In 2012, British distance-runner Mo Farah captured not only the 5000- and 10,000-meter gold medals in the London Olympics but the hearts and minds of the British public. His excellence, exuberance, and unabashed commitment to the country to which members of his family had emigrated when he was a boy of ten meant that the usual depressing questions that attend sportsmen and -women who come from “different” ethnic or national backgrounds were muted. (Farah’s long-time coach, Alberto Salazar, has recently been accused of doping his athletes; Farah denies it.)
Now, the land that formalized track and field has another Mo to crow over, this time in another game of its own invention: cricket. The position in the English national side of Moeen Ali, the all-rounder who last year sensationally spun England to victory against India, had (inexplicably, for this blog) been in doubt before the start of the Ashes series between England and Australia. He didn’t spin the ball enough, was one complaint; he wasn’t effective enough with the bat was another. Now, after England’s victory in the first game of the series, where he scored 92 runs and took five wickets, it would seem absurd to leave him out. Coming in at number eight in the batting order, Ali (who normally bats at three for his home side) may find it a challenge accompanying tail-enders, which may in turn limit just how many runs he can score. But he’s an asset at any stage of the order.
What had escaped my (Martin’s) attention was that for the entirety of the match, the admirable Ali was fasting, since it is Ramadan. Now cricket may not require as much concentrated energy as middle- or long-distance running, but to perform at the highest level with only the residue of a pre-dawn breakfast or the promise of a post-sunset meal to keep you going still takes discipline and stamina, and is no mean feat. One would assume that there would be dispensations for this sort of thing. But, like Mo Farah, who bows in prayer at the end of a race, Ali is a devout Muslim, who prays five times a day. Like South African Hashim Amla, he wears a long beard and doesn’t drink alcohol, and has an unflappability about him that may (or may not) be a function of his faith, but certainly makes him a man for a crisis. It’s a testament to his character, and (one might hope) the greater tolerance and awareness of difference in sports in the U.K. and elsewhere, that Ali is as much a man of the moment and a representation of Britishness at its best as Farah was in 2012. Long may it continue.