MUMBAI: Former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq's sensational testimony to the parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) panel on Tuesday on the rampant racism he encountered in the county team has left English cricket shaken.
It has also opened old wounds of former cricketers of south Asian descent who've played and later worked in England. On Wednesday, ex-India wicketkeeper Farokh Engineer, who played for a long time for Lancashire in the 70s and went on to live in England for the rest of his life, revealed to TOI that years ago, he encountered "racial discrimination" while starting out as a commentator in England.
Engineer's plight further underlines how deeply racism is entrenched in English cricket. It is good that the issue is being discussed threadbare and authorities are taking note. But to make a real change, they should also start imposing punitive measures for such behaviour.
"I faced a bit of discrimination when I started out as a commentator in England. There were a couple of individuals who made the odd comment which didn't sound right. There were occasions when I overheard one or two comments, snide remarks from them about me which were distasteful. It was apparent that they didn't want me because of my colour, my Indian heritage. They didn't expect me to overhear it. When I confronted them about it, they shut up straight away," Engineer, who played 46 Tests for India and was one of the heroes of the Indian team which won its maiden series in England in 1971, told TOI from Manchester on Wednesday.
Engineer, though, managed to find his place in the BBC's Test Match Special team, and commentated during the 1983 World Cup in England, which India went on to win. "My fellow commentators like Brian Johnston, who was the chief commentator in TMS those days, and Christopher Martin-Jenkins were absolutely great. They totally loved my commentary. Had it not been for them, I wouldn't have been there in the TMS team. I was the only South Asian in it," recalled the 83-year-old.
Engineer stressed that he never "never faced racism at Lancashire," "though he did hear the odd comment while playing county cricket." "You did find the odd person making derogatory comments in county cricket, but these were all very odd instances. Cricketers from South Africa and Zimbabwe would make fun of our (Indian) accent. I can recall a former England captain doing that. I would pull such people up on their faces. They didn't have the guts to say anything after that," reminisced Engineer, who scored 2611 Test runs @31.08, including two Test hundreds.
Even though Lancashire is Yorkshire's neighbouring county, things, when it comes to racism, were much better off in his county, Engineer said. "Thank God I played for the 'Red Rose' (Lancashire), AND NOT the 'White Rose' (Yorkshire). Over the years, there have been all sorts of rumours going on about Yorkshire. I've heard many things, but not experienced anything personally," he said.
The racists at Yorkshire, he felt, targeted the 'little-known' players like Rafiq, rather than the big guns. "When Sachin (Tendulkar) played for Yorkshire (in 1992), he was received very well, I don't think he received any racial slurs, but only Sachin could answer that. They would only pick on little-known players, I guess," he observed.
"In Lancashire, both I and Clive Lloyd (former West Indies captain) are life vice-presidents of the club. We've both been elected as legends of the club. Both I and Clive were senior members of the team and were highly respected in the dressing room. We were the two overseas stars of Lancashire, who carried the team," recalled Engineer.
His former Lancashire captain, David 'Bumble' Lloyd, and ex-England skipper Michael Vaughan too have been under fire from Rafiq. "Bumble' has apologized to Rafiq. As our teammate at Lancashire, he never made any derogatory remarks about me or Clive. He was always full of praise for us. I can't comment on Vaughan. I've done several 'presentations' with Vaughan. We've always had mutual respect for each other," said Engineer.
Talking about Rafiq's strong allegations of facing racial discrimination, Engineer said: "He spoke very well, he was quite confident about his views. I didn't think he was bluffing. I'm glad that somebody has come out with this. The very fact that the Yorkshire county didn't make that report (on his allegations) public, shows that they were guilty.
"I'm happy that Yorkshire and the ECB, who should have stepped in and done something, have held their hand up and confessed they did not do enough to curb this menace."