By referring to Cheteshwar Pujara as “Steve” on air, Shane Warne bowled a wrong’un to himself. That’s because “Steve” in this context is the subject of an ongoing inquiry into institutional racism at Yorkshire County Cricket Club where Pujara was once a player.
The legendary leg-spinner joked that Cheteshwar is too hard to pronounce (it’s not – Chet-Esh-Var), so he’ll just call him Steve. This wasn’t a first in an India-Australia series. In 2018-19, when India won their first Test series in Australia, former Test player Kerry O’Keefe had made fun of the man who was Australia’s nemesis.
“Why would you name your kid Cheteshwar, (Ravindra) Jadeja,” he had said. O’Keefe, who is also on the commentary panel in the Adelaide Test, said he was sorry if he had hurt anyone.
Having hand-held Rajasthan Royals to the first IPL title and being their mentor and brand ambassador in 2020 is proof that Warne and Indian cricket run well between wickets. It wasn’t that as a Royals player, Indian names rolled smoothly off his tongue — Abhishek Jhunjhunwala was one delivery he never really got on top of — but he was making an earnest effort and no one complained. That can’t be said for his conduct on Thursday when Pujara was stonewalling Australia.
Especially in the light of what cricketer Azeem Rafiq has accused his former club Yorkshire of. In the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement, Rafiq had said that he had wanted to take his life after being made to feel like an “outsider” at the club because of his Pakistani roots. As the club launched an inquiry, two employees spoke of references to taxidrivers and restaurant workers when talking about Asians. “They called every person of colour ‘Steve’. Even (India batsman) Cheteshwar Pujara… was called Steve because they could not pronounce his name.” Taj Butt, one of the employees, was quoted as saying by ESPNcricnifo. Pujara too has alluded to this and has said he would have preferred being called by his name.
That’s something Muhammad Ali would have liked Ernie Terrell to do in the build-up to their 1967 fight. Ali had discarded Cassius Clay saying it was a slave’s name. But Terrell kept calling him that and Ali responded by calling him “Uncle Tom” almost leading to a bare-fisted combat. In the eighth round of their fight, Ali, while landing blows to Terrell’s face, kept asking: “What’s my name?”
The history of racism and colonialism is replete with the aggressors changing the names of the oppressed; either because they could not be bothered to learn the names of their “inferiors” or more blatantly to strip people of identity and dignity.
At the very least, getting someone’s name right (or at least trying to) is a simple act of courtesy.