During the recent ODI series in India between India and Australia, Peter Lalor [See picture to the left, picture source, “The Australian“] has been in the news in India and elsewhere – perhaps even for the wrong reasons. Peter Lalor is a respected writer on cricket for “The Australian”. He is a passionate supporter of the Australian cricket team and is fervent enthusiast for the way Australia plays its cricket. He has been writing about cricket for a long time. However, he shot into prominence in the consciousness of the Indian public and Indian media because of his open and direct criticism of BCCI’s handling of racism taunts that Australian cricketer Andrew Symonds received from crowds in Vadodhara and Mumbai in the recently concluded ODI series against Australia and India.
Following this, Peter Lalor has been derided and lampooned in the Indian media and on blogs that carry Indian cricket content. He was also needlessly – in our view – branded an insensitive racist in some quarters of the Indian media. Some of this criticism was, we felt, way over the top. We, at i3j3cricket.wordpress.com, have been consistent in denouncing the ugly face of racism in India, while acknowledging that it is not a problem that only India faces. We did also, however, have a go at some of Peter Lalor’s views.
On his return from India, Peter Lalor took the trouble to visit this blog and commented on it.
We thought we would use the opportunity to talk to Peter Lalor – to get his views on cricket, Australian cricket, racism, sledging and a bevy of other things. If nothing else, we wanted to ensure that we did our bit to understand Peter Lalor, the man and his views.
i3j3: Tell us something about Peter Lalor, the person. Where were you born? Where do you live? Where did you study? Your cricket/sporting past?
Peter Lalor: Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way. I was born in Bendigo, a central Victorian town where I played cricket simultaneously for the junior and senior sides until I was 17. I retired [from cricket] when I went to Melbourne University as I had to work weekends to pay the rent. Cricket was the richer for my absence.
I now live in Sydney with my wife and two children who I am proud to say have learned to love the local Indian cuisine despite being only 9 and 12. They have been subject to years of their father’s obsession with all things from that region and grew up eating the roti and raita from their parents’ thali-s, before graduating to curries.
Our family goes to Australian Rules football matches in winter and tries to have a thali at a restaurant near the SCG before most games.
I spent almost two years in India as a younger man, falling in love with the country from the time my feet first touched a Benares road. I have travelled far and wide and often dreamed of living there.
i3j3: How and where did you start writing? And how did you start writing about cricket?
PL: I’ll take you up on one issue in your generous introduction. I have been writing about cricket on and off for some years, but have rarely been a dedicated cricket writer. More your drop in and out type. My first Test series in “cricket writer” capacity alone was 2004.
I have recently rejoined Malcolm Conn as a cricket writer on the paper. Until then I wrote for all sections of The Australian newspaper.
I was always called on to do specialist jobs in the past and that often included covering things like Steve Waugh’s last Test, his 100 at the SCG the year before, David Hookes death, the Ashes 2006-07 and Shane Warne’s complex failings.
The Hookes piece and a number of others were published in a book and a recent magazine piece on Ponting won the Australian Sports Commission Award.
i3j3: In your writings, you come across to us as a passionate fan of the Australian cricket team. Where do you derive that passion from?
PL: Forty years of being a fan are hard to overcome in a couple of years writing, but I would defend my professionalism by saying that when you cover a team as good as Australia you have to laud its achievements and by contrast you become very aware of where other teams fail to match up.
However, I would hope that when Australia plays badly I will be as honest about their failings. Time will tell.
i3j3: Are you passionate about any other team in world cricket today? Why?
PL: No. As I said all other teams fall short of the standard set by Australia in Test and One Day Internationals.
However, I will say that the achievement of Dhoni’s [India] team at the T20 was wonderful and I sincerely hope he can use that to build a good side for the longer forms of the game. The signs are positive but the hurdles are enormous.
I suppose I support India as a second team out of love for the country and admiration for Sachin [Tendulkar] and have to admit that my son and I cheered [India] to victory over England this year.
i3j3: How did it feel when you returned to Australia after the India-Australia ODI tour to learn that you were being branded as a racist?
PL: Shocked and sobered. I questioned myself and my writing a lot. I hope it was an error in reading the direct style of Australian journalism, but must take some blame even when I think I’m misunderstood as it is my job to be understood.
i3j3: What do terms like “racist” do to a person like you? How has it affected you?
PL: I suspect I will be more careful, but only slightly more careful, in my communication from here on in.
I was branded a racist in 2004 for posing a very veiled suggestion that Murali may throw. It is a judgment of his bowling not his race.
I have been branded racist this year for referring to Indian Gods in a piece about racism and will take that more seriously, although the piece was an attack on people who suggested the racist sections of the crowd were praying to Hanuman or Ganesh. A ridiculous excuse. I was attacking the excuse not the deity in question.
I was branded a racist for a piece that suggested the secular Andrew Symonds was a man of peace and the religious Sree should count himself lucky. The suggestion Symonds is a man of peace was an attempt to “take the piss” but done to point out that Sree was indeed lucky that he could taunt such a belligerent fellow and survive. This was not understood by many.
i3j3: Do you feel that you are being vilified in Indian media and Indian blogs for the opinions you have openly and directly stated?
PL: I was branded a racist by Headline television but they are unerringly sensational and quite often plain wrong. I was also branded racist on blogs which I take more seriously. I don’t feel vilified, just a little bewildered.
i3j3: How do you intend going about correcting that image that you seem to have acquired?
PL: I think (hope) these people were wrong, but perception is reality and I have to deal with it by being more sensitive to these perceptions in future.
I wish people had read the feature I wrote on Saturday 20th in The Weekend Australian which set out my views at length.
i3j3: What makes a comment racist as opposed to one that is rude or personal? Does there need to be a link with race, gender or some sort of generalisation? What specifically (in your view) made the comments against Andrew Symonds racist?
PL: Racism is clearly an attack on somebody that uses their race as an element of derision.
As a white man in a white-sliced-bread world I have little personal experience but Indians who travel must have great experience of this. Indeed living in a country that has a caste system and an inherent hierarchy of skin tones you should be acutely aware of this.
If I call an Indian a “creep” that is rude, if I call them a “black/brown creep” that has crossed the thin line.
Racism and sexism have been central elements of a dialogue and education process in Australia over the past two decades.
We had a lot to learn and still do.
The attack on Symonds was racist because the suggestion that black people are closer to apes/monkeys than white people is a Darwinian article of faith in the thinking of vile white supremacists.
i3j3: Several Australian crowds would often “send off” a departing Indian batsman with a “You drive a taxi” comment. In your view, is this a racist slur?
PL: It’s getting pretty close to a racist slur. I think it’s humiliating enough to warrant ejection from the ground.
i3j3: Are you planning on writing on this topic of racism in cricket?
PL: I think racism will be a hot topic this summer after the Symonds affair and with Sri Lanka and India in town there will be plenty of talk.
I pray my countrymen are on their best behaviour, but know that their xenophobia has been exploited by a ruthless government and that racism is a deep-seated ignorance that is hard to root out of many Australians.
[to be continued…]