World Cup T20 – Call it Virat Kohli

World Cup T20 – Call it Virat Kohli

“No, I’ll explain a little more.”

He didn’t have to. Virat Kohli had already expressed his generic anger at the generic hatred of social media, which probably would have been more than enough in the world we live in as a symbolic response to the vile abuse that Mohammed Shami received, for being an Indian cricketer. Muslim who lost a match against Pakistan. Kohli didn’t even have to have given that generic answer, because the BCCI media officer started the press conference by reminding everyone that “we will only accept questions purely about the merit of cricket.”

Kohli ignored the diktat twice. When the media officer tried to override the second question, which specifically focused on Shami’s religion, Kohli was aware of the nuance that had been lost in his first answer.

What followed was one of the most important statements in Indian cricket. Not only did one captain stand by and defend his teammate, he also called the abuse for what it was: an attack on Shami’s religion. He called it the act of pathetic, cowardly crooks.
In the week between India’s game against Pakistan and this press conference, many cricket personalities, including Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, while still in possession of their dog whistling – came out in support of Shami. It is not a question of doubting the intentions of all of them. Some may be genuinely naive. But what they said could have ended up doing more harm than good.

Everyone has talked about how proud they are of Shami, how he is a committed and world-class bowler, how he shouldn’t be abused for having just one bad day. It was as if all the cricket personalities felt the gaze of the public on them and felt that they needed to react, and they quickly classified it as “overreaction to a bad day” and moved on.

As scary as it may sound, Kohli’s could be an unpopular position in India today. We cannot fully appreciate what these cricketers can lose by saying even this and that only when someone so close to them has been attacked.

Yuvraj Singh is one of the cricketers who tweeted in a similar way. “A bad day cannot define you as an athlete,” he said. He should know. He himself had a bad day in the 2014 T20 World Cup final and received a lot of abuse for it.

It really is horrible.

However, no one called Yuvraj a traitor. No one told him to go back to the Punjab across the border or to a nonexistent Khalistan or Canada. If you are a farmer and you have the faith of Yuvraj and you ask for your rights today, you may be told those things, but in 2014, Yuvraj was not abused for religious reasons.

It is important that the cricket community acknowledge and repeat, over and over again, that Shami was abused for being a Muslim and not for having a day off. There is often a tendency to be shy about describing such events, which only empowers the perpetrators. By linking the abuse Shami received to her performance, you almost provide her with some kind of legitimacy. Almost as if some enthusiastic and inoffensive cricket lovers were exaggerating with their criticism.

This is even better than what happened earlier this year when the home of Vandana Katariya, a female hockey player from India, faced caste abuse when India lost a match at the Olympics. The perpetrators busted cookies, see the irony? – outside his family’s home in Uttarakhand and celebrated India’s defeat to Argentina, telling his family that this is what happens when people of his caste enter the national team.

The reports on the incident did not even mention what caste Katariya is, what humble The occupation belongs to their community, according to these fanatics, and why there is caste discrimination in India. When their captain Rani Rampal supported Katariya, he did so with a generic statement about the hard work and sacrifices of the players. It was commendable that she said something, given that non-cricketers are at the mercy of government-run bodies, but in effect, it was not much different from the cricket community’s reaction to Shami’s abuse.

As long as we do not come face to face with national shame, we cannot hope to eliminate it. As long as we don’t share that shame, the only person who suffers is the victim. That is why it was important that a captain whose words the public cling to spell it clearly. No fooling around in terms of security.

Kohli could have said this earlier on his own social media, he might have been reluctant to list Shami’s accomplishments because you don’t have to be an elite artist to deserve rights and respect, but what he’s said is still fundamental. We might want cricketers to be more vocal and stand up for all that is right, but in the real world they work in monopolies, which makes taking unpopular positions dangerous. And, as scary as it may sound, Kohli’s could be an unpopular position in India today. We cannot fully appreciate what these cricketers can lose by saying even this and that only when someone so close to them has been attacked.

The board that employs Kohli has as its secretary the son of the Indian Home Secretary. Even the chairman of the board, a man credited with knocking down divisions when he was captain of the national team, has been revealingly silent. It is a board that chose to look the other way when Wasim Jaffer was attacked in a community way in Uttarakhand, or when Daren Sammy spoke of racial abuse at the IPL. The BCCI makes no effort to achieve representation of the programmed castes and tribes of India, and failed to discipline or educate an Indian player when he used a caste name to humiliate a higher caste fellow.

Kohli is perhaps too big a star to have to fear the repercussions. You feel comfortable and confident in your achievements in cricket. It does not belong to a minority that can be attacked. That is why it is important that such big names lead the way.

This was a week when India’s defeat to Pakistan and Quinton de Kock’s refusal to kneel dragged cricket into the real world. Not only in India and South Africa, but also in Pakistan. When Waqar Younis manages to project this as a religious triumph, imagine how horrible it must have been in his country when they lost 12 World Cup matches to India.

Something good has come out on all fronts. Waqar has been forced to apologize, albeit with the usual phrase of “if I offended someone”. Quinton de Kock has been forced to realize the irony of his fear of having his rights taken away when he was told to make an outspoken gesture against racism, an institution whose very existence is based on denying their rights to a large most human beings. Hopefully, this process of resistance and realization has made you aware of your right.

In another country, where the choice to support a sports team is forced on its people, Kohli’s passionate defense of a friend and a teammate has ended up turning his gaze on the perpetrator. Kohli has told people that Shami does not need their compassion or support, but it is the abusers who deserve unequivocal mockery. If you make Indian cricket fans squeamish, add one to Kohli’s 70 centuries.

Sidharth Monga is assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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