Kerry O'Keeffe 'devastated' by Indian reaction to on-air comments
'I am coming to terms with how negatively those words have been interpreted. That interpretation is not who I am. It is not what I represent'
Commentator Kerry O'Keeffe has responded to the anger of India's team over his on-air comments during the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.* He has defended himself against the charge, widely levelled on social media, that his comments were racist, saying that "interpretation" was not what he represents.
On day one of the Test, O'Keeffe had run down debutant Mayank Agarwal's Ranji Trophy triple-century, saying it must have come against the "'Jalandhar Railways Canteen Staff".
On day four, having apologised once for his jibe about Agarwal, O'Keeffe riled up Indian fans all over again. O'Keeffe was getting some stick from his fellow commentators for struggling to pronounce some of the India players' names, when he said this: "Why would you call your kid Cheteshwar Jadeja?" mixing up the two names he had been struggling with and using a slight accent to pronounce them. It was accompanied by loud chuckles from the rest of the commentary box.
Both comments caused plenty of social-media backlash from Indian fans against O'Keeffe, a former Australia legspinner who played 24 Tests in the 1970s.
At the end of the Test match, O'Keeffe wrote his open letter on foxsports.com.au, saying he was "devastated" by the reaction to his comments.
"I am coming to terms with how negatively those words have been interpreted," O'Keeffe wrote. "That interpretation is not who I am. It is not what I represent. My style as a commentator is to attempt to find a quirky view to lighten up some of the serious analysis. When I made a remark about Indian first-class batting averages within their domestic cricket competition being made against a "canteen" bowling attack, I was being entirely tongue in cheek. I was certainly not disrespecting Indian cricket, where I toured as a schoolboy and for which I have the greatest admiration as a cricketing nation.
"I accept that some fans may not always relate to my sense of humour - but missing the mark on a joke between overs is vastly different to what I've been accused of on Twitter and in some sections of the media in recent days. I pride myself on doing extensive research before a match and when I stumbled over the names of Pujara and Jadeja on Day Four, I took a swipe at myself for getting them wrong.
"There was no intention to ridicule those two wonderful players and I am horrified by any suggestion to the contrary. I had spent months researching and analysing these two players and when the moment arrived, I stuffed it up. The joke was on me."
On day four of the Test, India's bowling coach Bharat Arun had said the comment about Agarwal's triple-century had "hurt" the team. ESPNcricinfo understands quite a few members of the team were furious over the comment.
"Yes, it does hurt you but when people make those remarks, there is nothing you can do about it," Arun said at the end of the fourth day's play. "It's beyond your control. If you can channelise that hurt towards doing better on the field that answers all the questions."
The team management, Arun said, was not planning to make an official complaint about O'Keeffe's comment. At that time, however, the team was unaware of the "Cheteshwar Jadeja" remark.
India head coach Ravi Shastri had delivered his riposte to O'Keeffe on day two, after Agarwal had scored a half-century. "Mayank's got a message for Kerry," Shastri said. "When you do open your canteen, he wants to come and smell the coffee. And he wants to compare it to the ones back home in India. Is the coffee better here in your canteen, or the one back home?"
While the Test featured plenty of banter between the players, the chat off the field wasn't all in good taste. Mitchell Marsh and Virat Kohli have been booed by the MCG crowd, and some of the spectators in the infamous Bay 13 had to be evicted after they were heard making racist chants of "show us your visa".
*December 30, GMT 0440 The story was updated to reflect the publication of O'Keeffe's open letter.