Ajaz Patel had just returned home from the mosque on a Friday morning in 2019 when he heard media reports of two consecutive mass shootings in Christchurch which killed several citizens.
The New Zealand team was then set to play Bangladesh in a Test match the following day and it was soon revealed that even a few of the opposition cricketers had a close shave. Patel, the Mumbai-born New Zealand cricketer, who created a record by claiming all 10 wickets in the first innings of the second Test against India, still remembers how his neighbours stood behind his family.
" Jo terrorist attack hua tha usmei obviously humari Muslim community pe impact hua tha. Kaafi ghabrahat wala mausam tha... (The terrorist attack had a huge impact on the Muslim community. It was a climate of fear)," Patel told reporters on Tuesday. "But the way Prime Minister as well as the whole community responded – with love – we felt included.”
Talking about how he has never felt out of place ever since immigrating to Auckland in 1996, Patel said: "My mom is not judged in New Zealand when she walks out in a burqa . She can roam around without people saying anything," said Ajaz. "Our neighbours had placed a plant at the entry staircase of our in-construction house, knowing we are Muslims, with a note saying, 'we support you and you are a part of us'."
Patel now hopes to be a role model for the Asian community in New Zealand. "In terms of being a leader of the Asian community, I think every time you go out there you are hoping to be a role model for a new generation. Being a spinner is one of the most difficult jobs when it comes to playing cricket in New Zealand.
"So hopefully, after my achievement there are going to be more kids in New Zealand who want to become great spinners for New Zealand. I hope it (the 10-fer) inspires children from Asian communities and parents to say 'look there is a pathway here'. If they work hard, if they really commit to it and have that drive then it's certainly possible and nothing's stopping them," Patel said.
"I guess my story is an example that if you work hard enough there is nothing stopping you anywhere. You need the support of your family first and foremost and you need good people around you, which I have been fortunate to have. I love to be a role model to younger kids and I hope that by the end of my career that I look back on it and say 'I was a good role model'."
Cricket in England has recently been rocked by controversies surrounding racism. "We speak about diversity and racism now from a sporting perspective, but I don't think it has influenced me particularly in my upbringing. But I won't say it doesn't exist, even though not so much in New Zealand. I actually, through my journey, felt quite comfortable in New Zealand," Ajaz, who dreams of playing 80-90 Tests for New Zealand, said.
"I have been very, very grateful to the Black Caps environment. As soon as I came in, they have been very respectful about my culture, beliefs, and rituals. Like for me, if I need halal food, they will source it from anywhere they have to. I need a place to pray or do my namaz , I remember in my debut season, they sent someone along with me to the masjid (mosque), so I could pray."
"And also in the change room, if I have to pray in the change room, guys are very, very respectful and give me the space and the time to pray, so I have been very fortunate."
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He also feels it is important to educate people. "There are two sides to it -- one is education. You need to educate people around you what your beliefs are and I think sometimes we are lacking in that side as well. I think it is my responsibility to tell them that 'look theses are my values and this is what I need. Can you please provide it?'. To their credit they have been able to do all of that and more."
"In other areas through club cricket, I have experienced things that were unpleasing, but those were individuals, but as a holistic perspective back home I personally haven't experienced it, but I can't speak for everyone to be honest."
While it was an incredible moment for Patel to create history at 'home', he admitted he did not even think of it until the ninth wicket of the Indian innings fell. "To be honest, I wasn't thinking about it at all until I got the ninth wicket because I was so long into my spell. As a spinner, you focus on one ball at a time and you don't try and get too far ahead of yourself," he said. "So, my main focus was just to bowl the best ball that I could. I knew it would be a special achievement if I get all 10. So, there was a bit more pressure on that last over with Siraj facing and me only having about four balls left."
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