The benches of cricket grounds are filled with players of various nationalities and different races. Their job is to win games and sometimes, to serve their countries’ interests. Still, every now and then a player or captain becomes the target of racial abuse from a fellow player. On Tuesday, the story unfolded at Lord’s. The targets were: the captain of the Hampshire cricket team, Azeem Rafiq; his cousin, a Pakistani; and his English batsman club mate. All three were the subject of an attempt by their opponents, Oxford University, to clear their names. None went home.
Days later, those three are walking into a packed room at Lord’s with a personal trainer for their feet, but all the attention is on them. They are trying to cope with the wave of abuse directed towards them in the hours, days and hours since they were all subjected to abuse on cricket fields. The first test followed on Monday, and it has descended into farce.
They remain as true to the game they love, as we all must be, but all too quickly the hot air has burned out. Was it a cricket game the team – some of whose members are in their 20s, some in their early 40s – tried to be tough on? Has the game become too aggressive? Have the players and the game lost its moral compass? If so, if cricket’s grassroots are so bereft of the moral fibre required to ensure the long-term sustainability of the game, shouldn’t cricket be contemplating withdrawing from the international arena – at least until those responsible for the current state of the game can be held accountable?
Since its inception, cricket has been forever trying to grapple with the issue of discrimination. It is something, after all, that England cricket’s pioneer, A.G. Kitchener, recognised and noted:
The richest subject in England is the abuse heaped on the sportsman by the members of the country. I must say I am a firm believer in intelligence, reason and social purity, but I am prepared to pay for the necessity of security.
It seems something like that is going on at Lord’s as the game enters the homestretch of the London Test.
Rafiq, born in Pakistan, was made captain of the Hants team when he was in his twenties.
And Faisal, not the Faisal but his English side-kick, was 21 when he came to London to study.
And Naved was the only Pakistani cricketer in the team, born in Pakistan and living in the UK for all his life.
Naved Rizvi (not the Naved), the Bangladeshi-born cricketer who opened the batting with the English team, was treated to a strip of racist abuse for his country’s flag – an insult that rained down on him for the whole day and even lasted until the end of the day’s play.
By the end of the second day, nothing had changed, not the attitude of the opponents. As in the first Test in Cardiff, two of the batsmen were subjected to racial abuse. Both returned home.
There has been a response at Lord’s from the International Cricket Council and the England and Wales Cricket Board.
Whether it works or not, is debatable. The fact that ICC and ECB are responding is a good step, even if nothing is being done about it. But again, what does that mean? A few weeks ago, we heard disturbing, inebriated, threats to “purge” the Pakistan Cricket Board from the ICC and to see PCB chairman Najam Sethi dead. The side we have seen today is a sea of washed-up, washed-out officials, empty claims and empty promises. Nothing has changed and nothing will change.
There is no doubt that cricket desperately needs to bring itself up to scratch. For cricket to survive, at the level of the Test and Twenty20 levels, that in the end will require intelligent leaders with the moral fibre to stand up to the boardroom and convince them of the importance of a good moral culture. A culture that is under siege in the wake of controversial over-rate rules that deflated standards of discipline and pace in the cricket fraternity. In his article in the Guardian, former England captain Nasser Hussain wrote:
Today in the Test series at Lord’s, England have won the first Test. They bowled their specialist bowlers too long in the first innings, invited Oxford to bat and then turned the screw after the third-innings declaration. This is worth a note of caution. Too often, the least most sides can do is break a captain’s over-rate, humiliate him publicly and hit