No stranger to personally abusive heckling from spectators, Nathan Lyon believes Mohammed Siraj has set a fresh standard by calling out poor crowd behaviour during the SCG Test, and that more players will ponder following his example in future series.
Siraj has been interviewed by Cricket Australia over the multiple instances of abuse he faced during the Sydney Test, including at least one alleged cry of “brown dog” from the seats, leaving cricket authorities and police with the difficult task of identifying the spectator who delivered it.
While he made a clear distinction between racial abuse and baiting of a more general variety, Lyon said that players would now have the option of stopping play to call out their abusers in the stands, depending on how much they had been personally affected by what they heard.
“Yeah it may well do, it’s totally going to be up to that player and how they have been affected,” Lyon said ahead of his 100th Test in Brisbane this week. “I just really hope that in a whole world society that we get over it and people can come and watch us play cricket and players don’t go to work and worry about getting abused or racially abused. Cricket’s a sport for all, so it really comes down to the player and how they’ve been affected.
“It’s a very interesting one, and for me there’s no room for anything racial or any abuse in any type. I know people think they’re being funny, but it can affect people in different ways. I think it’s quite disgusting to be honest with you. Yes, I’ve been on the other end of it, copping abuse, whether that’s in England or New Zealand or South Africa or wherever it may be, but there’s no room for it.
“You’ve got to try as a player to do your best to try and block it out, but if the time’s right call in the match officials. We’ve got a lot of security around the grounds these days so hopefully they can do their job, and if there’s anyone doing that they can be removed, because there’s absolutely no place for it.”
Lyon and the Australia touring team had numerous instances where they might have wished to do something similar to Siraj in recent seasons, largely when personal abuse about them, their partners or other family members was heard. There may be further such instances should next summer’s Ashes series be played with international borders re-opened and overseas spectators allowed into Australia.
More broadly, Australia’s poor history of race relations has been placed under the microscope by the former Test opener Ed Cowan, who said that the only change at the SCG was that at 25% capacity individual taunts were far more likely to be picked up by players over the usual hubbub of a much larger crowd.
Cowan argued that more Australians needed to admit there was an underlying national problem with racism, casual or otherwise, before the issue would ever be substantially addressed.
“We have an issue with Australia full stop, we are a very racist nation,” Cowan told ABC Grandstand. “We can hold the mirror up and pretend we are not. But all you need to do is go to an AFL game, all you need to do is watch the Adam Goodes documentary, all you need to do is walk down the street. Casual or otherwise, racism is a massive issue in Australian society and we need to fix it.
“That is my view, and this is not bound to cricket or sport, it is merely a reflection of the society we live in, and it’s not good enough. The big thing other people haven’t spoken about is this happens every game. This is not an outlier.
“Every AFL game, every cricket game, the differencebeing there are 40,000 people there and the cricketers or AFL players rarely hear what’s being said. You reduce the crowd capacity to 25% and you hear every single word and so the buffoons that were yelling out, they would’ve been yelling out days one to four, with 40,000 people there and no-one would’ve said boo. It’s the fact that all of a sudden they’ve been heard.”
Lauding Siraj for his willingness to step forward and say he would not accept being abused, Cowan said that further crowd monitoring measures may need to be considered by sport and venue governing bodies. “We need to make an effort at the grounds, irrespective of whether the players hear it or not, whether you have a crowd control person on every single aisle and they are monitoring,” he said.
“But if we are serious about stamping out racism in this country, it is a zero tolerance and we need to get serious about that. The real hero on this is the young Indian Siraj, for calling it out, for having the courage to say ‘you know what, this is only my second Test match, I know what I heard’, he’s called it out and there should be every single inch of investigation, and that is the example that it’s set, that it’s not on, and we need to start calling it out.”
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig