A Delayed ResponseMartin Chandler |
Two weeks ago our feature Racial Slur or Misunderstanding? appeared. Two of the main characters in the story were the writer of the article which caused the furore, Robert Henderson, and the respected author and former editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly, David Frith. Henderson took the opportunity that was offered to him to respond to the article on the CricketWeb Discussion Forum. Frith had no wish to post a response, but he has been kind enough to allow us to reproduce here an article/book review that appeared in the August 1998 catalogue of specialist cricket bookseller Bodyline Books, a dealership that has become Sportspages. The article can also be found in the 2010 published anthology of Frith’s work, Frith on Cricket
A Delayed Response
Ethnic Cleansing in Bosnia, genocide in the Congo, India and Pakistan at nuclear loggerheads – and people are still going on about a goddam magazine article published three years ago.
Thus wrote a friend of mine upon hearing that the notorious article by Robert Henderson in the July 1995 edition of Wisden Cricket Monthly was still, three years later, an obsession for a few who habitually dip their pens in pots of acid and schadenfreude. The article, you might recall, had examined the possibility that foreign-born cricketers might occasionally have problems in mustering the fullest commitment when playing for England. Several players sued Wisden, who chose not to defend themselves. There were apologies and large financial settlements. And the controversy came in useful as part of an excuse to dismiss me as editor seventeen years after I had founded the magazine.
Devon Malcolm (who was mentioned just once, in passing, in the WCM article) and Phil DeFreitas (who now comes badly out of his former team-mate’s book) were the key beneficiaries in that affair, so it is no surprise that Malcolm gives it a few pages in his autobiography. “Even my detractors would surely acknowledge that I’d always tried my utmost,” he writes. Agreed. In which case how come he feared that his reputation would be damaged by that article? Ah, well . . .
What shocks and disappoints is that he tells two gross fibs about me. He’d rung me up – he says on page 140 – to ask why I’d published the article, and I’m supposed to have told him that the subject was a matter for legitimate debate. I haven’t talked with Malcolm since January 21, 1991, when he declined my invitation to a meal with other England players while they were in Queensland.
Two pages on he states that I “kept making desperate calls” to him in 1995 to try to reach a compromise after the article had appeared. Equally untrue and deplorable. He has been asked to explain these distortions, but I have not had the courtesy of a reply.
The challenge of reviewing Malcolm’s book is therefore unusual. I’ve heard it described as “sour” and “miserable”. Another Henderson – Michael of The Times – saw it as “ghosted pap” and Malcolm as a “moderate bowler” on whom “no captain could rely”. He also recreates the scene as England celebrated an amazing victory over Australia at Edgbaston in 1997: Malcolm scurrying around begging players to scribble on memorabilia for his benefit. “For goodness sake, Dev,” said Atherton, “can’t you just enjoy this moment with the rest of the boys?”
So by now I’m beginning to feel almost sorry for the chap. Perhaps I could find something appealing to write about the book? I’d been as thrilled as anybody by his rare five-star performances, especially the 9 for 57 against South Africa in 1994, and I’d held my head when he bowled trash. I’d also written in outrage in WCM when, as a clueless No.11 batsman, he had been peppered with bouncers in Tests.
The delightful Arthur Mailey used to boast that he once bowled tripe and now he was writing it. There are similarities here, though there is nothing delightful about the dubious claims which undermine Malcolm’s book. His ugly spat with Ray Illingworth and coach Peter Lever was about his bowling. He rejected the notion that he should run through straighter; and yet here (p.21) he recalls accepting the identical advice given him by Michael Holding way back when Jamaican-born Malcolm was still registered with Derbyshire as an overseas player. When he toured West Indies with England in 1990, the taunts of the Jamaican spectators “was definitely putting me off”, which is equally interesting.
He knows a bit about trumped-up rows too, for that is the way he describes the Derbyshire v TCCB affair, when Micky Stewart offered to go north to give him special coaching, and the club chairman took loud exception.
There are further moans about a lack of discussion with Illingworth and Atherton. But does he not have a tongue? Then he says he could have sued over the “nonentity” label given him by Lever. Why not? He had already brought the board of Wisden to their knees. Might there have been reflection that the legal success was not a universally acclaimed victory? Then comes the insistent whinge at being omitted from the Durban Test, even though the selectors were vindicated when Ilott, Martin and Richard Illingworth took 10 for 145 in South Africa’s only innings.
He poured out his grievances to the Express upon his return, thus breaking his contract. He blames the man from the TCCB for that, for not talking him out of it, would you believe? Malcolm had also amazingly stooped to playing the race card (“I was naive”). He says he only wanted the right of reply. Well, sometimes we’re denied this; and you can only vent it all to your poor wife. We seem to have that much in common.
My annotated copy of this pathetic book might, I suppose, make interesting reading one day. “Why not give me a chance?” Malcolm bleats at Edgbaston in ’97. “A bad delivery has been known to dismiss a Test batsman.” This, I simply had to scribble, is something no great Test bowler would ever be reduced to claiming. And who is he trying to kid when he says that it “wasn’t in my nature to make a fuss?” He seems to have done little else over the past few years.
“I never bothered reading Illingworth’s book,” Devon Malcolm asserts. Well, he ought to. And mine too while he’s at it.