Police to investigate allegations of racism in crowd during England vs India Test match

·7 min read
Police to investigate allegations of racism in crowd during England vs India Test match - REUTERS
Police to investigate allegations of racism in crowd during England vs India Test match - REUTERS

The police have confirmed they have launched a criminal investigation into allegations of racism in the crowd during Monday’s play at Edgbaston after an Indian supporter claimed he received horrific abuse from England fans.

Edgbaston officials on Monday evening said they were looking into the issue, with West Midlands Police announcing on Tuesday morning that they are attempting to identify the alleged offender after pictures circulated on social media.

Twitter user Anil Sehmi, whose profile says he is the official dhol player for the Bharat Army, India’s equivalent of the Barmy Army, said people were left in tears on the receiving end of continued racist abuse.

“Racist behaviour at Edgbaston towards Indian fans in block 22 Eric Hollies,” he wrote. “People calling us Curry C----s and p--- b------s.

“We reported it to the stewards and showed them the culprits at least 10 times but no response and all we were told is to sit in our seats.”

Writing directly to Azeem Rafiq, the former cricketer who blew the whistle on Yorkshire’s racism scandal, he pleaded: “Please can you spread this message. We had women literally in tears when @ECB_cricket fans were threatening us. Slitting there [sic] throats looking at us calling us all sorts of names.”

Another Twitter user, Kushal Malde, responded: “I'm all for some good banter between fans but today was some of the worst abuse we've ever experienced at a match. Some disgusting racism ("you smelly P---s" for example). The stewards actually told the India fans to sit down whilst allowing the abuse to go ahead.”

He added: “Of course it's a ‘small minority’. But the people around the ‘small minority’ weren't saying anything to the racists/abusers either. Institutional racism runs rife in this country. One guy I spoke to even used the excuse ‘they're just drunk idiots’...”

A West Midlands Police spokesperson said: “We’ve launched a criminal investigation into reports of racist, abusive behaviour at the Test match in Birmingham yesterday.

“We’re liaising with Edgbaston officials to understand what’s happened and would encourage anyone who heard any racist language or gestures, or has video footage that could help, to get in touch.

“We’re aware of images circulating on social media showing an alleged offender. We’re making enquiries to identify the person and would urge him to come forward and speak to us.”

Stuart Cain, Warwickshire chief executive, said: “I’m gutted by these reports as we’re working hard to make Edgbaston a safe, welcoming environment for all.

“Having seen the initial tweets, I’ve spoken personally to the gentleman who raised them and we’re now speaking to the stewards in this area to establish what happened.

“Nobody should be subject to any form of abuse at Edgbaston. So, once we’ve got all the facts, we will make sure this issue is addressed swiftly.”

Edgbaston responded to the tweets on Monday, saying: “We’re incredibly sorry to read this and do not condone this behaviour in any way. We’ll be investigating this ASAP.”

It is understood Edgbaston officials are seeking to speak directly to the victims of the alleged abuse to ascertain exactly what happened.

Alex Lees and Zak Crawley epitomise ‘Bazball’ with historic opening stand

Given that Test cricket has been played for close to 150 years, there are sound reasons for the emergence of certain conventional wisdoms in how various aspects of the game work. Bowl first under cloud cover, do not bother abusing your fast bowlers in Sri Lanka, and get your spinner involved early on a deteriorating day-five pitch.

With a series of appetising foot marks tantalisingly placed just outside Alex Lees’ off stump, it was no surprise then that Ravindra Jadeja, India’s only frontline spinner at Edgbaston, was thrown the ball just eight overs into England’s second innings.

Chasing an improbable 378 runs to win, few had expected England’s openers to get off to the flyer that they had against Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami. But here, against Jadeja, was the truest test of their mettle.

Alex Lees (left) and Zak Crawley (right) helped to leave England in sight of a record run chase - AP
Alex Lees (left) and Zak Crawley (right) helped to leave England in sight of a record run chase - AP

On strike was a man who, in his first few matches in an England shirt, resembled little more than a limpet, paralysed in his quest to survive. Indeed, in his short seven-Test career, Lees had only once previously scored at a strike rate above 66.66 – and even the exception could be described as a statistical anomaly with the innings in question lasting just five balls.

So imagine the surprise when he promptly danced down the track first ball and biffed Jadeja straight to the long-off boundary. Or when, a few deliveries later, he reverse-swept hard for four more to take the tally off the over to 10. That it was only the fifth time he had played the shot in his first-class career told a tale of just how unusual this approach was.

Since the advent of ‘Bazball’ earlier this summer, England’s opening partnership had been notable outliers in the sudden gear change that has seen batting records shattered with preposterous consistency. In their last five innings together, Lees and Zak Crawley’s union had ended on scores of six, 12, four, 17 and 16, putting Crawley’s position, in particular, in jeopardy. That they now hold the record for England’s quickest century-opening stand in Tests after this astonishing effort against a feared Indian bowling attack could not have seemed less likely.

Despite the weight of history, an abysmal recent sequence and a troubling match situation, they now sit above such luminaries as Andrew Strauss and Marcus Trescothick, and Graham Gooch and Michael Atherton, with the first 100 of their 107-run partnership coming off just 19.5 overs.

Laughably, England’s previous 100-run opening stand had taken 243 balls when chasing a similarly distant 368-run target against India last summer. They promptly folded for 210.

There is a theory about Lees that the shots have always been there, but the pressure of increasing seniority in first-class cricket created a strange reluctance to play them. In his early days at Yorkshire he developed the nickname ‘Haydos’ after the Australian opener Matthew Hayden because of his attacking style.

The brilliant unbeaten 275 he scored against Derbyshire in his first full summer of county cricket came at a healthy strike rate of 63.07, but somewhere along the way he got bogged down until the point he was selected to be England’s grinder, eking out runs and leaving the flamboyance to others.

On his debut tour to the West Indies earlier this year, he appeared petrified. Under a Brendon McCullum-Ben Stokes regime that looks ever more revolutionary with each passing match, he seems a man reborn.

His half-century here, off 44 balls, was England’s fourth fastest by an opener in Tests, replete with nonchalant upper cuts over the slip cordon for four and frequent forays down the pitch to spinners and seamers alike.

Lees celebrates his half-century - AFP
Lees celebrates his half-century - AFP

An attacking shot percentage that languished at just 16 per cent in the West Indies is now up to 29 per cent this summer, with his leave percentage falling accordingly from 31 to 21 per cent, according to CricViz.

Crawley, all-but assured of his place for the upcoming South Africa series by an England hierarchy desperate to ditch the stick in favour of the carrot, was more circumspect until hitting five boundaries in the space of 11 balls, four of which were sublimely timed off-drives. When the man looks good, he looks seriously good.

Concerns remain though, with his downfall brought about by yet another misjudgement around the location of his off stump, this time not succumbing to greed but sunk by his own restraint, leaving a Bumrah inswinger that smashed into the stumps.

His and Lees’ futures remain uncertain. But in the unlikeliest of circumstances, they did something no other England openers have done, and suggested their partnership might not be over yet.