Kolkata: Australia’s dominance on fourth day of the third Test against India at Sydney was overshadowed by the furore in the cricket community over allegations of racist abuse at members of the India team from a section of the crowd on Saturday.
While Cricket Australia moved swiftly at a damage control by issuing an ‘apology’ on Sunday, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has strongly condemned reported incidents of fans’ behaviour against Mohammed Siraj and Jasprit Bumrah - about which the Indian team lodged a complaint at the end of third day’s play.
The Indian team had apprised match referee David Boon as match and stadium officials were alert on the fourth day and play was halted and six people were evicted following another incident just before tea during Australia’s second innings.
“There is no place for discrimination in our sport and we are incredibly disappointed that a small minority of fans may think that this abhorrent behaviour is acceptable. We have a comprehensive anti-discrimination policy in place that members have to abide by and ensure is adhered to by fans and we welcome the action taken by ground authorities and Cricket Australia today,” said ICC Chief Executive Manu Sawhney.
“We will provide Cricket Australia and the relevant authorities with our full support in any ensuing investigation as we will not tolerate any racism in our sport.”
The scars of racism was never more strongly felt than last year itself which saw birth of the #BlackLivesMatter movement following the brutal murder of George Flloyd in the US in May - with leading sportspersons like Lewis Hamilton leading the crusade. The impassioned speech of West Indian fast bowling legend Michael Holding, ahead of their Test match verus England in July is also fresh in the memory.
Australian coach Justin Langer said such antics had no place in sport. “It’s upsetting and it’s disappointing,” he said.
“Anybody who knows me, knows I’ve said for years one of my greatest pet hates in life is that people think they can come to a sporting event, pay their money and think they can abuse or say whatever they like.
“I’ve hated it as a player, I hate it as a coach. We’ve seen it in different parts of the world and I’m really sad to see it happen in Australia.”
Australian great Shane Warne called the crowd behaviour on Saturday shameful. “Disgraceful to be honest, absolutely disgraceful,” he said while commentating on the match. “Let’s hope they come down heavy and find the culprits.”
“Racial abuse is absolutely unacceptable. Having gone through many incidents of really pathetic things said on the boundary lines, this is the absolute peak of rowdy behaviour. It’s sad to see this happen on the field,” Virat Kohli, regular Indian skipper, said on social media.
“The incident needs to be looked at with absolute urgency and seriousness and strict action against the offenders should set things straight for once,” he added.
Ravichandran Ashwin, senior Indian spinner for whom this is the fourth visit Down Under, was more aggressive as he singled out the Sydney crowd as the most abusive in Australia, saying that he has witnessed fans on the lower tier stands at the SCG indulge in unsavoury behaviour every time he has come to play here.
“This is my fourth tour to Australia. Especially here in Sydney we have had a few experiences even in the past. I think one or two times in the past even the players have reacted and got into trouble in the past (referring to Virat Kohli showing middle-finger at SCG in 2012 and getting fined 50 per cent match fee for it). It is not because of the players, it has been the way the crowd has been speaking especially people on lower tier of the stand, they have been quite nasty hurling abuses as well,” said Ashwin while speaking to reporters after the end of the fourth day’s play.
“This time they have gone one step ahead and used racial abuses and like we already mentioned we lodged an official complaint yesterday. It is definitely not acceptable in this day and age where we have evolved as a society. Sometimes I feel it roots back to the upbringing. It definitely must be dealt with iron-fist and we must make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
In football, there are instances of venues, clubs getting ‘punished’ with bans, fines because of similar offence of their fans. Will Cricket Australia follow suit?