Some years ago Nasser Hussain had asked after an England-India game, it might have been at Birmingham or Bristol, which the home team was. It might have been partly in jest but Nasser, as captain of the home side, was entitled to be irritated. The support for his England side was minimal and the cheers, and the music, had carried a distinct Indian flavour, if not an Indian accent. It wasn’t, however, unknown in England, a country that has been more open to, and more accepting of, foreign cultures than most. The celebration after India’s first Test win in 1971 and the World Cup win in 1983 was very Indian and footage from the seventies shows migrants from the Caribbean settled in England openly, and most eye-catchingly, supporting the West Indies.
Last month, in response to the booing of Ravindra Jadeja by English supporters, the British Asians in the crowd openly booed Jimmy Anderson. I thought, at the time, it was wrong because I wondered how Indians would have accepted the booing of Dhoni in Delhi by, say, a foreigner who had embraced Indian citizenship. But when I went down to do our post game show by the boundary rope, I discovered that it was all in jest. Most of the people booing were smiling and there was completely acceptable banter in the stands. They were amusing themselves and as long as that was all it was, it was fine.
But whether Jadeja should have been booed in the first place is a different issue because he had done no wrong. I thought the ECB did itself no credit by not disciplining Anderson in the first place. What he had said, and which an umpire had reported, was way beyond banter, it was pretty filthy abuse and the ECB as the custodian of the game, should have clamped down on it right away. Sadly sometimes, in trying to be seen not to be conceding territory, cricket boards take decisions that harm the game. If the bowling of Anderson was the highest point of the Test series, his abuse and the tolerance of it by the authorities, was the lowest point. Young bowlers must learn to swing the ball like Anderson, not believe that abuse is an inherent ingredient of that skill.
I mention the Anderson issue because I believe it was the booing of Jadeja and Anderson that culminated in the booing of Moeen Ali and Ravi Bopara. But by targeting those two, the crowds made it clear that the act was no longer in jest, it wasn’t the crowd equivalent of banter, and that is why it was terribly poor. By doing so, the British Asian section of the crowd didn’t just let themselves down, they let down the country they claimed to be supporting. I was in the commentary box and so didn’t hear what was said, but if it was indeed racial, as some who heard it claim, then it was shameful.
Who to support
It does raise the issue though, of who you should support, to what extent and in what form. I can understand first generation migrants supporting the country of their birth. It is not easy to forget where you come from and I have discussed this at length with a lot of friends in Australia. I quite liked their stance of supporting India in a series against Australia, but supporting Australia in every other contest. I also found that their support wasn’t abusive and was accepted by other Australians. To a lesser extent, I can understand second-generation migrants supporting the country of their origin against the country they live in. It is a little more contentious though because they benefit from being English or Australian citizens from birth, their friends are from there, so are their accents. But the home culture is difficult to break away from. I have a friend who is married to a girl from Pakistan and I wouldn’t find it out of place at all if she supported Pakistan in a match against India.
However if the form of support descends into vilification of what is now really the home country, and of those that represent it, it is wrong and must be stopped. I believe that is what happened with the targeting of Moeen Ali and, to a lesser extent, Bopara. If by doing so, these supporters thought they were being patriotic to the land of their origin, I’m afraid they ended up doing it discredit.
Like Hashim Amla, Moeen Ali seems able to manage a very public exhibition of his faith with an equally public expression of loyalty to his team and country. It is a tightrope, both walk it well and all credit to them for it. They seem to exhibit an awareness of the world that is greater than most cricketers are able to. I thought though that Moeen was wrong to support what is happening in Gaza on the cricket field, he chose a forum that wasn’t his and the ICC were wrong not to penalise him.
This is not the last we will hear on the issue of which team to cheer for. But if the banter becomes vicious, it could lead to strong intractable positions, people who are joined by cricket could be segregated on the basis of faith or their origin and that would be terrible. I hope what happened in Birmingham was a one-off and those that did it realise their folly very quickly.