An Indian bowler previously attacked on social media for his Muslim faith has emerged as a hero of the national team as it prepares to take on Australia in the Cricket World Cup final on Sunday.
Fast bowler Mohammed Shami took seven wickets in Wednesday’s semifinal against New Zealand – the biggest haul in the tournament’s history – cementing his status as a standout of this World Cup.
Millions of cricket fans celebrated their beloved team’s win on Wednesday – and Shami has been singled out as a bowling sensation who could lead them to victory in the final.
“The bowling by (Mohammed Shami) in this game and also through the World Cup will be cherished by cricket lovers for generations to come,” India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, shortly after the game. “Well played Shami!”
Celebratory headlines dominated local news, with the Times of India, one of the country’s largest English-language newspapers, writing at length about how Shami left the cricketing world “spellbound.”
Yet, as admiration reverberated around the country, commentators were quick to remind fans that Shami – as one of the only Muslim cricketers on the national team – recently endured harmful and racist online abuse for his identity and faith.
In 2021, the player received a torrent of online hate after India lost to Pakistan during the Twenty20 World Cup.
Often described as one of the greatest sporting grudges in the world, India-Pakistan cricket matches are bound up in geopolitical fault lines. The two countries have fought three wars and restrict the movement of trade and people across borders, despite sharing a culture and deeply entwined history.
The vitriol against Shami got so bad that former captain Virat Kohli and other sporting legends rallied to his defense.
“Attacking someone over religion is the most pathetic thing a human being can do,” Kohli told reporters at the time, in a news conference that made headlines across the country. “We stand by Shami completely.”
Religious tensions have flared in Hindu-majority India since Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ascended to power, ushering in policies critics allege discriminate against minorities.
Many took to social media after Shami’s performance this week to point out the irony that a man once singled out for hateful comments has led the country to the final, to be played at the Narendra Modi Stadium in the western state of Gujarat on Sunday.
“Remember how Mohammed Shami was targeted two years ago after loss to Pakistan. Then captain Virat Kohli was also attacked for standing up for him,” wrote Manu Sebastian, the managing editor of the Indian legal website, Live Law, on X. “Both of them are emerging as heroes of India’s World Cup journey. Sports is something beyond bigots’ narrow and jingoistic vision.”
Kohli’s performance in this year’s tournament has also been praised and the batsman is widely regarded as one of the greatest in the history of the sport.
Cartoonist Satish Satish Acharya on Thursday published an image he sketched of Shami in a cricket stadium, with a fan who says to the bowler: “Hum saath saath hai bhai!” (We are with you brother).
On his social media, Acharya wrote: “Trolled in the past, Mohammed Shami is now showered with love!”