Popping champagne while lifting the trophy is a common tradition but Pat Cummins didn't want it if it meant his teammate wouldn't be there.
Popping champagne bottles after a win is a common ritual in cricket and goes hand in hand with lifting the trophy. When Australia beat rivals England in the Ashes, the most prestigious trophy for the country, played were ready with their champagne bottles and photographers at the ready to capture the winning moment at Hobart’s Bellerive Oval. When Pat Cummins, the Australian cricket captain looked around, he realized one of his teammates missing from the group — Usman Khawaja. He is the first Muslim cricketer to play for Australia, and he played a crucial role in helping Australia win the series but had stepped away from his teammates to avoid getting sprayed with alcohol, which went against his religious beliefs, reported The Indian Express.
Cummins asked his teammates to put away the champagne bottles and asked Khawaja to join them on the dais for the celebrations. This victory was as much Khawaja's as much as anyone else's on the Australian team and Cummins knew he deserved to celebrate it as much as anyone else, even if it meant doing away with a celebratory ritual. It was a moment of true leadership. Khawaja returned to the dais and kneeled beside Cummins in a poignant moment. The team roared with joy as they lifted the trophy and posed for photographs.
Fantastic awareness and sensitivity shown by Australian cricket captain Pat Cummins during his team’s victory over England, last night.— CJ Werleman (@cjwerleman) January 17, 2022
He tells the team to put away the champagne, so that his Muslim teammate Usman Khawaja can join in the celebration. pic.twitter.com/fuw3DReYve
Pat Cummins stopped Australia’s champagne spraying to bring Usman Khawaja back to the centre to celebrate ❤️ pic.twitter.com/6HPvuKhIuq— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) January 17, 2022
Cummins spoke about the incident during a press conference and stressed the importance of inclusion. “We’ve got a really diverse bunch of people and you want to celebrate that, you want to make sure everyone feels comfortable being themselves. That was just one moment,” said Cummins, before adding that his teammates are just as mindful and inclusive. “The boys are fantastic in that space. They always look after each other. It’s a really tight-knit group."
The Australian captain said there was no way the team would have had the winning photo taken without Khawaja. “I think one of the reasons is there is a lot of respect and love for each other. We had to make sure our teammate was in the photo with us." Khawaja made his return to the team after two and a half years and it was an emphatic return as he smashed a century in each innings of the fourth match in Sydney. He was also the fifth-highest scorer in the five-match series despite playing only two matches.
Khawaja took to Twitter to praise the team's unity and the importance of inclusivity. "If this video doesn't show you that the boys have my back, I don't know what will. They stopped their normal champagne celebrations so I could rejoin. Inclusivity in the game and our values as a sport are so important. I feel like we are trending in the right direction," wrote Khawaja.
Cummins was lauded for the gesture throughout the cricketing world, especially considering there have many instances in the past when Muslim cricketers have had to step away from celebrations because it involved alcohol. Former Pakistan fast bowler Umar Gul heaped praise on the Australian captain. "A good leader always looks after the team as a whole and respects everyone equally and @patcummins30 has shown to be that leader,” wrote Gul on Twitter.
After the video went viral, many recalled the kind gesture of Shaquille O’Neal. The NBA legend spoke about protecting his teammate, Mark Madsen, who is Mormon and didn't really want to participate in team activities outside of the court. "Madsen was the purest NBA guy I’ve ever met,” said Shaq. “He really was. I had to protect that. I don’t know much about Mormons or their religion.” He explained that Madsen was level-headed unlike most players breaking through. “Most rookies, when they come in, they go crazy. Including me but Mark was none of that.” He said there were twelve guys on the team, including Mark. "Eleven guys are doing what guys with money do, and there’s one guy who’s not,” said Shaq, before adding that he shielded the player from peer pressure and group scenes. Madsen never forgot what a help Shaq was throughout his career. “Shaq is someone who makes other people’s careers,” said Madsen, reported Deseret. “He’s always been very supportive.”