Being Muslims of Indian origin living in New Zealand, Patel and his family felt the full impact of the dastardly attack. It was a Friday on March 15, 2019. Ajaz had just returned home from offering prayers in the mosque when the news of a gunman on a killing spree in two mosques in Christchurch broke out.
Recalling the ‘climate of fear’ in the aftermath of the gory incident, the left-arm spinner narrated what went through his community’s minds and how the people in New Zealand came together to make them feel secure and welcomed post the attack. Speaking in Hindi at an online media interaction on Tuesday, the Mumbai-born Ajaz said, “The terrorist attack had a huge impact on the Muslim community living there. It was a climate of fear. We found out the news just after returning home from the mosque on Friday. But the way our players, Prime Minister as well as the whole community responded – with love – we felt included.”
Recalling a lovely humanitarian gesture from his neighbours which made the 33-year-old and his family feel safe and loved in New Zealand at a time when they needed that reassurance, Ajaz said: “For example, there is no problem when my mother leaves the house wearing a burkha. No one will say anything. When the terrorist attack happened, our new house was getting constructed. We used to visit it often. So our neighbours must have seen us and realised we are Muslims from the burkha. After the attack happened, they got a plant for us and kept it on our stairs, even when we weren’t living there. They even wrote us a letter to show their support. So people have a strong sense of belonging there and they live together as one big community.”
At a time when English cricket has been left ‘scandalised’ by allegations of racism leveled by British Asian cricketer Azeem Rafiq, Ajaz gave a big thumbs-up to New Zealand on the scale of inclusivity. “We speak about diversity and racism now from a sporting perspective, but I don’t think it’s something that so much influenced me particularly in my culture, but that or in my upbringing, but I won’t say it doesn’t exist.
“I’ve actually through my journey felt quite comfortable in New Zealand. I’ve been very, very grateful than the Blackcaps environment as soon as I came and they’ve been very, very respectful about my culture, my beliefs, my rituals like for me if I need halal food though they will source it from anywhere if they have to,” he said, before giving further illustration of his point.
“I remember my debut season (in 2018) they sent someone along with me to the masjid so that I could pray and also in the change room so if I need to pray, guys are very respectful and give me the space and the time to pray,” he said.
Many felt that Ajaz, who broke records galore as he took 14-225 in the second Test — the best bowling figures in a Test against India — was unfairly denied the ‘Player of the Match’ award at Wankhede, with that honour going to Indian opener Mayank Agarwal for scoring a century and a fifty.
Asked if he was expecting the ‘Man of the Match’ award after his historic feat, achieved only for the third time in 2,438 Tests, Ajaz brought forth his humble self, saying running after accolades isn’t his cup of tea. “Not at all. To be honest with you, accolades are another thing altogether. I have no real passion or drive towards these things. Whoever gets it is obviously most deserving. (Ravichandran) Ashwin bowled perfectly through the series and definitely put us under pressure. He deserves that award (Player of the Series) as well. For me, it is about putting my best foot forward. To be honest, I don’t think any award is going to make it more special,” he said.
Thanks to the compulsions of staying in a bio-bubble, Ajaz missed out on his favourite Indian food item—chicken lollipop and Schezwan sauce during the tour, but the tweaker plans to savour them when he returns to India on a vacation. “The most important thing during the tour was that I had to play cricket. And for that, it was essential that I take care of my body. We have to see what we eat according to our body recovery. So when I return on a holiday to India, then I will definitely indulge in my favourite foods,” he said.
There’s speculation that post his magical show, he might bag a big contract with an IPL franchise. Ajaz, on his part, said he didn’t expect a cash windfall post his record feat. He just hopes to have inspired kids of Asian origin back in New Zealand to take up cricket, ideally spin bowling.