On Republic Day Rasool made his Twenty20 International debut for India against England
© Economic Times

It’s not easy being an Indian cricketer, what with the constant pressure to perform, the piercing scrutiny that is the result of the tyranny of the 24-hour news cycle and the need to perpetually shoulder the burden of expectations of millions of fans. But it is downright difficult to be the first Kashmiri Muslim to play cricket for India, as Parvez Rasool, the all-rounder, is finding out.

On Thursday, Republic Day, no less, Rasool made his Twenty20 International debut for India against England. Rasool made five runs and picked up 1for 32 from his four overs as India were thoroughly outplayed. It was a forgettable debut by any standards, but attempts to make it memorable for completely non-cricketing reasons defy logic.
When the two teams lined up before the game for the national anthems, Rasool would have been a bundle of nerves, as you would expect of any player making his debut in a highoctane format. As many players do, out of habit or to stay calm, the 27-year-old Rasool was chewing gum when the national anthem played. He was not horsing around, not chatting idly with a neighbour and, yes, he was not singing the anthem. This has angered a broad swathe of Indians, who have predictably taken to Twitter and Facebook, making the short video clip viral.

India’s recent obsession with the national anthem reached its peak when a wheelchair-bound Goan was assaulted for not standing up for the rendition of what is essentially a song, even though he clearly could not, while being at a cinema to watch a film. Not long ago, the Union home ministry issued guidelines for the disabled on how they were expected to show respect to the anthem, one of which was “maintaining the maximum possible alertness physically”, while adding that those with mild intellectual disability “can be trained to understand and respect the national anthem”. If the Indian state makes such stringent demands of those who may not be able to hear the anthem, or recognise it, then it’s only fair to expect Rasool, able-bodied and fit of mind, to sing the anthem, right?

Quick Gun Morgan

The answer to that question stared Rasool in the face, in the form of the man he would go on to dismiss later in the evening, England captain Eoin Morgan. Born in Dublin, Morgan, who is Irish, played cricket for his native country, the Republic of Ireland, as a youngster, but as early as 16, he plied his trade for Middlesex. Morgan went on to play for Ireland. But when the chance to play at the highest level over a sustained period of time presented itself, he committed to England. While the Irish were understandably upset that one of their best players, whom they had invested considerably in, skipped over to the other side, they understood Morgan’s motivation. In England, Morgan was welcomed. Until, of course, someone observedthat he was not belting out the British national anthem ‘God Save the Queen’ before International Cricket Council (ICC) matches in which anthems were played. Morgan not just did not sing the British anthem, but he openly said he would not. He said that not singing the anthem was “a personal decision” and a “long story”, without elaborating.

“It’s pretty simple. I have never sang the national anthem when playing for Ireland or England,” said Morgan. “It does not make me any less proud to be an English cricketer.” While the mischievous attempted to make political capital of Morgan’s actions, a more mundane explanation presented itself. Kevin Jennings, who mentored Morgan from the time he was 11, said, “He’s a very shy fellow. I would imagine he’d be quite selfconscious singing in that context. I would say it’s as simple as that. He certainly wasn’t in the school choir.”
Former England footballer Gary Lineker — awarded Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE), no less — whose sense of fair play or allegiance to the British queen and country have never been questioned, sprung to Morgan’s defence. “You show your pride with your performance. You give your all on the field. Singing is for show, an irrelevance,” said Lineker. “I used to hate singing it. Still do. Mainly because I’m hideously bad.” Rasool has dedicated his entire life single-mindedly to cricket, reaching a point where he can represent his country. It should be enough if he proves he is good enough to play, not have to show how ‘Indian’ he is by singing an anthem.

Talk of Indiana Joneses

A devout Muslim who does not wear logos of alcohol brands on his kit and, thereby, forfeits the earnings that come from them, he has already once been accused of being a terrorist when traces of explosives were wrongly ‘detected’ on his kit as an under-22 player staying at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru. Those charges were baseless, just as the latest ones are, that he is somehow less Indian than anyone else simply because he won’t sing tunelessly on national television.

(This column first appeared in the Economic Times on January 28, 2017)