Of the two controversies which have afflicted the Dutch Topklasse over the past week, that relating to last Sunday’s abandoned match between HCC and VOC Rotterdam is clearly the more far-reaching and ultimately the more significant.
The other issue, over which of two conflicting rules about rankings on the league table should take precedence, and thus whether VOC or VRA Amsterdam should be the home side for their semi-final, is down to an unfortunate administrative error, and could perhaps best have been resolved by tossing a coin, or by playing the match at a neutral venue.
But the battle over the outcome of HCC’s walk-off at De Diepput after an allegedly racist remark made by VOC batter Dirk van Baren to HCC wicketkeeper Yash Patel, culminating in the KNCB Appeals Committee’s ruling on Friday that the match should be replayed, goes to fundamental issues which have plagued Dutch cricket for many years as well as giving rise to concerns about what may happen in the future.
Sunday’s match was inevitably highly charged: the sides went into it in third and fourth positions on the table, knowing that the winner would be guaranteed a place in the play-offs while the loser’s chances were dependent on results elsewhere.
The atmosphere was not helped by an incident in the fifth over when HCC were convinced that Van Baren had been caught but the umpires, after consulting, ruled that he was not out, but it exploded a dozen overs later, when an exchange of words between Patel and Van Baren led to the former walking off, followed by his teammates.
Twenty-five minutes later, after negotiations which also involved KNCB Match Referee Rob Kemming, HCC confirmed that they were not prepared to continue, and the match was abandoned.
Law 16.3 is quite unambiguous on the point: ‘a match shall be lost by a side which in the opinion of the umpires refuses to play. If so, the umpires shall award the match to the other side.’
This is essentially confirmed by the KNCB’s own Playing Conditions, merely adding a procedure whereby the Match Referee is the one who awards the match, but another key document, the Competitiereglement [Competition Rules], takes a more nuanced position.
Under article 8 of this document the KNCB Board may, ‘where neither team should be deemed to have lost the match’, order a replay, while ‘in exceptional cases’ it may decide not to impose any further penalty on a team which is deemed to have lost.
A note lays down that the normal tariff of penalties for a team which refuses to play shall be, for a first offence, a reduction of two points and a fine of €100.
In this case the Board accepted the Match Referee’s decision to award the match to VOC, but chose not to impose any further sanction, either in the form of a points penalty or a fine; this has now been overturned by the Appeals Committee after HCC appealed, ordering that the match be replayed.
There is no dispute that an abusive remark with racial overtones was made by Van Baren to Patel, and that is a matter which will be properly pursued through the KNCB’s disciplinary procedures.
But does it follow from this that HCC were justified in refusing to play, as the Appeals Committee’s decision appears to suggest?
That they should have walked off in solidarity with Patel is understandable, but to continue the protest even when it was explained to them that they risked forfeiting the match took the dispute to an entirely different level.
There have been instances in international cricket – the West Indies at Christchurch in 1980, India at Melbourne in 1981 – when a captain has come close to refusing to play, but only once, in the infamous Oval Test of 2006 between England and Pakistan, has the situation been allowed to deteriorate to the point at which the match was forfeited, an outcome which continued to reverberate, to nobody’s credit, for almost three years.
The strongest position HCC could have adopted would have been to make the protest and then return to finish the game, ideally with assurances that the disciplinary matter would be pursued to the fullest possible extent.
Instead, they chose to take the moral high ground, drawing the greatest possible attention to what they described in the announcement of their appeal as a ‘unique incident’.
Unfortunately, though, the incident, though undoubtedly unsavoury, is far from unique; rather, it is the tip of an iceberg of racial prejudice and misunderstanding which runs deep in Dutch cricket, and which has done so for many years.
Nor should that be surprising: cricket reflects the societies in which it is played, and racism, and specifically anti-immigrant feeling, is a feature, and indeed an increasingly evident feature with the rise of anti-immigrant parties, of Dutch society, as it is in many other Western societies.
This is a subject which deserves much more careful attention than it can be given here, and it is one to which we shall return.
But no-one who has had anything to do with Dutch cricket in recent decades can put their hand on their heart and say that they have never heard racist comments, on or off the field, and many would, if they were honest, admit that they had themselves made for such remarks.
As for the order that the match be replayed, although it appears that VOC had no objection to such an outcome, there is a real danger that it will open the way for sides in a losing situation to manipulate the circumstances in such a way that the match has to be abandoned, especially in the many games in which there are no official umpires.
If it is not to prove a sledger’s charter then the playing conditions need to be toughened in order to ensure that there is no repetition of Sunday’s unhappy events, at the same time reinforcing the message that there will be zero tolerance of racism in Dutch cricket, and indeed of any other violation of Law 42.
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