I am an India fan. When I go to watch India play I do so wearing an India shirt, and carrying an India flag that when not accompanying me to cricket grounds hangs on my bedroom wall. Probably the greatest day of my life to date was on April 2 2011, when I sat with my father in the upper tier of the Sunil Gavaskar Stand of Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium and watched the country of his birth and my blood lift the World Cup. I still have the ticket stub from that never-to-be-forgotten night.
In almost all other respects, I am English. I was born, raised and educated in England. English is the only language I speak, much to the dismay of my extended family and the detriment of my CV. I would far rather wear a dinner jacket than a kurta to a wedding, and would choose apple crumble over gulab jamun every time. I do not subscribe to either of the religions that informed so much of my parents’ early lives, nor any other, and for what it’s worth largely view religious faith with a mixture of amused incredulity and horrified fascination (the works of Richard Dawkins and particularly Christopher Hitchens battle for space on my rather bookshelves). My support of the Indian cricket team is the only substantive expression of my subcontinental heritage.
For all of these reasons and more, I am embarrassed, disgusted and frankly baffled that so many of my fellow Indian so-called supporters continue to boo Moeen Ali, a humble yet obviously determined man who has fast become one of the most objectively likeable cricketers of his generation. The explanation that seems to have become the accepted narrative is that Moeen is a self-professed practising Muslim of Pakistani extraction and is therefore somehow fair game.
If we take this deeply bigoted position at face value, there are some glaring inconsistencies with it. Mohammed Shami has a Muslim name but escapes the attention of these baying morons, as did Zaheer Khan and the more expressly devout Pathan brothers Irfan and Yusuf (who were raised by their muezzin father literally in a mosque and were in fact raised to become Islamic scholars, which puts Moeen having a long beard into perspective) before him. True, they played for India, but anyone who was present on the final day of the Oval Test as I was will tell you that England-based India fans are far from averse to barracking their own team.
As for Moeen being of Pakistani heritage, as his father has taken great pains to point out Moeen is in fact the third generation of his immediate family to be born not just in England but in Birmingham, where the abuse was at its most vitriolic. His cousin Kabir Ali, who was also born in the city, played 3 ODIs for England in India and drew practically no attention of any kind from the home crowd, certainly nothing close to what we have heard this summer. So in the face of the facts, nationalistic fervour holds no water at all as a justification for singling out Moeen.
But here’s the important point, and one that cannot be stressed enough. Even if he had been born in Pakistan and come to England as a child, as for example Owais Shah and Usman Afzaal did; or if like Imran Tahir or Fawad Ahmed he had only moved from Pakistan for political and/or cricketing reasons (which in Pakistan are so often the same thing); or if he had actually changed his cricketing nationality in the manner of Kepler Wessels or, perhaps more pertinently given the circumstances, Eoin Morgan; even if any of these things were true and Moeen Ali were a Pakistani who plays cricket for England rather than an English cricketer who happens to have Pakistani heritage, that would still not justify him being booed simply for being who he is. Nor, by, the way, does his mildly expressed preference for British Asian cricket fans to pass what used to be known as the Tebbit Test. Such parochial boneheadedness gives English-raised Indian fans such as I a bad name, one we will have to work hard to shake off.
Just as football fans have largely learned to self-police racist abuse, we who profess to love cricket should have been more proactive in challenging these idiots who engage their mouths before their brains, and in doing so disgrace cricket fans of all allegiances. The same goes for their apologists in the written press. It is our responsibility to do so in future whenever we get the chance. I am truly sorry, Moeen Ali, this summer we have failed you. We must not do so again.
One final note: MS Dhoni’s refusal to speak out over the abuse in his post-game press conference was a cowardly act unbefitting one who holds the position of Indian captain. For what he did on April 2 2011, I will always love him, but after his evasion on Sunday I’m not sure right now whether or not I like him.