By Rishika Mendiratta ( Co-Founder and Managing Editor at KhelAdhikar )
What do they know of cricket who only cricket know. – CLR James
The above quote is appropriate to negate the parochial understanding of cricket’s influence being restricted to a mere 10 or 14 popular cricketing nations. The feverish fandom associated with cricket in South Asia is unknown to none. The God-like procession of Sachin Tendulkar after India’s 2011 World Cup win, the celebration by Taliban along with Afghanistan when the Afghan side triumphed over Scotland in 2015 and the elevation of the Sri Lankan cricketers to “Desh Bandhus” (friend of the country) on winning the 1996 Cricket World Cup are resonating examples of cricket’s inimitable effect. Another instance is from Australia, where every sport has a nickname except cricket. This is because the eleven players on the field don’t just represent themselves; they represent the entire nation.
It is not just about cricket. This short tour is for something bigger.
-Faf Du Plessis (On the T20 tournaments between Pakistan and World XI)
The effect of cricket matches in surpassing the boundaries of race, religion, community and beliefs is one of the major reasons for Pakistan’s persistence in its effort to organise international cricket matches. The country had been shunned as a hosting nation after the 2009 terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers. Finally in September 2017, their tenacity yielded results. Three T20 matches were staged between Pakistan and World XI (comprising of famous players from the other cricketing nations) Although Pakistan lost the series 2-1, their home matches were reminiscent of a glorious past, paving the way for a promising future.
Cricket has never been merely a game. It is something above politics crossing the divide separating the races– James Coldham
From being introduced by the colonial genteel as a gentleman’s sport to being an instrument for social change, cricket has transformed into the second most populist sport in the world after football. Although there has been a seismic shift in the playing formats and the consumption of the game with the multiplication and popularity of T20 leagues throughout the world, it has still retained is intrinsic spirit of fair-play. The usage of the phrase “It’s not cricket” to condemn unfair practices, is reflective of this aspect.
Indians are mad about the game. Sometimes I do think they are mad. But the unbridled passion- is infectious. -Don Bradman
Cricket in India has not been a game but a phenomenon. It has the power to wipe life off the streets, unite family members who may have little else to talk about, infuse a sense of identity among a billion, build confidence and self-worth while soothing our deepest scars.
Cricket took a stronghold in India much before Independence. From being played by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, to being used as a proactive tool of diplomacy by every ruling government in India, cricket has been a frontrunner in various decision-making aspects. A pertinent example would be the 2011, World Cup Semi-Finals where the Prime Ministers (PM) of India and Pakistan came together to cheer for the players. Even though Pakistan lost the match, PM Gilani stated that it was a win for both sides, showcasing the importance of ripple effects of the game. The uniting force of cricket was also evident in one of the most disturbing communal clashes of recent times in Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2016. Two weeks after Kanahiya Kumar’s azadi speech, the All India Students Association (AISA) and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) came together to play Chandrabhaga Premier League (CPL) a popular tennis ball cricket played in Delhi for the past few years.
“Cricket becomes a convenient narrative to write over failed aspiration, instability and atrocities, acting as both a buffer and a decoy from the war and from state practices of repression.”- Yolanda Foster
Cricket has helped in the resurgence of the Caribbean region which was cobbled up in the rubric of West Indies by the British. Playing cricket was a force for integration within the West Indian geopolitical region, the one social institution in which all classes and colours could meet to promote a common cause and identity. The rise of the symbolic power of cricket in the region saw the struggle of the non-whites to become part of the cricket teams. This sort of elevation was considered a form of successful dominance over the colonisers in the struggle for independence.
In Bangladesh, the cricketing history has moulded the spirit of the players and the passion of the fans. Since 2000, after having been granted the Test status, their success has resulted in the development of the new-found confidence of the nation. The liberation struggles of 1971 and the constant struggle in the search of a collective identity has found its answer in the celebration of victories of the cricket team. A few years back after vanquishing the Indian cricket team, a Facebook post by a Bangladeshi read- “Amra kantatar-e noy, maathe mari” (We vanquish you in the cricket field, not in barbed wire), referring to the Indian Border Security Force’s sordid record of gunning down people considered criminal trespassers from Bangladesh. The indelible imprint of powerlessness in Bangladesh during the liberation struggle is still being redressed through cricketing triumphs.
The far-reaching impact of the actions associated with the game is also depicted by the ban of South Africa for 21 years as a protest against apartheid in the country. Similarly, in the 2003 World Cup, Henry Olonga and Andy Flower wore black armbands against Robert Mugabe’s regime sending a strong message about the atrocities in the country despite them being consequentially coerced to leave the country.
Cricket brings peace to every tribe– Mohammad Nabi
The meteoric rise of Afghanistan cricket is a complete contrast to their political battles. In 2010 after their consistent incredible performances, Hillary Clinton commented, ‘I might suggest that if we are searching for a model of how to meet tough international challenges with skill, dedication and teamwork, we need only look to the Afghan national cricket team”. Cricket certainly has been a stabilising factor in the region. Importantly, it has found acceptance among Taliban for it is a non-contact sport which does not go against their religious fundamentals. Football, on the other hand, is considered derogatory by the Taliban because of their clothing. They infamously shaved off the heads of a visiting football team for wearing shorts! Interestingly such is the love for cricket in Taliban that they never attack the cricket fields nor cricketers. More so they send in their wishes to the Afghanistan cricket boards before their matches. Their talent has found an appropriate international platform as they brace their recently crowned status of a Test playing nation. As per the Chairman of the Afghanistan Cricket Board, “Cricket is not just a game for us. It is an example to what we can achieve if we have peace and we work together”. Realising the importance of cricket as medium of social change in the country, India has recently committed $1 million for a cricket stadium in Kandahar. Additionally, the Afghanistan team is coached by former Indian cricketer Lalchand Rajput and is also permitted to train in the grounds at New Delhi. The sport is becoming a peaceful medium of the intermingling of diverse ideologies with the shared objective of harnessing the love for the sport. In Afghanistan it seems as if the solution to all problems is cricket.
Cricket helps to understand the fissures of a deeply divided society and provides valuable insights into the history of the country in particular about the histories of race and religion in the country- Ramchandra Guha
Pakistan’s cricketing success and failure is a reflection of the country’s weaknesses and strengths in the social, cultural and political arenas. For the players it is a platform for upward social and economic mobility. It is means of sacrificing the self for the collective. The cricketing encounter is a display of a proxy body politic. The transition of the practices of the Pakistan cricket team exhibits these elements precisely. From being a patron of the aristocratic class during the captaincy of Abdul Hafeez Kardar, to being a torchbearer of Islamisation (the conversion of Yousuf Yohana to Mohd. Yousuf) to finally being a virtual force of counter-terror operation in the country, cricket has truly displayedits changing ideologies. After the recently concluded T20 series against the World XI, Sarfaraz, captain of the Pakistan cricket team said- I hope after this series when they (World XI) return home, they tell people about how lovely Pakistan is as a country. This succinctly summarises the importance of cricket beyond a a mere sport.
Cricket teaches people how to live outside the field. Cricket is not just a game. Cricket is about life- Eric Dusingizimana
Countries such as Argentina, China, Nepal, Hongkong, Thailand, Rwanda, Nigeria etc., are not among the 10 best playing countries in the world. They enjoy associate membership of the International Cricket Council (ICC). Still, cricket has helped these countries in its unique ways. As per one Chinese cricketer Shyao’s statement, “Playing cricket for them is being in a family”. This sort of experience is unique for a nation which has notgarnered significant international success and experience in non-Olympic and team sports.
In Hong-Kong the success of the Hong-Kong T20 Blitz tournament has attracted successful cricketers worldwide. At the same time it has provided an appropriate platform for the associate and the affiliate members to showcase their developing prowess in the game. Even in Japan, the sport is changing lives. Tsuyoshi Takada, a young cricketer from Japan says, “Cricket has changed my life. It has taken me to many foreign places. It has instilled a sense of discipline and makes me do my best all the time”. Realising the importance of cricket in developing a sense of identity among people, countries like Hong Kong, China, Japan, and South Korea have come up with East Asia Cup to be organised biennially from 2016.
Rwanda is an example of a country where cricket is a way to come out of the horrific past of genocide killings. The cricket association which was formed by a small bunch of exiles in 1999 will build its first international stadium in October 2017. Interestingly, Eric Dusingizimana, captain of the Rwandan team, batted for 51 hours to raise funds for building the country’s first cricket stadium. Nigeria, Mozambique and Kenya also mirror these aspects in their cricketing journey. Even in Nepal since their qualification in the 2015 World Cup, the game is making a difference in the lives of the people. Initially attracted by the glamour of the game, now the Nepalis are incorporating its values in the principles of their lives. As per them, “The cricket team has given citizens something no other sport in sports-crazy Nepal has really given: a chance to cheer their country on the global stage.” In Russia, the sport is at the fledgling stage but is increasingly popularised as it is considered as a sport for the masses. The recent exposure of the Russian team to Indian cricket in 2014 by being allowed to play in the Goa Premier league (GPL) has provided an impetus to their cricketing endeavour. This time in ICC Women’s World Cup 2017, the Thailand team bowed to the ground after every match as a matter of respect to the game that had given them the chance to represent their country internationally. This shows the unmeasurable effect of the 22 yards play.
Sport brings out the best in people in terms of effort but it brings out the worst in people in terms of nationalism. – Asad Sayeed
There are at times when the nationalism embedded in the cricketing fervour has equalled jingoism. One famous instance highlighting this was the defeat of Pakistan by Bangladesh which led to the following poignant call, “Khoon ke dhabbe dhulenge kitni barsaaton ke baad” (How many rainfalls will it take before the bloodstains are washed). Other idiosyncratic tales bordering on the verge of eccentricity include description of Pakistan’s loss to India by a maulvi as a punishment for their sins for electing a women Prime Minister. Or the Indian fans performing a shraadh of the Indian team on their loss to Australia some years back.
The all-embracing is off late finding its way to the biggest and most deafening sports market, the United States of America. This global outreach is aided to a great extent by the pervasive media channels, coupled with the ever burgeoning Indian diaspora. The successful organisation of the Cricket All Stars in 2015 with the second edition of the Cards in 2017 has also accelerated the pace of cricket development in USA with professional league on the lines of IPL about to be organised soon.
Realising the ascending importance of cricket on a global level, ICC has taken a proactive step in increasing the playing opportunities at the international level of its affiliate as well as associate members. World Cricket League is one such endeavour which was started in the year 2007. It is a round robin tournament between all the associate member countries which are segregated into divisions. The top four teams in the League play against the permanent ICC member countries in the World Cup. Besides, the introduction of a Rolling Test tournament of two years from 2019, and a thirteen Team ODI League from 2020 are interesting steps by the ICC to take the cricketing drama to an unexpected flourish. As these changes unfold we are sure to be mesmerised by the unexplored dimensions of the battle, service and art of cricket.