County news September 19, 2014

Gale racism case increasingly tangled

Usman Khawaja's alleged involvement deepens the intrigue as the ECB struggles to formulate a decisive stance on abuse, sledging and darker forms of misbehaviour

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Usman Khawaja, Lancashire's Australia batsman, has been named as the driving force behind the official complaint to the ECB that sees Andrew Gale facing formal allegations of racial abuse which, if he is found guilty, will bring the risk of a record ban.

Although exact details of Khawaja's involvement have not been made public, the Daily Mail has alleged that Khawaja was "the leading figure in taking the case further than the Level 2 charge originally brought by the umpires for dissent".

Khawaja has potentially become the MS Dhoni to Ashwell Prince's Ravindra Jadeja in a case that has vague echoes - although with the charge of racism attached - of the stand-off between India and England during the Test series this summer.

Khawaja was batting at the time with Prince when Gale, who was increasingly infuriated by Lancashire's timewasting tactics on the third evening of the Roses Championship match, launched into a tirade, telling Prince to "f*** off back to your own country you Kolpak f*****".

The umpires, Steve O'Shaughnessy and Steve Garrett, immediately lodged a Level 2 dissent charge which saw Gale suspended for the last two Championship matches of the season, with previous charges also taken into consideration, and controversially banned from taking any part in the trophy presentation after Yorkshire won the Championship at Trent Bridge.

Khawaja, according to the Mail, then pushed for Gale's outburst to dealt with more severely - leading to Gale to become the first England county cricketer to be charged of a racism offence when Gerard Elias QC, head of the ECB's disciplinary committee, decided that a formal hearing was necessary.

Khawaja, now back in Australia, has not yet had the opportunity to comment. It is believed that he was interviewed by the ECB before he returned to Australia, but after Elias lodged further charges against Gale.

Widespread derision that the term "Kolpak" could be termed racist has caused the ECB to adjust its ground and privately to brief that it is effectively concentrating attention on only half the sentence - to whit, whether Gale's rejoinder to "f*** off back to your own country" can be construed as racist under the Race Relations Act and Equality Act or whether it is just another example of the abuse with a dollop of knee-jerk xenophobia thrown in, which Yorkshire insist is endemic in the game.

The ECB must take this opportunity to provide leadership, stop hiding behind the Spirit of Cricket, and restate strong guidelines to umpires about how it expects the professional game to be run

The involvement of Lancashire in supporting the case against Gale has not yet been made clear. Khawaja has been recalled by Queensland and will not be available to play the final Championship match of the season against Middlesex next week, which Lancashire need to win handsomely to avoid relegation. They have been most anxious that the hearing should not coincide with that match, which could also lead to Prince being unavailable. Such a clash would also not go down well with Sky, which has chosen to televise the match.

In his first public appearance since the affair escalated, Gale displayed the Championship trophy at Elland Road on Saturday during Leeds United's derby against Huddersfield Town and, even as a Huddersfield supporter, received resounding applause.

Far from parading remorse, Yorkshire will defend Gale with a top legal team. They will pursue their conviction that the ECB must give serious attention to an increasing failure by umpires to manage the game and insist that Gale must not be scapegoated on the grounds of a forensic interpretation of a single retaliatory phrase at a time when sledging is incessant and gamesmanship has reached epidemic proportions.

This view has already been expressed in writing to the ECB but it is likely to act as mitigation, at best, as the ECB wrestles with an affair which has become a political minefield. This summer, the ECB successfully defended England's fast bowler James Anderson against charges of physical violence and personal abuse towards Jadeja and also remained silent when British Indians shouted at Moeen Ali to "f*** off home" during the ODI at Edgbaston - less difficult than they might have imagined as he is Birmingham born and lives a couple of miles down the road.

Anderson's comments that his clash with Jadeja should have been sorted there and then emphasises the conviction in the England camp that abuse is part and parcel of the modern game. The ICC seemed to uphold that view when, in the absence of video evidence and with the testimonies of witnesses on both sides condemned by the judicial commissioner Gordon Lewis as hopelessly biased, Lewis found both players not guilty.

One view expressed in ECB high office is that "at least we will know where we stand" when the Gale ruling is made. On what constitutes racism, it is true that the lawyers will provide an expensive education and Gale, whatever the outcome, will be branded for life. But it suggests a governing body struggling to provide a coherent message.

Prince himself said that he had not viewed Gale's outburst as racist when he spoke to a South African radio station - and although that was in direct answer to a question on the Kolpak phrase, Yorkshire will seize on the remark. Prince made no reference to Khawaja's alleged involvement.

But on the general topic of player behaviour, on the abuse and gamesmanship that is spreading to all levels of the game, this regrettable episode gives the ECB an opportunity to provide leadership, stop hiding behind the sham of the Spirit of Cricket, as well intentioned as it was, and restate strong guidelines to umpires about how it expects the professional game to be run. Only if that is a beneficial outcome of the Gale investigation will cricket be the better for it.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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