• Prince walking a tightrope

    It’s not easy to form an absolute opinion from outside the boundary ropes, let alone 10 000km away, but Ashwell Prince is involved in one of the most sensitive cricket disciplinary issues imaginable.

    If – and that is admittedly said after only reading media reports of the alleged spat between him and Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale – ‘all’ that was said involved Prince being told to ‘f*** off back to your own country you Kolpak f*****’ towards the end of the county championship match, then I don’t see why Gale is being charged with racial abuse. If that’s the case then the world has gone mad.

    Professional sport is an unforgiving arena and obviously emotions get heated. It’s how you handle the hot moments that define the winners and the losers. Move your thumb and index finger three inches apart and place it on your forehead. That’s what makes the difference between two evenly matches teams or individuals.

    Prince, in his last season with Lancashire, has seen it all. He’s played 119 times for South Africa, has scored over 21 000 runs in First-Class and International cricket and is now 37 years old. Surely, if, ‘all’ that happened was that he was referred to as a Kolpak player – someone who is a foreigner to England but allowed to play professionally in that country – then he shouldn’t have allowed the matter to get this far. Clearly he believes there was more to it and we await to hear his side of the story.

    He broke his silence by telling Ballz Radio on Friday: ‘I took offence at the way he 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.

    ‘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.

    ‘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.’

    Gale is being investigated for making a comment with racial connotations and Prince left himself open to being ridiculed if Gale is found not guilty. Because the veteran South African has not moved on. In fact, the morning after the story broke that Gale was being charged, he tweeted: ‘Most people want to believe rather than to know, to take for granted rather than to find out’, a quote from the American cartoonist and author James Thurber.

    However, if Gale is cleared at the England and Wales Cricket Board’s disciplinary hearing, then there will be plenty of egg on Prince’s face. It’s a tightrope that he is walking at this stage because he has endorsed the ECB’s actions. In other words, Prince feels he was racially abused and if he was then it’s time to throw the book at Gale. Prince has dug his heels in on the matter and this one is not going to end with a handshake and a beer.

    Given his track record and reputation for playing hard but fair, it’s difficult to believe the South African would go to this level if he didn’t believe there was a racial insult thrown at him.

    But if Prince was not racially abused – and a personal opinion is that no way can the word Kolpak in itself be termed a racial insult – then he will be labelled as the South African who tried to ruin the career of a fellow professional cricketer. Gale, 30, is widely respected on the County circuit and has been playing at First-Class level for a decade.

    Whatever the decision is early in October, there can only be a winner and a loser. Time will tell whether that loser is Prince or Gale.

    Post by

    Gary Lemke