Remember Gladstone Small? Most Australian cricket fans over the age of 40 still do.
Small would probably prefer that it was because of his brilliant fast bowling. But his unusually short neck is the first thing most would recall.
Small’s jerky, idiosyncratic bowling action was one of the most frequently mimicked through his heyday of the mid-1980s and early ’90s.
At the time, there was a musical comedy troupe called The Music Men. Their songs were barely songs, really — more like football terrace chants.
Their hit was called What Can You Play?, a series of imitations that played well on variety shows like Hey Hey it’s Saturday. It had a Gladstone Small bit that always brought the house down. It was a bit of harmless fun.
The Boxing Day Test of 1986 was when Small really made his name.
It was his third red-ball appearance for England and his first in Australia. By the end, most wondered why the tourists hadn’t picked him earlier in the series.
He promptly destroyed Australia’s first innings with five wickets, setting England on the path to victory.
The night of that electric performance, Small took his fiancee to a Melbourne restaurant and was amazed: as he walked in, every head in the room turned and he was soon receiving a standing ovation from all present.
Maybe Australians weren’t so bad after all, he told his colleagues.
That game ended quickly. Small took another couple of wickets, made some handy tail-end runs and took the catch that clinched the Ashes for England.
Later, some would ponder a statistic, maybe just a coincidence — after Norman Cowans’ demolition of Australia in 1982-83, it was the second in as many Melbourne Ashes Tests to be settled by a West Indian-born Englishman.
A section of the MCG crowd showed its appreciation of Gladstone Small’s performances by throwing bananas at him.
They treated him like an animal. Not for the first or last time, a visiting black player was peppered with racist abuse.
This, Small must have thought, was far closer to the Australia that black players of the era had been told to expect.
What exactly are they to expect now?
On Saturday, there was a great commotion outside the SCG changerooms when it became apparent that Indian cricketers Mohammed Siraj and Jasprit Bumrah claimed they’d been racially abused by members of the crowd.
Not many professional athletes fabricate incidents of racist abuse. Especially not in Australia, where the stories of Adam Goodes, Heritier Lumumba, Robert Muir and countless others show us what happens to those who dare complain.
On Sunday, Siraj did something as brave as any of them: hearing verbal abuse again as he fielded on the boundary shortly before tea, he moved to the middle of the ground and reported it.
Although both players said that Saturday’s abuse was racist, the precise nature of Sunday’s incident remains under investigation by Cricket Australia.
What is clear is that Siraj felt ridiculed and wouldn’t stand for it.
The game stopped until a small cohort of Australian fans were led away by police, their removal all the more visible for the ground’s reduced capacity.
It is doubly regrettable that the targets of these volleys are men who have provided fans with so many reasons for cheer.
Bumrah has bowled as brilliantly in this series as any visiting paceman in recent memory, providing hours of compelling and joyful cricket. He delights us not just with his distinctive approach and whippy action, but the perma-smile that reminds us cricket is just a game.
Earlier on Sunday, two simple catches were dropped off his bowling, making ever more certain the likelihood of an Indian loss. Bumrah’s response was to smile again.
Siraj’s case is just as galling. Even in his second Test, it would be condescending to call him the more vulnerable of the pair, but to play in this game he has made immense sacrifices and shown great courage.
Earlier in the tour, in the middle of the team’s 14-day quarantine period, his father died.
Where many would have been on the first flight home, Siraj stayed, hoping to be of service to his country.
At 20, he’d never bowled with anything other than a tennis ball. Six years later, in Melbourne and now in Sydney, his considerable gifts with even the most ragged old ball have been obvious to see.
Patriotism does strange things to us. On Thursday, most Australians woke to the siege on the US Capitol. After a few hours watching the rolling coverage, switching over to the cricket was a relief.
Perhaps, like me, the first images you saw were the two teams lining up for their national anthems.
At some sporting contests, these are a dreary formality. Not when India is in town. Not when Jana Gana Mana is being sung. It moved Mohammed Siraj to a stream of unashamed tears, images beamed around the world.
There are those who will say that these problems cross all borders, and that you’ll always get a few bad apples. They’ll point to India’s own blemished record, especially on the cricket field. And they’ll be right.
But it’s really beside the point, isn’t it?
The point is that year after year, decade after decade, in their interactions on the field and off it, far too many Australians have been unable to distinguish between national pride and the comfortable expression of abuse. Far too many feel the latter is an entitlement that comes with the price of admission.
Mohammed Siraj’s prideful tears were a reminder that a love of one’s country can lift the spirit.
How embarrassing that a young man who sacrificed so much to represent India for the first time had the misfortune of doing it in a country where a cricketer can receive a standing ovation one day, and a serve of mindless abuse the next.