Cricket is a gentleman’s game, despite the Douglas Jardine bodyline series, but it still enjoys the saying. The English wanted a leisure sport, and accordingly made it mandatory to have water and tea breaks, and a rest day, while during the game, and the Americans made baseball their answer to cricket. But why did the Indians, and later the Pakistanis, go on to embrace cricket as their God-sent sport? This definitely is a big question to probe. Everyone knows that the Indians were primarily deployed for only ‘fielding’ purposes while the burra sahib mastered their strokes.
For nations where there is rampant poverty and where more than half of the populations live below the poverty line and where there are no resources available for higher education and health care – yet the craving for cricket, to the extent of blood-in-the-eyes – regardless of the claim ‘we are friends off the field’ – is really incomprehensible. This killer’s attitude is equally found among the spectators of both sides. Whereas, the sports like soccer and even hockey – which are more physic oriented and also have unanimity for the poor too – has been lost in the melee of this elite, suffering with acute affluenza sport called cricket. A football can be bought by 22 players but a pair of two bats, coupled with batting gloves and other accessories to make way for the ground, is certainly a forte of not even one per cent of those who want to play any sport. Such is the expenditure involved! But hurray cricket – despite our downslide poverty with all the slices of UN and World Bank aid. Not to talk of kabaddi and kushti. Should we recall that India won the first gold medal in football in the Asian games held in 1951! Today we can’t even qualify for football world cup.
Why does cricket enjoy this demigod status? Despite the shameless match-fixing episodes – hats off to (late) Hansie Cronje – never would such an admission come from the likes of Ajay Jadeja, Manoj Prabhakar, Azharuddin or Salim Malik. Yet the sport continues to make headlines. If M.S. Dhoni has had a haircut then the nation ought to listen to half-an-hour special report! Does our country where millions of people lie folded on roads, in biting cold, and in which hundreds die annually – deserve this misplaced enthusiasm for cricket? Perhaps, yes. Why?
The answer lies in the fact that we have made no change in our attitudes since 1947. The Westminster model of democracy was well suited for us, as it did not signal any projected change in our social fabric. So the Brahmins – the highest in the social hierarchy took to British ways. Learnt English, sent their children abroad, monopolised bureaucracy, captured judiciary, hegemonised legislatures and bankrupted media, and at the same time made a common Indian get drunk with Hindi nationalism – so as to never be able to learn science or computers. Can anyone really learn computers without English? And, Brahmins also played cricket.
So cricket, in every sense of the word is a Brahmin game. Has anyone pondered ever that in a given Indian team there are always around five to six Brahmins! More preferably Maharashtrians. Anil Kumble is also a Brahmin. So should we have reservation in cricket too? After all, it is now more of a corporate job rather than merely playing for the nation!
India and Pakistan, the colonial cousins, have many similarities with each other. Kapil Dev Nikhanj and Sunil Manohar Gawaskar never become compatible. Kapil – the rustic Haryanawi speaking Jat could never fathom the polished English speaking Maharashtrian Gawaskar. Kapil even took to Rapidex English speaking course and Gawaskar instead made Ravi Shastri – a fellow Maharashtrian – who had no stroke to play except for the typical chapatti shot, become a full time commentator on Ten Sports. It was Kapil Dev who had brought the only world cup to India in 1983. Likewise, Javed Miandad, was branded as a Karachi street urchin by the English speaking Oxford returned Imran Khan. Conflict in Pakistan is often more visible on the streets. Sarfaraz Nawaz, once the mentor of Imran Khan, is totally antithetical to not only Imran but also to the project of Shaukat Khanam Cancer Hospital! Kapil and Gavaskar, however, did not wash their linen in public.
Indian cricket has many issues to handle. Politics has always been ruling it from above. When Azharuddin had scored his third consecutive century, from his debut onwards, the then CM of UP, Narain Dutt Tiwari, withheld the news from telecasting until late evening, when BBC had announced him to be a Wonder Boy of Indian Cricket! RSS was then supporting Congress and the news of Azharuddin, after all, had a Muslim overtone! Sunil Gavaskar, later declared the match when Azharuddin was unbeaten on 54 in his fourth innings, in a match, which was destined for an inevitable draw. Azharuddin is the only player in the world who was never seen sitting on his haunches throughout his career, but his embroilment in match fixing made him a shameful plodder for all times to come, at least in the estimate of Muslims.
The recent encounters between these arch rivals – India and Pakistan – proved to be a cakewalk for India. In the 20-20 world cup Pakistan did not seem to be even a batting side to face 20 overs! The same stalemate continued throughout the three match series in India. Pakistan was always in a state of crisis management to anyhow evade a follow-on. Never could Pakistan register a dominant session throughout the series, which India won after a lapse of 28 years. This was the worst ever show by Pakistan. The side that once prided on Wasim Bari and Wasim Raja batting on No. 9 and No. 10 was demolished like a house of cards and is no doubt passing through its West Indian phase!
What makes Pakistan under-perform? There is an inherent and incessant squabbling in the team Yunus Khan and Shoaib Malik don’t see eye to eye. Shahid Afridi is more of a trouble-shooter than a hitter. Notwithstanding his unpredictability, Shoaib Akhtar, the Rawalpindi pace engine, was without steam as he was more interested in dancing with a girlfriend, in an overnight party, while his bodyguards tried to desperately save him from being photographed. This was right on the onset of the series. Thus, he had set his agenda. He was looking for some films in India and rightly now deserves a guitar instead of a cricket bat in his hand. He is starring in Jhoom India on Sahara One channel. Isn’t it a big achievement! Shamshir-o-Sina awwal Taoos-o-rubab aakhir (first war and swords, and then music and dance), said Allama Iqbal to define how a doom comes to a civilisation or an individual.
Moreover, ironically, religion is right there on the sleeves of the Pakistani team too. Everyone wants to become a second Dr. WG Grace. After the loss of 20-20 final Shoaib Malik thanked Muslims all over the world for their support to Pakistan team. So does not Pakistan have any non-Muslim supporters! Rubbish, isn’t it? Shoaib, was thereafter, very rightly rebutted by mother of Irfan Pathan who said that she had prayed for her son and India’s victory. This is despite the extreme irony that who knows the Vadodara lad might have himself got butchered by fanatics in the Gujarat holocaust of 2002. Today both Irfan and his younger brother Yusuf both are regarded as great Indian sportsmen.
But Irfan and Yusuf are Muslims Only! At least according to Gujarat CM Narendra Modi, and therefore not Indians! After the 20-20 victory every CM except Modi gifted to players from his state something worthwhile. Media took an exception to this exclusion and pestered with the issue until the beleaguered Modi had to relent. Modi nonetheless remained the same shameful and he sent his local MLA to Pathans’ house to give a cheque of Rs 1,11,111 and the Pathans accepted it gracefully as returning anyone from their doorstep would have been discourteous, although the act deserved it. The amount was both a satire and a disgrace as all players got around Rs. 10 lakhs from their respective CMs, but after all, it was Modi. Things did not end there as very soon posters came up reviling the MLA for the gesture! Gujarat was into poll fever ultimately gave victory to Modi.
Caste identity, regional identity, class identity, religious and sometimes even linguistic identity make the overall structure of Indian cricket. All contradictions of our society are evenly mirrored through our team.