The few steps that India’s Test debutant, Mohammed Siraj, took towards his team at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Sunday might have helped cricket take a giant leap. Fielding on the boundary line and at the receiving end of words that he and teammate Jasprit Bumrah had reported as offensive the previous day, Siraj refused to turn a deaf ear to any more of the intimidating background noise from an unruly section of the crowd. He ran in from the fence and reported his annoyance to the team leadership, which was ready to put its foot down and stop play. The moment of reckoning for racist behaviour in cricket had arrived, and Australia which for long has blurred lines between banter and abuse, were forced to respond unequivocally and firmly.
A line has been drawn, a precedent has been set. With Cricket Australia and match referee David Boon playing a proactive role in locating the miscreants and taking prompt action, cricket suddenly has an SOP in place to deal with an unsporting situation in the stands. It is now expected that from Gabba to Wankhede and Johannesburg to Trent Bridge, players will duly report all such offensive slurs thrown at them to match officials, who will be expected to do what’s needed. This should also trigger other major changes. With increased awareness sweeping the cricketing universe, it will not be too much to expect players and their on-field banter to not dabble in racist insults either. Match officials and the board should also enforce muting of their players’ free flowing unparliamentary language which targets opponents. It must no longer be passed off as passions running high.
What happened on the field in Sydney 2021 stands in total contrast with the unsavoury events of Sydney 2008, when Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh got away lightly for what he said to Aussie all-rounder Andrew Symonds, after mounting an incredulous defence. It had escaped no one’s notice that racist chants and mocking had erupted in the Wankhede stands against Symonds earlier, and that Indian cricket fans are anything but saintly when in their flow. The same protocols to protect visiting players should now apply on Indian grounds and with local fans. If you can’t hold your tongue, go home and watch the game on television, is the clear message from Sydney.