“I’m proud of the career I’ve had and I want people to remember me as a very good cricketer, but more importantly I am very proud of the way we’ve stood up and what we have achieved. I’ve been standing up for quite a while now, but with the result of the investigation, we’ve been vindicated. That’s my legacy: it doesn’t matter how many runs, wickets, catches, titles or World Cup appearances I have: that’s all secondary. For me, I hope the current and future generations of Asian cricketers get a fair chance, and can thank people like myself and Qasim (Sheikh) for helping to make that happen.”
It has been, as the saying goes, quite a journey for Majid Haq. From the trauma of his return from the World Cup in 2015 to the publication of the report into racism within Scottish cricket he helped inspire, the physical and emotional toll exacted on the man who is still Scotland’s all-time leading wicket-taker has been considerable. While his relief at being able to refocus his energies onto the future is palpable, the memories of the past are still raw.
‘Always tougher when you’re in the minority’, he had tweeted back in 2015: words born of a long-held sense of injustice and a desire to express it. Many reports and subsequent write-ups of the story – my own included – have focused on the ‘what’ rather than the ‘why’, interpreting the tweet as a reaction to a selection decision instead of the protest against inequality it has since become clear that it was. Twitter’s 140 characters, built for ‘hot takes’ and spur-of-the-moment impulses, could never capture the full nuance of what has now been exposed.
“I was sent home because of that tweet,” said Majid. “There was nothing [in it] about not being picked [for Scotland’s game against Sri Lanka], but it was taken in that way. But for me, [the phrase came out of] a general feeling that I had.
“For an Asian player, there is always a feeling that we’re one or two games away from being dropped, when we’ve seen white players getting maybe two seasons to mark down their performances. If we see a white player score a fifty or a hundred it gets really pumped up, whereas if an Asian player plays well it gets almost downplayed sometimes. That one performance that was good gets forgotten about the next game, whereas if you see a white player put in a similar performance, it gets talked about for the whole season. For me, that’s how we all feel, especially when the coaches, the selectors and people in the set-up always back those players compared to the Asian players.
“[As an example,] I remember when I took my best-ever bowling figures for Scotland in an ODI, against Ireland in September 2014,” he went on. “I just remember that it wasn’t celebrated much. In fact, someone saw me on the physio bench afterwards and asked if I was lying there because I’d done well: I was actually struggling with a knee problem, but had played through it. A lot of Asian players do that: they feel their spot is never secure, so they’ll play through any injuries they may have so there’s no excuse for them to be left out.
“So that feeling was in the background, as were other things. There were times [at the 2015 World Cup] when the food that was provided for us was all mixed together: there wasn’t a halal option sometimes, just cheese and tuna, but even that was mixed in with ham, bacon and stuff like that. I had said that that wasn’t good enough, but it felt like it was falling on deaf ears. Eventually after about three or four days it was sorted out, but it wasn’t right. Why should we [have to go onto] a vegetarian diet if we’re not vegetarian? We need protein in our system to perform, the same as anybody else.
“There was another time in New Zealand, when I had a little accident in the car park. The following day one of the coaches put up a picture of traffic in Pakistan, saying, you should be used to driving in that. I was born and brought up in Paisley, I’ve never driven a car in Pakistan: it was a massive racial stereotype that had no relevance at all. I felt I was being belittled in front of my peers, all the players and support staff, and I was a senior player then, 31 years of age and one of the best players in the team, and then I saw others getting pumped up so much by the coaches and getting a lot more respect than I was.
“I was a senior player but I was nowhere near the senior committee, and for me that was extremely disappointing: I’d done so much, but it felt like my voice was not as important as others. Sometimes I felt like I didn’t want to be there anymore, that’s how bad things got. There was a lot of depression there as well.”
But the appearance of the tweet set in motion a chain of events for which Majid was hardly prepared.
“Within a couple of hours I had a message from one of the coaches back in Scotland to say that I didn’t know how bad the repercussions were going to be,” he said. “No, hi Majid, how are you? I’ve seen your tweet, can you explain it? It was automatically, you don’t know how bad this is going to be for you, without actually listening to me. I was then called to a meeting with the coach, captain and a couple of board members and asked what the tweet was about, and I said it was just the way I felt. I was asked to delete it, but I asked why I should: I’d never said anything about cricket, it was just a generic tweet. I did eventually delete it, but the following day there was another meeting – I think the ICC had played a part as well – and they said that as an organisation they had decided to send me home.
“My world came crashing down. I didn’t realise, I thought that I’d go home and then when everyone came back I’d be in the squad again, but I was basically ‘sine die’d: sent into outer space.
“I was quite emotional. It was a very long flight from Tasmania back to Glasgow, almost two days, and obviously the press had heard about it and were waiting for me at the airport. But there was no-one there from Cricket Scotland, no-one to take me aside, to keep me away from the press: I was just left to myself. That then continued: I was left to my own devices until Aamer [Anwar] got involved as things [developed] in a legal way. His support has been incredible all the way through, and I thank him again: I will always be grateful.
“Eventually my suspension was lifted and I was free to resume duties, but I obviously wasn’t in a great mental space by then. That single tweet had changed everyone’s perception of me. Hopefully that’s changed [now the report has been published], but that reputational damage has been over six or seven years and I’m not going to get that back. It’s had a big effect on me financially, emotionally, mentally: whereas before I was very trusting, I don’t trust people very easily any more.
“I keep myself to myself now: I’ve become very closed and isolated. I used to be down to earth, chilled, going with the flow, never taking things too seriously, but it’s changed me. It’s changed me as a person.”
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Sitting with Majid, in a coffee shop in Braehead, it is that last statement that is most upsetting to hear. Amid all that has happened over the last few years, the human cost has been easy to overlook, the effects that have been felt by the person as well as the cricketer. But our long conversation has been both moving and inspiring: that Majid is so keen to look to the future and the betterment of the game we all love is impressive indeed.
Because we now have the chance to do just that. The report from Plan4Sport has provided Scottish cricket with the opportunity to listen, learn and move forward together, and for Majid, now focused on a career in umpiring after a successful season with Prestwick last year, education must go hand-in-hand with representation if the sport is to reach the place we all want it to go.
“What happens off the field is very important,” he said. “We need to see people of colour in important posts – on the board, as selectors, as coaches at junior as well as senior level – but we want to see the right people appointed as well. At the end of the day you need to have a voice, an opinion, not be a ‘yes’ man.
“So we need strong people on the boards, and selection is crucial as well: basically, we need more selectors [drawn from a more diverse background]. Umpiring is critical, too, that we get more people of colour into that, because on the field is where a lot of things happen, and people might not understand [the significance of] or report [the things they might hear].
“And then in terms of playing, people need to be welcomed into the environment,” he went on. “It’s how people treat you, how they speak to you: it’s going out for meals together, for example, taking into consideration the fact that there are Muslim players there so the food has to be halal.
“There are a lot of good people in Scottish cricket,” he concluded. “We just need to see more representation of all of the people who play the game in Scotland.”
For me, I am very glad to have had the chance to talk with Majid again. His telling of the story of what happened at the 2015 World Cup puts a very different slant onto what was previously in the public domain, adding a level of insight that goes far beyond the selection decision that was assumed to have sparked it. But his optimism in looking ahead – while understandably cautious – is truly inspiring.
We all have our part to play in making cricket in Scotland a better place to be. Now is the time to make sure that it is.
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