Wasim Jaffer’s flowing beard has often reminded fans of WG Grace, father of cricket and hero of romantic tales that traveled with the English around the Empire. Jaffer’s whiskers and his tranquil batting approach hark back to cricket’s charmingly unhurried era. Now, an attempt has been made to air-brush the image, disregard the cricket and project Jaffer as a parochial Muslim. A day after Jaffer accused officials of pushing undeserving players into the team in his resignation letter as Uttarakhand coach came the unseemly counter-attack from those running cricket in BCCI’s state unit. Without evidence or inquiry, the former Test player, after more than two decades of an unblemished cricketing journey, was labelled a coach with a communal bias, who promoted Muslim players, invited a maulvi into the dressing room and changed a team chant that hailed Hindu gods. With that one toxic statement, Uttarakhand officials maligned one of India’s respected batting giants and dented the legacy of a game that has for years brought this diverse country together.
The insensitive statements from Uttarakhand echo the days of the Raj when religion was the basis to divide the natives for cricket tournaments, and when Hindus, Muslims and Parsis competed for Pentangular glory. This is 2021, an era of multinational teams, franchise cricket and club vs country debates. One of the allegations against Jaffer — which he denies — is about him discontinuing the team habit of collectively evoking Hanuman before entering the field. By virtue of playing for three domestic teams, being part of two IPL teams and playing club cricket in England for close to 20 years, Jaffer has seen the world. The strength of the foundations of great teams depends on the depth of their inclusiveness. At the same time, successful sports teams ensure that while their huddles don’t have religious overtones, players are given space to pursue their beliefs and bring their gods to the dressing room or even the field of play.
After the 2019 World Cup final, widely regarded as the greatest game ever, England’s Dublin-born captain, Eoin Morgan, was asked if it was luck of the Irish that won him the game that had a tied Super Over. Recalling his conversation with Adil Rashid, key spinner with roots in Pakistan, Morgan had said: “I spoke to Rashid, he said Allah was definitely with us… We’re from quite diverse backgrounds and cultures and guys grow up in different countries.” Morgan showed that the easiest way to win someone’s trust was to respect his faith. Uttarakhand has shown that you could be at a great height and still be a frog in the well.