Cricket fans’ initial disappointment at rain delaying the start of play in the first Test between England and the West Indies quickly evaporated as they were treated to a powerful, spine-tingling message about racism by commentators Michael Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent.
Former West Indian fast bowler Holding and ex-England player Rainford-Brent, both calling the match for Sky Sports in the UK, delivered some of the most powerful TV viewers had ever seen.
In a pre-prepared piece that went to air as part of the pre-game coverage, both players detailed their personal experiences of racism.
Watch every ball of the West Indies Tour of England Live & On-Demand on Kayo. New to Kayo? Get your free trial now & start streaming instantly >
Rainford-Brent said she was asked if she washed her skin, and Holding said he copped abuse from “sick” individuals on tour. They also spoke of their horror at George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis when a police officer crushed his neck, and urged everyone to appreciate the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I had comments about where I grew up and the fact I had a long name maybe my mum didn’t know who my dads were,” Rainford-Brent said. “About my hair, about body parts — especially the derriere, shall we say, about the food I ate and that it sort of stank.
“It was just constant. ‘Do I wash my skin? Everyone in my area gets stabbed’. All these sorts of things were drip-fed constantly.”
Breaking down in tears, Rainford-Brent continued: “I’ve been in team environments, dealing constantly with people referring to ‘your lot’. I’m not surprised that people who come into the environment don’t want to deal with that.
“It can be really difficult dealing with that day-in, day-out.”
On Floyd’s murder, the 36-year-old added: “I watched the whole thing. I watched the eight minutes and I burst into tears. The pain I felt, it felt like a valve popped because we know for how long these inequalities, these injustices have taken place.
“I remember watching it and feeling like I was being torn apart.
“I never swear on my Instagram and I wrote the words, ‘Is anyone else f***ing fed up watching black people get murdered?’”
WATCH HOLDING AND RAINFORD-BRENT SPEAK IN THE VIDEO PLAYER ABOVE
Holding said people need to understand the Black Lives Matter movement for what it truly is — a plea for equality.
“If you don’t educate people, they’ll keep on growing up in that sort of society and you’ll not get meaningful change,” he said.
“Everyone is recognising it. Everyone is now coming alive and seeing the difference in treatment of people and we’re all human beings so I hope people will recognise that this Black Lives Matter movement is not trying to get black people above white people or above anyone else. It’s all about equality.
“When you say to somebody, ‘Black lives matter’ and they tell you, ‘All lives matter’ or, ‘White lives matter’, please, we black people know white lives matter. I don’t think you know that black lives matter.
“So don’t shout back at us about, ‘All lives matter’.
“It is obvious — the evidence is clearly there that white lives matter. We want black lives to matter now, simple as that.”
Members of the cricket media like Peter Lalor and Adam Collins were floored by the incredibly moving words, while players like Mark Butcher and Jimmy Neesham were also touched.
After the segment aired, Holding continued to speak off the cuff during the live broadcast alongside fellow commentators Ian Ward and Nasser Hussain.
It was just as raw and powerful as the clip that came beforehand.
“What people need to understand, this stems from a long time ago, hundreds of years ago, the dehumanisation of the black race is where it started,” Holding said.
“People will tell you, ‘That’s a long time ago, get over it’. No, you don’t get over a thing like that and society has not gotten over something like that.
“I remember my school days. I was never taught anything good about black people. You cannot have a society that is brought up like that, both white and black, what’s only convenient to the teacher.
“History is written by the conqueror, not by those that are conquered. History’s written by the people who do the harm, not by the people who are harmed.
“We need to go back and teach both sides of history and until we do that and educate the entire human race, this thing will not stop.”
Holding was on the verge of tears as he finished off his monologue.
“They keep telling me there is nothing called white privilege. Give me a break,” he said.
“I don’t see any white people going into a store off the street and being followed. A black man walks in, someone is following him everywhere he goes.
“That is basic white privilege. Whether the white person wanted to rob the place or not, he’s not going to be thought of that way and things like that have to change.”
Hussain, who was born in India and captained England, spoke briefly about his experiences with racism but preferred instead to focus on his colleagues’ powerful words.
“That was a very strong piece,” Hussain said. “The raw emotion of Ebony and what she’s been through and the cool, calm dissection of racism from Michael Holding was absolutely magnificent.”
Sky crossed to Rainford-Brent in the commentary box after Holding and Hussain spoke and she said she feels “everyone’s starting to get it now”.
She wants to see “accelerated change in all areas of society” but also called on cricket to do more to combat racism and value the black community more by giving it more opportunities in administration, coaching and playing.