By Kevin Mapasure
Former Zimbabwe Under-19 cricket team star Gary Ballance’s career in England is on the brink after the Harare-born left hand batter admitted to using the slur P**i which is deemed racist towards a former Yorkshire teammate Azeem Rafiq.
Balance, who chose to play for England over Zimbabwe at senior level, has been forced to issue a statement admitting that he is the one who used the slur against Rafiq but insisted that it was all banter even though he “deeply regrets” using such language.
There is pressure on Yorkshire and the England and Wales Cricket Board to act and Ballance faces a ban which could force him to return home to continue his career with the issue having attracted the interest of the United Kingdom Parliament.
In his defense Ballance said that Rafiq was a friend and they used such language against each other on friendly terms, even though it may be deemed inappropriate.
The 31-year-old insisted that Rafiq had been his “closest friend and supporter in cricket”, whom he had once invited to stay at his family home in Zimbabwe.
A report into the matter was submitted to the England and Wales Cricket Board following Rafiq’s allegations that he had been racially abused.
In his defense, the left-handed batter, who was born in Harare said: “P**i” was an equivalent term to “Zimbo”, the nickname that Rafiq was understood to have used for Ballance.
“It has been reported that I used a racial slur and, as I told the independent enquiry, I accept that I did so and I regret doing so,” Ballance said.
“To be clear — I deeply regret some of the language I used in my younger years.”
Balance said that he and Rafiq supported each other well on the pitch and outside cricket.
“On the pitch we supported each other greatly,” Ballance said.
“We both captained Yorkshire at various times and we backed each other when we filled these roles.
“When he was first released by Yorkshire I was there for him during that tough time and I was delighted when he earned a new contract and a second spell with the club. He was very pleased for me when I was selected for England and I was delighted to receive his supportive messages during my time with England.
“Because we were such good friends and spent a lot of time together drinking and on nights out we both said things privately to each other which were not acceptable,” he added.
“I do not wish to discredit Rafa by repeating the words and statements that he made about me and others but I have to be clear that this was a situation where best friends said offensive things to each other which, outside of that context, would be considered wholly inappropriate.
“I regret that these exchanges took place but at no time did I believe or understand that it had caused Rafa distress. If I had believed that then I would have stopped immediately. He was my best mate in cricket and I cared deeply for him. To my knowledge, it has never been alleged that I reduced Rafa to tears.”
Ballance last played for England in 2017 against South Africa in a Test match where he won his 23rd cap. Back home in Zimbabwe he played for MidWest Rhinos between 2010 and 2012. He played at the Under-19 World Cup in 2006 where Zimbabwe finished top of Group D ahead of England and eventually settled for sixth placed finish at the tournament.