PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – Fast bowler Shannon Gabriel has issued a clear-the-air statement revealing his controversial comments to England captain Joe Root, which earned him a stiff four-match one-day ban from cricket’s world governing body, the ICC.
The 30-year-old was charged for player abuse following a verbal spat with Root, during England’s second innings on Monday’s third day of the final Test in St Lucia which ended on Wednesday with a 232-run victory for the visitors.
Stump microphones had not picked up Gabriel’s comments but according to media reports, Root was overheard telling Gabriel in response: “Don’t use it as an insult. There’s nothing wrong with being gay.”
An outcry from international media then followed, alleging Gabriel had made “homophobic remarks”.
Gabriel said he owed it to his friends, well-wishers and Caribbean fans “to provide an accurate record of what transpired”.
“The exchange occurred during a tense moment on the field. The pressure was on and England captain Joe Root was looking at me intensely as I prepared to bowl, which may have been the usual psychological strategy with which all Test cricketers are familiar,” Gabriel said in the statement.
“I recognise now that I was attempting to break through my own tension when I said to Joe Root: ‘why are you smiling at me? Do you like boys?’”
“His response which was picked up by the microphone was: ‘Don’t use it as an insult. There’s nothing wrong with being gay.’ I then responded: ‘I have no issues with that but you should stop smiling at me.’”
The matter was further thrust into the spotlight following the day’s play in an interview Root gave to international media.
“The ICC have got to handle things and I am not in a position to comment but throughout the series it has been played in the right manner between the two sides,” Root was quoted as saying.
“West Indies have played some fantastic cricket, they are a good bunch of guys and it would be a shame if it tarnishes it. It has been a good hard-fought series. As a player, you feel you have responsibilities to uphold on the field and I stand by what I did.”
Gabriel said he had since resolved the issue with Root but was surprised it had “escalated to the point that it has”.
“I think it is fair to say neither of us expected the issue to escalate to the point that it has,” Gabriel explained.
“Nonetheless, I embrace this as a learning experience and as an opportunity for myself and all athletes to recognise the need for sensitivity and respect in their interactions with all.”
The ICC also slapped Gabriel with a 75 per cent fine and three demerit points for the incident.
The official West Indies Twitter account shared a dressing room picture of Gabriel with Root and his England team-mate Ben Stokes after the series had finished. It was captioned: ‘Shannon entertains England skipper Joe Root and Ben Stokes after the Final test of the Wisden Trophy’.
In the statement released, Gabriel indicated that “on the advice of the manager of the West Indies team”, he signed a “document presented to me which confirmed that I had beached the ICC’s Code of Conduct.” Gabriel added in his statement that since he had signed the statement there was no need for a hearing.
Gabriel was charged with a Level 2 offence under article 2.13 of the ICC’s Code of Conduct, covering “personal abuse”. There was no formal hearing with Jeff Crowe, the match referee, as Gabriel accepted the charge.
Gabriel went on to say that he had had a conversation with Root since and “I am comforted by the fact that there are no hard feelings between us” at the end of what he referred to as something he had initially assumed was “inoffensive picong [taunt] and sporting banter” but had since used as a “learning experience”.
Reaction to the incident has been mixed with Root coming in for praise for his response to Gabriel from the likes of former England captain Nasser Hussain and former footballer Ian Wright.
Some in the British publication the Daily Mail expressed consternation at Gabriel’s guilty plea as well as the punishment meted out. One Dover contributor noted: “I would protest about this ban. Its (sic) time we didn’t accept this and put it back to the lefties. Banter and jokes should not equal a ban. It was just a bit of pitch banter between two blokes. It wasn’t offensive to anyone.” Another from Leicestershire said: “Is that all it takes to be banned for 4 games? Hardly the most hurtful comment you will hear from a fast bowler. Compared to some of the stuff the England bowlers have said in the last few years this was nothing.”