• Sarfaraz caught out by hot mic

    Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmed could be in line for serious sanction by the ICC following an alleged racist comment he made during Proteas all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo’s match-winning innings on Tuesday evening, writes SIMON LEWIS.

    With South Africa closing in on victory in what had been something of a brilliant, seesaw ODI battle, the beleaguered Pakistan skipper made what true cricket fans might hope was a light-hearted comment directed at Phehlukwayo on the field.

    Sarfraz, in Urdu, said: ‘Abey kaale, teri ammi aaj kahaan baitheen hain? Kya parwa ke aaye hai aaj?’.

    Translated literally that is: ‘Hey black guy, where’s your mother sitting today? What [prayer] have you got her to say for you today?’

    The comment was made when the Proteas were five overs away from reaching their victory target after Pakistan had started the ODI disastrously. A rampant South African attack had knocked the visitors back to 112-8 before Sarfaraz himself righted the innings with an invaluable 41 off 59 balls, sharing a ninth-wicket stand of 90 with Hasan Ali, who blazed a blistering 59 off 45 balls.

    Sarfaraz was eventually bowled by Phehlukwayo, but the skipper had brought his side back into the game to help them post 203 off 45.5 overs. That was by no means a challenging total for the Proteas, but it was at least a score the bowlers could throw themselves behind trying to defend, and they did a sensational job, pegging the Proteas back to 80-5 before Phehlukwayo and Rassie van der Dussen put together an unbroken stand of 127 for the sixth wicket.

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    Sarfaraz scored three ducks in the Test series, as well as two half-centuries, scored just one run in the first ODI and 41 in the second, so his own up and down form has matched that of his side during this ill-fated tour. Clearly the frustrations were there to be seen when he made his remark, but hopefully he will be let off with a warning.

    While there is no place for racism or racist comments on the sports field or anywhere in society, the fact that his alleged ‘racist’ comment was made in his own language, and presumably Phehlukwayo was not able to translate it, suggests that it was a comment made to lighten the mood of his teammates and perhaps spur them on to capturing a wicket.

    Racism is a serious offence and it would be sad for Sarfaraz to be slapped with a fine or a ban for racism, as that is a label that would likely stick to him for many years to come. He certainly should receive some form of sanction for ‘conduct unbecoming’ a professional cricketer, not to mention as the captain of a national side, but for cricket’s sake I hope that the authorities conclude that the comments were not racist.

    If anything, Sarfaraz’s comment was inappropriate for mentioning the all-rounder’s mother, although even if Phehlukwayo were able to interpret the quote it is possible that it would have been viewed by him as light banter (only he can confirm this). Possibly Phehlukwayo might even have raised a smile over it, but sadly, the interpretations that are spreading around social media have tainted the comment as ‘racist’.

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    Sarfaraz’s chirp was, in my opinion (and without the full benefit of the context of what was said or how), totally harmless, but the big lesson for players is that in the modern era there is always someone listening, recording or photographing you. That makes the life of the professional cricketer so much more difficult, as sport is a passionate pursuit and things happen in the blink of an eye that, if recorded, can be taken out of context.

    At the same time, however, the fact that so much is recorded does help to push out negative elements and practices from the game.

    Sadly, the frenzy over the trending of Sarfaraz’s ‘racist comment’ has meant that some of the gloss has been taken off what was an incredible, match-winning all-round performance by Phehlukwayo (along with another superb knock by Van der Dussen), a man who suffers regular abuse on social media from sectors of the cricketing community who question his ability.

    At just 22 years of age, and with only 36 ODIs under his belt, this young man has already done some exceptional things on the international stage, and clearly has an incredible future ahead of him, starting with the World Cup in a few months time. I’m sure with hindsight Sarfaraz’s biggest regret about the comment he made, was that it has taken the spotlight off a wonderful performance by a brilliant young all-rounder – Phehlukwayo.

    For cricketers, the challenge is that they can move from hero to zero in the space of one ODI as the public demands perfection and the real ‘R’-word – RESULTS – at all times. That pressure is why Sarfaraz should be cut some slack for what I believe was little more than light banter in the face of a disappointing loss in a key ODI.


    Photo: Tharaka Basnayaka/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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    Simon Lewis