Summer in Australia is incomplete without cricket between India and Australia. This year, cricket resumed under not so much normal circumstances, but the third Test played between the two countries at the SCG in Sydney had its fair share of drama. The match resulted in a creditable draw for India, but what cricket lovers will remember it by was how allegations of racist abuse halted the play for ten minutes on Sunday 10 January.
According to media reports, bowlers Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj, who were fielding near the boundary rope, complained of racial slurs, a matter which was taken up by the Indian Team.
According to an ICC statement posted on its website, “The Indian cricket team had apprised ICC Match Referee David Boon of alleged racial abuse at the end of the third day’s play. Match and stadium officials were alert on the fourth day and as such play was halted and six people were evicted following another incident just before tea.”
It also said, “We will provide Cricket Australia and the relevant authorities with our full support in any ensuing investigation as we will not tolerate any racism in our sport.”
Anil Joseph, CEO of Worldwide Digital Solutions Pvt Ltd and a Melbourne resident, who attended the Tests at Adelaide and Melbourne and the one-day match at Sydney this series, says, he has personally never witnessed any instances of racism in any of these venues. “Having said that, I believe racism exists in both countries but can confidently also state that there are many more cricket lovers than racists in both countries.”
He also believes it was correct of the Indian team to raise its concerns with authorities taking required actions promptly. “That should have been the end of the matter. But the media kept the issue alive and a general perception is created that all Australian cricket lovers are racist. They are not. Australians love their cricket with a passion and appreciate a visiting team who puts up a good fight. If Australians were so racist, you would not find so many Indian supporters comfortably supporting the Indian team in blue at all venues. There would always be stray incidents in the heat of the passion and if it goes beyond acceptable standards then strict action is always taken.
Others such as Sanjay Barbora, Dean of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati, currently in Melbourne, have welcomed the actions by Cricket Australia. “While it is terrible that this happened, it also good to see Cricket Australia dealing with it rather than denying it. Australia has a difficult history of racism in sports but then there is no academic or official silence. I wish there was this kind of openness and critical reflection in India as well since there is a lot of overt and hidden racism there as well.
“The stories about racism are heartbreaking because sportspersons really sacrifice a lot and many are not able to articulate how this affects them in the long run,” adds Barbora.
In the same vein, Joseph adds, “We are privileged to be watching a match at a ground during these COVID days. The players are a much stricter lockdown situation than any one of us. They are here purely for the sake of our entertainment and as a representative of cricket and their country. As a spectator it is our responsibility to make them feel welcome and treat them with due respect.”
The essentials of any sport are not hard to understand, especially in cricket where two teams lock horns compounded by the noise of chatter and endemic racism from some of the spectators.
However, Perth-based doctor and an avid cricket fan Dr Ash Mukherjee, questions why abuse is acceptable in cricket.
“Do you see golfers sledging each other or tennis players goading their opponents? I think racism deserves to be discussed because it surely exists. You wouldn’t tolerate an inappropriate comment from the audience watching a performance at the Opera House, would you. Why is it that we feel at a stadium we have every right to abuse?
“In my opinion, it’s the alcohol that affects public behaviour. I have watched cricket at various grounds in India and never heard or felt any racism against players. The crowd in India loved the West Indian team. And I haven’t been witness to racist comments at any English or Australian ground.
“It’s the behaviour of the players more than anything that influences how crowds behave. If the children and the crowd watch players speaking rubbish constantly, it becomes acceptable for the crowd to do the same.
“Racism has no place and if a player has felt he heard such abuse, it needs to be dealt with. We must not shy away from raising it as an issue whether here or in India,” says Mukherjee.
Former Ministerial Adviser Nitin Gupta, who was the first Victoria Indian to bag a full time political appointed job with the Victorian Government, admits that racism and racist taunts do take place.
Gupta, who currently lives in Atlanta running multiple businesses with investments still in Australia, believes fans need to raise their standards in terms of crowd behaviour and make guest players feel welcome.
The SCG incident could be a one-off and out of character as NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian states. Which is why for cricket lovers such as Karthik Subbaiah, who plays for Hampton United Cricket Club (Will Pucovski’s club), there will always be that bite of excitement every time he goes to the field.
“For someone who is fairly new to Australia, I’ve found the club to be welcoming, friendly and fantastic all around. No one cared where I was from, what I did as long as I was willing to lay it all on the cricket field.”
And that is any sport aficionado’s best expression!
Summer in Australia is incomplete without #cricket between 🇮🇳🇦🇺. The 3rd Test played between the two @ the SCG in Sydney had its share of drama. What 🏏 lovers will remember it by was how allegations of #racist #abuse halted play. #TheIndianSun #Racismhttps://t.co/FagT0YDK34
— The Indian Sun (@The_Indian_Sun) January 13, 2021