(ESPNCricinfo) – The players, support staff and umpires all took a knee on the field yesterday, with each member of the West Indies team wearing a black glove on his right hand, which he raised in a fist while kneeling.
After rain delayed start of play in Southampton by three hours until 14:00hrs, both teams stood in a semi-circle around the pitch to observe a minute’s silence for those persons, who have lost their lives in the COVID-19 pandemic, and for Sir Everton Weekes who died on July 1, aged 95.
Immediately afterwards, the players – along with umpires Richard Kettleborough and Richard Illingworth – took up their positions and all dropped to one knee, with the fielding West Indies players raising their gloved hand. England batsmen Rory Burns and Dom Sibley knelt at the crease as the rest of the England and West Indian players and support staff knelt down around the boundary in a powerful show of solidarity.
Roddy Estwick, West Indies assistant coach, said at the close of play that his side had wanted “to make a statement”.
“For me it was a good feeling because we have to make change,” Estwick said. “For us it’s all about equality, it’s all about honesty, it’s all about treating everybody equally and for us that was very, very important. Fortunately enough we were able to make a statement so we were happy as a group to do it and I thought it was really wonderful to see England supporting us as well.”
Both teams had spoken about their intention to make a gesture in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis, in the United States, which sparked a series of demonstrations around the world. Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died after a White police officer restrained him by pressing down on his neck with a knee for more than seven minutes while he was handcuffed.
While the gloves were reminiscent of the Black Lives Matter logo worn by both teams on their shirts, in which the ‘A’ in ‘Black’ is replaced by a clenched fist, and of the black power salute by athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics, Estwick said it was more about the West Indies team having a point of difference from other sporting teams who had shown support for the movement.
Many protesters have “taken a knee”, referencing Colin Kaepernick, the former National Football League (NFL) quarterback, who famously knelt during a rendition of the US national anthem at an NFL game while representing San Francisco 49ers to protest against police brutality and racial injustice in 2016.
“Everybody else came up with their way of doing things and that was our way of showing our support to the Black Lives Matter campaign,” Estwick said. “We just felt we wanted to do something slightly different. Everybody was taking a knee and raising the right hand and we felt that if we wanted to make a bigger statement, and have more impact, that we would wear the black gloves and that’s something that we all decided to do.”
In June, the ICC said it would take a “common sense” approach to players “using their platform to appropriately express their support for a more equitable society” with such expressions to be “assessed on a case-by-case basis by the match officials”. In the past, the ICC has acted when players have made statements that could be considered political.
Graham Thorpe, the England assistant coach, said it was “important to show solidarity with the West Indies” side.
“The bottom line is that we feel that there is no room for racism in our sport and from the England team perspective today it was good to show that solidarity with the West Indies,” Thorpe said.
“Children from different backgrounds and races and religions, you want them to be able to stand together. That’s the type of thing which we spoke about yesterday as a team and if that’s a start from the England cricket team today to show that, then we’re proud to have done it.”
The worldwide protests have sparked discussion on systemic racism within sport, including cricket. Michael Carberry, the former England batsman, claimed “cricket is rife with racism”, while Darren Sammy has spoken out, revealing he was given a racist nickname while playing in the IPL.
Yesterday’s gesture followed a powerful segment on Sky Sports’ match coverage in which broadcasters Michael Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent gave impassioned accounts of their own experiences of racism within the game.
Last month, Holding told ESPNcircinfo: “There is no single person responsible for systemic racism and that’s why people have to come together to beat it. And you have to change it from the grassroots, systematically.
“The burden of change, though, shouldn’t be on the kids. It’s the adults who need to change. The white people who don’t speak up are part of the problem. It should be clear by now that silence isn’t going to solve it. It’s 2020: if we don’t change now, then when?”