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It was India’s cricket captain at his leaderly best, except off the field, taking all the targeted trolling and hate speech that has been shoved at Mohammed Shami since the cricket team’s T20 World Cup loss to Pakistan, head on. On that day, the Pakistan team played really well, and the Indian one did not. But as a Muslim, Shami was singled out for abuse – “traitor”, “Pakistani”. When quizzed on this at a presser, Virat Kohli forcefully laid out what is wrong with such bigotry in general and in cricket specifically. First, religion is a very sacred and personal thing to every human being, so it should be left there.
Second, given that Shami has won India n number of matches and has been our primary bowler alongside Jasprit Bumrah in recent years, questioning his loyalty to the country is completely irrational. Kohli also underlined that while anonymous handles on social media play this “pathetic” game, it has not even “0.0001%” room in the Indian team. It is plain antithetical to competing at the international level, where win or lose the cricketers must stick together, back individuals, focus on strengths … and get ready for the field again.
Ahead of the match, the Indian team had taken a knee against racism, which seemed ironic in light of the Islamophobia that followed. Equally swiftly followed comparisons to how England’s Football Association had categorically condemned the online racist abuse of some players after the Euro 2020 final loss. As much of all this hatred is fomented on social media, where algorithms reward negative comments, it is notable that Kohli made his consequential intervention at an old-fashioned press conference. In a country where the love of cricket is shared by all, his words shall be heard by all for sure. May they also be heeded.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.