Representative Image (Reuters)
I was at the Dubai airport when I ran against a Delhi-based family who had come to watch the T-20 World Cup match against Pakistan that India lost.
“You were so sure that India would win?”, I asked.
“Yes”, they said — and therein lies our limited comprehension of not just cricket, but sports in general; it’s vicissitudes, volatilities, and what cricket commentators often use, “fluctuating fortunes”; and the actual spirit behind the battle on a 22-yard pitch.
Cricket and controversies are like Thomson and Thompson from the Tintin comics. They are an inseparable duo. One did not have to be clairvoyant to anticipate that the India-Pakistan match in the T-20 tournament would raise a lot of dust and storm in the deserts of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It did.
For one, India lost; and frankly, it got thwacked…by a humongous 10 wickets. Chasing a modest total of 151 (the Indian Premier League (IPL) was played there just a little while earlier, so the team was acclimatised to the playing conditions better than all others ), Pakistan coasted home courtesy an outstanding performance by its openers Mohammed Rizwan and Babar Azam.
Naturally, the great sporting nation that we are, we were voluminously aggrieved. Our delicate ego was badly bruised. So instead of just treating the woeful performance as a fleeting aberration (India is the favourite to win the cup), social media had to look for a fall guy. All perceptive observers of our recent fetish for jejune conversations will tell you that we have become professionals in scapegoating. In Mohammed Shami they found the perfect candidate. Boom!
Shami was apparently responsible for the dismal show because, according to some armchair experts, and couch fried potatoes, he bowled too many balls down the leg side. Most of the social media eggheads who indulge in passionate trolling have a herd mentality. They are like rats in the Pied Piper tale.
Beating Shami up was easy, because the fiery Internet mob had found a Muslim in the Indian team. They pounced on him. It was ugly stuff. All boundaries of civility were transgressed. Religious bigotry was at a stratospheric level. According to these vulgar atavists, it appeared as if Rohit Sharma had scored a breezy 50 runs in 18 balls and Jasprit Bumrah had taken four wickets at an economy rate of five per over. Only Shami had been that deceitful Trojan horse. The truth is that Shami is part of a larger dominating narrative that is regularly broadcasted by Right-wing politicians in India: Don’t trust the man in a skull-cap. The Far-Right hate-mongers then simply turn on the crescendo.
In blaming Shami, they were essentially stigmatising Muslims all over India as traitors to the national cause. Kashmiri students were beaten up in a Punjab hostel as if they committed apostasy for belonging to that state.
In short, despite Article 370, there is still raging insecurity among many Indians. Of course, like in the past there were also those hardliners who mischievously celebrated Pakistan’s victory in different parts of India.
But was humiliating Shami, therefore, just deserts? Albeit after the match, captain Virat Kohli and team mentor MS Dhoni spent time in a friendly chat with the Pakistan team that made for great camaraderie, and optics, none of Shami’s counterparts tweeted in his support. They should have. But perhaps they are aware that it may have angered supporters of the current dispensation. But alas that is only half the story from West Asia.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) woke up belatedly to the issue of racism that plagues sports by mandating that teams ‘take the knee’: Black Lives Matter. They do — former West Indies captain Darren Sammy has talked of being racially abused in India. But Quinton de Kock, the South African wicket-keeper batsman not only refused to take the knee, but dropped himself from the South African team for their match against the West Indies. It was repugnant to say the least.
NFL players in the US challenged then United States President Donald Trump, with Colin Kaepernick showing the world the way forward. After the Euro Cup finals when England missed crucial penalties against Italy and lost 2-3, Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford was subjected to vile abuse, as were Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka. All are black.
What was particularly appalling in de Kock’s case was that South Africa had been ostracised from the world for decades for its Apartheid, a brazen adherence to a segregationist society, and violating basic human rights. The captain of South Africa is Temba Bavuma, a coloured African. Worse, the Proteas were playing the West Indies. de Kock was basically sending out an explicit message that racism was kosher where he was concerned. South Africa and the ICC should promptly drop him from the rest of the tournament.
The T-20 World Cup ends on November 14. There is bound to be more tempestuous drama, tamasha, and trolling. Stay tuned.Internet Explorer Channel Network