• 22 Sep - 28 Sep, 2018
  • Shahed Sadullah
  • London Eye

Over the years, the 31-year-old England all-rounder of Pakistani origin, Moeen Ali, has become somewhat of an iconic figure. He is a gentleman every inch of the way and has practised his faith in the sort of quiet personal way that one perhaps hopes would be practiced more widely, drawing immense respect from one and all concerned. He has shown by example that being a practising Muslim, far from being an anathema, can be a very noble and uplifting experience and make one a truly better human being as it was meant to do and as it does if interpreted in the right way. He has spent a great deal of time with young Asians in an effort to keep them off Britain’s poisonous streets, giving them something infinitely more healthy and meaningful to aim for than drugs and knife fights.

So his autobiography which is being serialised by The Times has attracted considerable attention and recently that attention hit the roof when the paper quoted Moeen as claiming in his book that during the 2015 Ashes series against Australia – his first Ashes series – an unnamed Australian player referred to him as Osama on the field of play. Moeen said that he could not believe it and that he has never been so angry on a cricket field, which one can readily believe. He is a mild soft spoken man and anger does not come easily or naturally to him.

Moeen says he spoke to his English team coach who in turn spoke to the Australian team coach Darren Lehmann who came back to say that the Australian player had totally denied it, instead saying that he had called Moeen part-timer. Moeen rightly explains that there is a great deal of difference between the word ‘part-timer’ and ‘Osama’ and he had absolutely no reason to make up a complaint, for he hardly knew the fellow.

The Australian cricket authorities will look into it and one is left wondering just how probing Lehmann’s original inquiries into the matter might have been, given that he did not exactly cover himself with glory during the Australian ball tampering affair.

At the end of the series the player approached Moeen explaining that he had nothing against Muslims as some of his best friends are Muslims. This is a common fallacy that if one is in some way associated with a certain group, one cannot possible harbour any feelings against that group. Prejudice does not work that way. While it is often true that if there is prejudice against a group, there will often be prejudice against individuals from that group, the opposite, that some close associations with a group will guarantee there is no prejudice against it does not often hold.

Moeen Ali is usually not one to hold a grudge and thus it is meaningful that he has said that he has no sympathy for Australia’s banned cricketers and that he finds the entire side ‘rude’. He was quoted by The Times as saying, “Everyone you speak to... they are the only team I’ve played against my whole life that I’ve actually disliked.” He explained that this had nothing to do with them being the old cricketing enemy “but because of the way they carry on and [their] disrespect of people and players.”

There is much in what Moeen says and perhaps if a non-white team had behaved like that, they might not have been able to get away with it. It is because of them mainly that what is described rather euphemistically as ‘sledging’ is accepted as a normal part of the game today and one which other sides have now been encouraged to emulate. It, however, forms no part of the game and is certainly no part of cricketing skill. It is not practised on the field as a matter of course in any other sport and if a player say in tennis or hockey were to resort to any such language, he would be subject to very harsh sanction. Yet in cricket, still called the ‘gentleman’s game’, it is still not only permissible but seen by many as being more than just a bit entertaining, making it today the true ruffian’s game. It may be pointed out in defence that none of what is said is actually meant and it is only said to upset the batsman and get him out, but that must represent an attempt to get an unfair advantage; carried to an extreme form, it would even allow a fielder to give a batsman a sock on the jaw in an effort not to really hurt him, but just to unsettle him and get him out!. You are not allowed to upset your opponent through verbal abuse in any other sport in the world, not even boxing where the attempt is to knock the opponent out cold. And the fact that you may come over after the match to shake hands is neither here nor there. Even in jest there are limits that should not be transgressed and sledging is never in jest. And although the word ‘sorry’ is a great word, it should never be taken as panacea to cover all transgressions. Some of Pakistan’s politicians would also do well to understand that.