Bandon Mein Tha Hum, a Neeraj Pandey documentary series about the India-Australia Test series of 2020-21 has been streaming on Voot Select and receiving rave reviews from fans and critics alike. The hard fought Test series was easily one of the finest advertisements of Test cricket in recent memory and as Indian fans what made it so much better was the grit and resolve the team showed to come back from 36 all out in the first Test to winning the final Test at Gabba and bringing the Border Gavaskar trophy home.
Much has been said and written about the series, and rightfully so but there were still certain issues that happened on and off the field that need to be spoken about.
One such incident was the racist abuse Mohammed Siraj faced from Australian fans. A group of fans had been escorted out of the stadium by cops after the Indian pacer reported the incident to the authorities. Indian skipper Ajinkya Rahane had condemned the incident and said that such behaviour was unacceptable and should not happen anywhere in the world. Ace spinner, Ravichandran Ashwin, meanwhile had stated that he had been a victim of racist crowds at Sydney for almost a decade.
We spoke Ashwin about the incident and asked if cricket boards across the world needed to have that conversation a lot more, as it is being had in Football. The spinner said:
I think we should have that conversation as a world. It's just not in cricket or any other sport. I don't think it has to do anything with a particular section of people in any particular country. Everywhere people do believe that belong to a majority sort of a thing and they want to have a go at somebody else. And I think racism is one tip of it, one part of it, where they believe that is one areas of differentiation with someone.
I think the only solution to this is better parenting and better awareness. Just by talking at an event or at a stage like this, we wouldn't necessarily make a difference. But with awareness and talking about it on a regular basis and better parenting from childhood, yes I think we can make a difference. It's not about a certain country or a certain crowd, yes it's happened at the ground, at that ground, at that place a lot more but it was courageous of him(Siraj) to bring it out so that atleast a wider section of the people know...
When asked if boards need to make the punishments harsher for people convicted of using racist abuse, Ashwin said it's not just Australian fans that are doing it.
I am sure they were immediately evicted from the venue. Bans are there, those fans are not allowed to come in. But why I say it's a global problem is because it happens in India as well. You get people calling you black in India as well... Unfortunately, racism isn't a nationality, it's an attitude.
Mind you, during the course of this series, the team had to stay in a bubble, the pandemic was still raging and things weren't that well back home. It was a hard fought series with players getting injured every other day, and add incidents of racism to that, and your mental health can take a massive toll.
When we asked Ashwin about the team's mental health and if they had access to professionals to help them through the difficult tour, the veteran said that everybody was different, everybody's requirements were different.
I think mental health is definitely getting a centrepiece in terms of people trying to be aware of how important mental health is. Sometimes, Indian cricketers aren't even thinking about it because of their positions in the team and there's so much competition. So they are contsantly thinking that they should keep going despite their mental health. But that's changing and that change is welcome and very good.
He further spoke about how personal that subject is for every player.
There are two ways of looking of looking at it. When you need help, to ask for it is very brave and not of people can ask for it. When you ask for it, you need to go to a professional, which is your self awareness. Whether boards do it, someone else does, whether they appoint one is not something I have any control over. But I have definitely taken help!
Ashwin's words sure are true and brave, given the world we live in. And for a sportsperson of his stature to speak about racism and mental health is commendable and is bound to send the right message to kids who are lacing up their boots and picking up their bats to follow in his footsteps.
You can watch Bandon Mein Tha Dum on Voot Select.