army. The cricket fraternity have exceeded any reasonable expectations. I have had some wonderful, household names in global cricket, like Rahul Dravid, who sent me a beautiful message on the eve of the launch of my book, Gideon Haigh, Jim Maxwell.
In terms of the trolls, I kind of regard them now as sledges from the slip cordon. I just ignore them. I keep batting. I am "not out", and they can keep saying what they like. My admiration for Dravid has oozed out in this interview, as it invariably does, I have a sticker on my refrigerator that says "I never saw Rahul react to a sledge", and I never react to them any more.
On a couple of occasions, I wasn't my best self when I engaged them, and it was a mistake because I am a role model for other transwomen, and I wear the Queen's uniform with great pride, and I hold an Order of Australia. My behaviour must be beyond reproach. Jousting with small-minded, ignorant, profane people online is beneath me. I kind of now react the way RS Dravid does to chin music. Let it go through, walk out to square leg and compose myself, come back for the next ball.
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Subash's introduction to cricket began with enduring sledging from his brothers during their many backyard cricket sessions. His fascination with the game took hold in 1983, but mostly it was the cricket commentary over All India Radio, about the water-tight front-foot defence of Gavaskar that did it. @thecricketcouch