Questions that will jolt Vaughan's conscience

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Pity Michael Vaughan if he ever has to explain to a grandson the concept of "duty" forced upon him when he led a team of English cricketers to Zimbabwe in the benighted year of 2004.

Pity Michael Vaughan if he ever has to explain to a grandson the concept of "duty" forced upon him when he led a team of English cricketers to Zimbabwe in the benighted year of 2004.

Maybe it would go something like this... Duty to what, grandad? The duty of following your own instincts, not as a sports star, perhaps, but an ordinary man?

Not really, boy, I hated the idea of being in a country where human rights had been driven into the ground. No, I did it because if the game I played had any kind of future in our country and if it was to go on providing me with a living good enough to provide your dad and his brothers and sisters with a decent education and a good life, it was clear the team had to go.

But why did you have to go, grandpops, couldn't you have said, gentleman, include me out? Well, some of us had to go and I was the captain. I couldn't stay at home and then expect to take over the job again when the team moved to South Africa to play the five big Test matches. You spend most of your life working towards a goal and then when you achieve it it is not so easy just to walk away.

What was so wrong about playing cricket in Zimbabwe?

The feeling was that it would give something known as aid and succour to one of the most loathsome governments on the face of the earth, which at the time was saying quite a lot. Two of Zimbabwe's best cricketers, Andy Flower and Henry Olonga, were very much against it. They risked a bad conversation in the night by wearing protest armbands against the situation inflicted by the government of Robert Mugabe. Everyone, and especially our government, was very impressed by their bravery, at least at the time.

What did Flower and Olonga say was so wrong about that situation?

Well, they said that democracy and most other forms of decency had been put to death in their country.

What did our government say about this?

Oh, quite a lot. Basically they agreed with Andy and Henry. They said we shouldn't go. We would be doing that aid and succour thing.

Didn't they order you not to go? No. They said they would leave it to our consciences.

Why didn't they say, look gentleman, this just isn't on? You can't go there aiding and succouring a government that has turned a rich and fertile country back into the stone age, a regime which, in some ways, is as viciously racist as the South African one which was treated as a pariah for many years and, in the end, with excellent results. For one thing, couldn't the government have said, we're not going to let you?

They couldn't do that. In fact if you had suspended every individual cabinet minister over a vat of boiling oil it seemed you couldn't persuade them to do it.

Grandfather, on what point of arcane principle did they stand?

It would have been far too expensive. The International Cricket Council - the game's ruling body - had said that if we didn't go to Zimbabwe we would be suspended from international cricket, and that would have been very costly indeed.

How expensive?

Well, when you added up all the lost revenue from TV fees and sponsorships, it would have been £50m in old British currency, and just for starters. Furthermore, one of the greatest incentives for my generation of English cricketers, a possible victory over the great Australian team the following summer, would have been swept away.

But, grandad, didn't that particular government of ours cough up mounds of taxpayers' money on failed bids for World Cups and Olympic games and continue with the despised Tory practice of flogging off school playing fields? Didn't they squander vastly more on the building which used to stand on that waste ground on the banks of the Thames? And didn't they whip up huge parades and receptions whenever any of our sportsmen and women, rising above one of the poorest sports infrastructures in the developed world, managed to win something?

One small problem was that the government couldn't very well order us not to play cricket in Zimbabwe, and provide compensation, if they were not prepared to do that to an army of businessmen still eager to do trade with people underpinning Mugabe's regime.

So you didn't pack up your togs and go off to Zimbabwe with any real appetite for the ensuing action? No, not at all. In fact I said at the time: "We leave on Monday and I think it is clear we are making a stance in itself because we are not going to Zimbabwe until 24 November. We go to Namibia for our preparation and fly to Zimbabwe before the first one-day game."

As stances go, grandpa, it maybe wasn't quite on the same level of the Spanish Nationalist general who, when told that the Republicans held his son and were about to shoot him if the garrison wasn't surrendered immediately, spoke down the telephone to his first-born, saying, "Commend your soul to God and cry Viva España."

Well, grandson, the Spanish are quite a passionate people. Those were different times.

But don't you wish you had felt a little rush of the blood, that you had told the ICC where to go with their blackmail, and also told the government that if they weren't prepared to react meaningfully to the difference between right and wrong as long as it wasn't spelled down the hot-line from Washington, there were still a few English cricketers who were?

When you put it like that, maybe I do. But then one day, you'll be an old man, too, and perhaps everything will not seem so wonderfully straightforward. In the meantime, while we're talking about cricket, how many times do I have to tell you to get your head in line with the ball?

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