ANYONE who knows anything about cricket would know the name Colin Croft. One of the most feared of the pacemen to emerge from the Caribbean during the glory days, he was an aggressive, unpleasant customer who took wickets with a vengeance. His very first series yielded 33 scalps. In 27 Tests, he took 125 wickets.
It came as a surprise to many when Croft suddenly turned his back on West Indies cricket and went off to apartheid South Africa on a rebel tour in 1982. It is generally agreed that of all the pacemen who hunted in quartets after Clive Lloyd decided to follow this tactic, the foursome of Croft, Roberts, Holding and Garner were the most potent. Each was fast, each was different, and this really gave the poor batsman no respite at all. It wasn't a question of having a fast bowler nagging away at you all day; each of these bowlers posed an entirely different set of problems apart from mere pace.
Shortly before the tour of which I have spoken, the Packer episode took place. By this time, the West Indies players who had played for Packer were back doing duty for their national teams. Croft's place in the team was secure. He had no reason to fear that he would be dropped - unlike Lawrence Rowe, who had begun to experience serious problems with his eyes, or Alvin Kallicharran who knew that after he did not go along with the Packer crowd, the chances of his playing for the West Indies were not very good. Michael Manley's seminal work A history of West Indies cricket has enough detail on this.
Croft earned around $US30,000 for the tour of South Africa. He was banned for life by the West Indies board and rightly so. While he has subsequently tried to pass off his going to a country, which officially held that white people were superior to blacks, by citing this reason or that, nothing can hide the fact that money alone lured him there.
In an article published in London's The Telegraph, Croft is quoted as saying: "I never considered myself a rebel. I was prepared to go against the boycott because of one man, Ali Bacher. He said he was trying to get normal sport in an abnormal society and that was good enough for me. I'm not into politics - I don't even vote in my own country - but that was naivety on my part. But I will say this: in retrospect, coming out here (South Africa) in 1983 did some good because, if nothing else, it showed that it's very difficult to have normal sport in an abnormal society."
This kind of posturing is something akin to that which Mark Waugh and Shane Warne adopted when it emerged that they had taken money from an Indian bookmaker to provide information about pitch and weather conditions; they said they did not know it was anything other than harmless information! How Croft could have considered the type of sport which was being practised by the rebels as normal is beyond logic. Here was a black man who was willing to go and play in a country which ostracised his own kind - and he suffered the humiliation of being ejected from a whites-only carriage on a train as well - merely for the money. Commitment to West Indies cricket? I think not.
Doubtless, at this point, you, gentle reader, will be wondering: Why pull all this out of the woodwork? Why not let bygones be bygones? Had Croft taken his money and gone off and not tried to get back into the cricket scene, it is unlikely that there would have been a need to remind people about this whole episode.
Now, the same Croft is saying that the present lot of West Indies cricketers lack commitment to the cause of cricket in the islands. This is a cause for cynical laughter: who is Croft to talk about commitment to the cause of West Indies cricket? Here is a man who turned his back on just that cause and went off in order to make a quick buck. He had no problem with that.
To put this in context, let's remember that Sir Vivian Richards was offered well in excess of a million dollars to play cricket in South Africa during the apartheid days; he was a man who was truly committed to the cause of cricket in the Caribbean and scoffed at the offer. The late Malcolm Marshall was another who turned down extremely lucrative offers to play there; Marshall, may I remind you dear reader, quit international cricket after the West Indies lost to South Africa in the 1992 World Cup (the Proteas had just returned to world cricket). Marshall was disgusted with his skipper, Richie Richardson, who described the defeat as "just another loss." Take it from me: remove the political and social connotations from cricket in the West Indies, and the game will cease to have any meaning for the people there.
There are a number of West Indies cricketers who went on these rebel tours and sought to bolster their bank accounts. I suppose that one can look a bit more kindly on those like Bernard Julien who went on a tour in the pre-Packer days when payments to cricketers were really low. But, remember, Croft was part of the gang that played in the Super Tests, a venture that did pay the cricketers very well. Where was the commitment to West Indies cricket then, one may well ask.
Two years afer the tour, according to The Telegraph, Croft wrote to the United Nations and apologised, saying that his belief that sport and politics should not be mixed had been "somewhat blind". In 1986 his name was removed from the blacklist of people with sporting contacts with South Africa.
Croft's credentials as a bowler are impeccable. His calibre as a cricketer has never been in doubt. But when a man lives in a glass house, it is best that he does not throw stones, else he may end up breaking the walls of his own house. If he wants to gain respectability as a commentator on West Indies cricket, it is best that he steers well clear of the area of commitment simply because he has no business talking about it. And he can keep talking about remedial measures for cricket in the Caribbean but I doubt very much that anybody, except media organs and commentators in countries outside the Caribbean (who know little or nothing of the history of cricket in the Caribbean) will take him seriously. But then again, if he is merely doing it for the money...