I remember having a conversation with a young Steve Okeefe when I was playing, and I was so livid at some of the Australian crowd antics toward me in a T20 game. I just didn’t get it. I just didn’t get why they thought it was ok to absolutely abuse me for 90 mins on the sideline and think it was ok or funny. While he was trying to calm me down, he said “Mate when I buy that ticket to sit in the stand, I see it as my right to absolutely give it to anyone that is out there playing, he earns good money so it’s his job to deal with it”. To say I was shocked is an understatement, but he then got me wondering, am I too sensitive about all of this? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill?
I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times I was called the worst spinner to ever play for Australia, useless, pathetic…. the list goes on, and those were just nice things without swearing. I remember playing the Big Bash Final in 02 in Perth and the Perth crowd had a reputation for being absolutely brutal, so brutal in fact that I used to hear stories of them spitting on players. Yep, that’s right, spitting. Anyway, you guessed it, I had to field on the boundary and the crowd was into me, but nothing bad, just a bit of cheeky banter (there is a difference between that and just abuse). Normally I would just leave it and just give them my customary wave with my hand and don’t face them, but this time I thought, nope stuff it, I am going to give it back to them. When I say give it back I mean to be a smart ass if I did something good. Luckily enough I had a decent night, took some catches, and bowled well and we won the game. 90% of the crowd were great and clapped and we had banter while I was on the boundary but there was one particular bloke, who everyone knew in Perth. He loved the Perth Scorchers and he hated anybody that played against them. He used to abuse me every time I played there. Honestly, it was like he would wake up and think, how am I going to make Hauritz’s day painful today… So during the night, we were thumping the Scorchers and he was in my ear on the boundary again and I took a catch and I gave him cheek and he lost the plot. It was like I had unleashed the beast. The words that came out of his mouth were so disgusting and he was really aggressive. I remember waiting on the podium and all I could hear was “Your f*&^ing dead Hauritz” and then he proceeded to slice his throat with his thumb. SERIOUSLY?? It’s just a game big fella, calm down.
Watching parts of the cricket yesterday I saw the stoppage and then the ensuing discussion and then the young men that were kicked out. I have also seen reports this morning that the young men didn’t say anything except for “Welcome to Sydney Shiraz”. Then you see reports from the players and the BCCI that state otherwise. I really hope that was nothing racist said, there is no place for racism period. But if there was nothing racist said and the boys were having a joke and not being personal or aggressive how do we as players learn how to deal with it? How do we learn to block out that external noise that is hounding you from 2m away? I know I couldn’t, all I wanted to do was throw my water bottle at their head and shut them up. But I was a different person/player. I was emotional and took everything to heart, which is why I struggled so much with all of the external stuff.
Playing cricket in Australia is tough. Toughest in the world. In India, Siraj would be treated like a god and they would rarely say anything bad about him. The fans treat their players with the utmost respect. Until the players don’t win and then they burn down houses, but that’s a story for another time… So what I am trying to get at is this… Every international/domestic player is different. Some have thick skin, some are the best in the world and some take on everything that people say in the crowd. What was said or done at the SCG will be found out eventually and if they were racist, then they will face the appropriate punishment. But next time you are at the cricket or any other sporting venue, remember to have a think first before you sledge someone for dropping that catch or sledge them for not spinning the ball..
At the end of the day, we are all human, we are all just like you trying to do our best. We all get up train as hard as we can and want to do well for our clubs, state or country. We don’t come in and sit beside you when you are trying to do a tax return yelling obscenities because your calculator added up something wrong. We don’t go out to a building site and heckle the young apprentice because he dropped a hammer in the concrete. No, we just do our job the best we can. I personally don’t believe that it’s a spectator’s right to just be able to abuse me because they paid for a ticket, I may be wrong and to sensitive about it but that’s my belief. I am sure there are people who are reading this who disagree with me, that’s ok I am not writing this to convince you otherwise. I am writing this so that next time you are watching a sporting event, just have a think about it before you let fly at someone!
I often get asked if I loved playing for Australia. The answer will shock a lot of people because more often (for me) the bad outweighed the good. The sledging and abuse from crowds, the media, the social media, the list goes on. It wasn’t all bad and as I said, I may be too sensitive to it all. But there are moments like that Perth game that stick in my mind forever, hopefully, this is something for young Mohammed Siraj (who is playing his 2nd test) that doesn’t stick in his mind. Hopefully, for him, this is just a small bump in the road of an incredibly successful career.