“I DIDN’t stand there and think that might be a racial slur.”
With those 12 words, Ashwell Prince might just have crippled the case against Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale, who stands accused by the England and Wales Cricket Board of racially abusing the Lancashire batsman during the County Championship Roses match in Manchester earlier this month.
Angered by Prince’s timewasting and alleged comment that Gale should “f*** off” back to his fielding position, the Yorkshireman is said to have replied, “Well, you can f*** off back to your own country, you Kolpak f*****”.
Kolpak players are those born outside England but able to play in this country as non-overseas players due to European Law, prompting some disquiet among county cricketers that they are taking the place of local products, which is the context in which Gale made his outburst.
Gale was reported at the time of the incident to the ECB by umpires Steve O’Shaughnessy and Steve Garratt, who overheard the exchange, and quickly found guilty of a Level 2 offence under the governing body’s disciplinary code: using language or gesture that is obscene or of a serious insulting nature to another player, umpire, referee, team official or spectator.
As Gale had already been disciplined for showing dissent at an umpiring decision in the corresponding match at Headingley in May, when he was wrongly given out by umpire Peter Willey and the decision overturned, he received an automatic two-match ban that kept him out of the last two games of the Championship campaign.
In announcing this ban, the ECB also said that their own Cricket Discipline Commission (CDC) would consider whether further action should be taken against Gale, which was subsequently revealed to be the alleged racist aspect to his words.
With this part of the disciplinary process ongoing, the ECB also blocked Gale from lifting the Championship trophy after the match at Trent Bridge last week, only telling Yorkshire the night before that he would not be allowed to take part in the presentation ceremony.
But with Gale facing a CDC hearing early next month, when he could receive a further ban and/or fine, Prince would appear to have thrown a spanner in the works while also showing that it is the ECB – rather than Prince or Lancashire – who are driving the matter.
Speaking about the incident for the first time on the South African internet radio station Ballz Radio, Prince said: “I took offence at the way he (Gale) spoke to me. To be quite honest, I didn’t stand there and think that might be a racial slur. The guy walked towards me and had a go and I defended myself. The ECB feel it has racial connotations and it’s up to them to do whatever they want to do.”
In fact, Prince, a black South African, seemed more concerned with insisting that he did not start the confrontation rather than confirming any suggestion of racial abuse, with Lancashire also thought to believe the matter has been blown out of all proportion.
Prince also admitted he had time-wasted as his side battled in vain to save the game.
“I don’t think I’ve come across anyone in my 270-odd first-class matches who has abused a fielder for moving from backward point to silly point, so to suggest I sparked off this incident is laughable,” said Prince.
“I didn’t say anything. I was stood in the middle of the pitch as it was coming to cut-off time, they were bowling two spinners and wanted to bowl as many overs as possible. Obviously, the experienced player I am, I was stood in the middle of the pitch tying up my thigh pad and taking as long as possible to make sure there would only be one more over.
“He’s taken offence to this – it’s a ploy of timewasting, I’ll admit this but everyone who has ever played the game has done it, it’s nothing new – and he’s come from backward point to silly point, walking in my direction, and hurled a whole lot of abuse at me.
“Those who know me and those who have played against me know I will not tolerate that type of thing. I defended myself and whatever was said, was said.”
Whatever the rights and wrongs of this unsavoury episode, and regardless of who started it, the ECB would appear to find themselves in something of a corner.
It will be interesting to see how Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, reacts to Prince’s comments and whether the governing body go through with the case or perhaps even drop it.
At present, Gale stands accused of racially abusing someone who has publicly stated that he has not been racially abused.
In the interests of commonsense, surely the charge should be immediately shelved.