To claim that one’s remarks have been ‘taken totally out of context’ is a boiler plate damage mitigation mechanism that is resorted to by public personalities in general and politicians in particular, to cover up any inappropriate statements that may have escaped their mouths. Kerry O’ Keeffe is no exception to the stereotypical norm. From the confines of the commentator’s box during the Melbourne Test, O’ Keeffe courted controversy by making disparaging, derogatory and disgusting remarks about the apparent caliber (or the lack of it) of first class cricket in India, before proceeding to question the rationale behind naming conventions of Indian cricketers. Dwelling on a triple hundred that was clocked by the debutant Mayank Agarwal the previous season, O’Keeffe held forth on the quality of the opposition: “Apparently [Mayank Agarwal] got his triple-century against Jalandar Railways canteen staff. Who opened the bowling for them that day? The chef. First change? The kitchen hand. And they’ve got the spinner as well, the casual uni student.” This seemingly irresistible rib tickler was accompanied by raucous guffaws, courtesy Keeffe’s fellow commentators. O’ Keeffe apparently was not done yet. In what can only be termed despicable, O’ Keeffe spewed forth some more nonsense. “Why would you call your kid Cheteshwar Jadeja?” This again to yet another bout of boisterous laughter. So much for an innate sense of humour!
Unsurprisingly, O’Keeffe’s ill-timed remarks did not go down very well with the Indian populace, and rightly so. The former Australian cricketer was lambasted and panned on social media. In response to the deluge of criticisms, O’Keeffe has now penned, what can only be termed, a faint and sorry excuse, for an ‘open’ letter of apology. The letter is neither apologetic nor remorseful. On the contrary, it is a condescending and even arrogant attempt at justification. Justification for remarks which in the first place were directly misaligned with the preservation of professional integrity. Let alone offering a sincere apology which would have placated people, O’ Keeffe brazenly seeks to transfer the blame onto his listeners for misinterpreting and misconstruing his words. “That interpretation is not who I am. It is not what I represent. My style as a commentator is to attempt to find a quirky view to lighten up some of the serious analysis. When I made a remark about Indian first-class batting averages within their domestic cricket competition being made against a “canteen” bowling attack, I was being entirely tongue in cheek. I was certainly not disrespecting Indian cricket, where I toured as a schoolboy and for which I have the greatest admiration as a cricketing nation.”
First of all, there was no pereivable need for Kerry O’ Keeffe to be ‘tongue-in-cheek’ in the context of the game. Tongue-in-cheek is defined to mean, “speaking or writing in an ironic or insincere way” There was neither a need for irony nor room for insincerity on the part of O’Keeffe while donning the mantle of a commentator. It beggars belief to comprehend why a commentator would or should take on tones of insincerity while reporting the goings on of a Test Match!
Secondly ‘lightening up a serious analysis’ does not mean crossing all tolerable limits of dignity and decency. At the outset why on earth would a ‘serious’ analysis need some lightening up? Kerry O’ Keeffe seems to have been oblivious to the fact that there is a definitive line between humour and haughtiness, insight and insensitivity; and lucidity and loose talk. If he really had the ‘greatest admiration’ for India as a cricketing nation and was ‘certainly not disrespecting Indian cricket’, he would not have resorted to such insulting gimmicks in the first place. O’ Keeffe also goes on to state: “I have worked alongside my dear friend and colleague Harsha Bhogle for almost 25 years”, as though this absolves him of all shame and guilt. Harsha Bhogle is not the conscience keeper of India. So what if O’ Keeffe has been partnering Bhogle in the media for 2.5 decades? This fact in itself does not invest him with an unbridled license to shoot his mouth away indiscriminately. This sort of ridiculous escapism transforms the bad into the worse.
O’ Keeffe would have done his reputation a world of good if he had just come clean and unconditionally apologized for his unwarranted remarks. Instead by trying to defend himself by treating the entire unsavoury episode as a ‘transferable option’, and seeking to establish a weak entente, he has further dragged himself deep into a quagmire of infamy. The so called open letter of apology does more harm than good. It makes Kerry O’ Keeffe look like a vain, obdurate and uncompromising apologist trying to wriggle away from a hole which he has dug for himself.
Being untruthful to himself, and deliberately trying to mislead the listeners whom he professes to serve, O’Keeffe has clearly demonstrated that he has lost all credibility to discharge his professional capabilities behind the microphone. That doyen of all cricket commentators, the master and an extraordinary gentleman, the late great Richie Benaud, once famously said, “Put your brain into gear and if you can add to what’s on the screen then do it, otherwise shut up” Mr. Kerry O’ Keeffe would do splendidly well to reflect on this one remarkable quote, and for facilitating such an introspection, we sincerely hope that his employer provides him with an extended leave of absence to ruminate, reminisce and hopefully, remember.
However, Kerry O’ Keeffe amidst all this turbulence has achieved what none of the Australians in the playing level have managed to – deflect the limelight off both India’s memorable and epochal victory as well as Jasprit Bumrah’s coming of age as a fast bowler to reckon with!
I am not for a moment being ‘tongue-in-cheek’ about this here!