On the madness, money, politics and battles - and all the rest that drives cricket in South Asia.
Cricket in South Asia has become anything but the game.
The 10th edition of the ICC World Cup is done and dusted. It lasted for a half century (in days) although it seemed never ending. Life apparently went on as usual in perhaps 10 of the 14 participating countries. People there did not rush out to buy new TV sets, put in applications for sick and casual leaves; or schools and government offices declared holidays; even water and power supplies were available (so it is said) in abundance. However, because of the enthusiasm bordering on frenzy, passion approaching religious fervor and other matters (let us not go into details) of the fans and also the sponsors in the sub-continent who hosted this event – originally they were Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – normal life seemed to have come to a standstill and everything seemed to revolve round the event.
Just to put the record straight, Pakistan was fairly early on deprived of hosting the Cup because of so called “security reasons”; this must have come as a relief to the under worked PCB Management as they would not have had to go through the hassle of organizing the matches. Instead they got their share of the “hosting” rights and also other benefits. The money will come in handy for future lavish expenditure. The ICC WC as some over-zealous print and electronic media channels throughout the four countries dubbed it “the dusveen aalami jang – (10th World War).” Songs and dances were composed as if the Cup had been won; the basics were forgotten and thrown out of the window; and the outcome of the matches were dependent on what the parrots, astrologists, astronomers, palmists, religious scholars and priests of all faiths and religions “predicted” but always with “caveats” attached lest they be held responsible for their utterances.
All this as the bard so aptly put it “this overdone, or come tardy off, though it make the unskillful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve.” But so far as cricket is concerned we do not seem to be very “judicious.” Although I may have not travelled “from Maine to Mexico….” I have been to all Test playing cricket countries and some others who do not play tests. Nowhere have I found such “junoon” (madness) as in India and Pakistan in particular and to a lesser extent in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. They take this as a game; and win or lose are part of it. In the FIFA World Cup the passion and noise is noticeable and audible; and cricket the game of dignity, grace and decorum is now following in the footsteps of soccer and surpassing it. However, the Olympics, the King of all events is sedate and taken as a sport where all excellent performances are applauded. Wimbledon and other Tennis Grand Slams are not comparable to cricket and soccer in popularity and frenzy. Golf and Snooker on the other hand are too “gentlemanly.” Cricket is now approaching if it has not already done so, the WWF bouts. Where have we landed ourselves?
One can continue to ramble about cricket fans and frenzy in some parts of the world and a semblance of dignity in others. Suffice it to say that all this has come about over the last three and a half decades because of the infusion of huge sums of money into the game. I am all for sportspersons being
paid well, in fact very well. One example which gladdens me is the improvement in the facilities, fees and prizes for the players. The ICC rules stipulate that wherever an international match is staged, there should be a five star hotel (Sialkot, Gujranwala, Hyderabad, were disqualified because of this); all players MUST travel Business Class internationally or domestically; all players will have single room accommodation; and the captain, manager, coach and a few others will have suites; laundry is complimentary in most cases; besides there is a daily allowance ranging from U.S. 90 to U.S. $ 150 per diem.
Some of you may recall the West Indies who won the 1975 World Cup (Inaugural) were given a prize money of the princely sum of 4000 pounds sterling; whereas the Indians (Winners of the 10th latest edition) pocketed a paltry sum of U.S. $ 3.25 million or thereabouts. I have no quarrel with that; the appetite grows with the eating and in spite of all these facilities, the hunger of the players (and some others) does not seem to be sated. What this influx of money has led to is in the shape of non-cricketing activities – betting, fixing, bickering over TV/Radio rights, advertising. Just have a look at some of the “lavish” commercials and the players featured in them and then look at the composition of the teams which play…… I leave the conclusions to you. The color, the floodlights, the white ball, the black sight boards, the technology, the hot spots, the snickometers, the super slow mo, Duckworth/Lewis (need I go on), are all there because there are “big bucks” involved. And because of this curse, the fixings whether spot/ fancy or otherwise, the briberies at any and every level, the bungling (latest example is the much-touted and sought after IPL).
The fanaticism of frenzied fans in a way is understandable but in spite of the adage that “keep politics out of sports” and vice versa, sports have always in one way or the other featured in politics. Paucity of space does not allow going into details about the relationship between politics and sports for good or bad purposes but some mention en passé will help in illustrating the point I am trying to make and may be struggling to get across. A cursory glance at the politico-sports scenario over the last 75 years may be enough. In the 1936 Olympics at Berlin, Hitler did not allow Jews and nonAryans to take part in the Olympics. Although Germany topped the medals table he refused to decorate the African-American winner of 4 gold medals - the great Jesse Owens with the coveted prizes.
The Olympics also suffered when the American bloc boycotted the Moscow Games and the Soviet bloc paid them back in their coin by not coming to attend the Los Angeles Olympics. And who can forget the unfortunate carnage at the Munich Olympics. These were the adverse effects of mingling politics with sports.
The other example which comes to mind was in 1969 when South Africa practicing their policy of apartheid did not allow Basil D’Oliviera, a colored South African settled and naturalized in Britain, to be part of the England team due to tour their country. South Africa were ousted from the ICC and remained in exile till apartheid was abolished and they were readmitted in 1992 and took part in the World Cup in 1992 in Australia /New Zealand (which Pakistan won). This may be termed the “bad ‘side, which later became ‘good.” Before coming to cricket there is one more political event which helped in thawing of cold relations between two great powers – China and the USA. A U.S. Team taking part in a Table Tennis Tournament in Nagoya, Japan was invited to China along with journalists and thus began the relationship which was to grow in times to come. These beginnings led to a visit by President Nixon to China in 1971 where he met Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. This was what became popularly known as the “ping-pong” diplomacy; “ping-pong” is the common name for table tennis. Just for record this game originated in Britain and was originally called “wiff-waff.” More about it some time down the line!!
Cricket Diplomacy has mainly featured between India and Pakistan and is of recent origin. Without going into the details and repercussions or the results, I shall try and stick to the basics. It has helped to ease matters
momentarily without any lasting or very positive results.
In February 1987 the then President of Pakistan Gen Zia-ul-Haq decided to watch a couple of days of the Test match between India and Pakistan at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium at Jaipur. He was “hosted” (no one seems to be sure whether Mr. Gandhi invited the general or he invited himself) by the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and also visited Ajmer. It was a rain-affected match and ended in a draw. Some political and military matters were discussed on which I am not competent to comment. But there were, I recall, some military exercises being carried on by the Indians; and, according to some wags, Zia is said to have whispered to Rajiv some thing about Pakistan having the bomb. But that is now history.
For a brief period this visit seemed to bear fruit and in spite of Shiv Sena’s usual antics of threats and digging up pitches, cricket ties between India and Pakistan were restored and mutual hospitality on a reciprocal basis was exchanged when Indian fans visited Pakistan and the Pakistanis went across the border. But then followed Kargil and the failed Agra Summit and all were back to square one. Mr. Vajpayee, the then Indian PM visited Pakistan in 2004 and cricket restarted again on a cordial note. Further progress was made when the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh invited General Pervez Musharraf, the then President of Pakistan, to New Delhi to witness a One day International between India and Pakistan (by the way Pakistan won the match in quick time by a massive margin of 159 runs and the two leaders who were at a meeting in between innings could not go back to witness the last hour of the match as planned). It will not be out of place to point out here that there was a 20-minute interruption during the Indian innings when par- tisan fans threw bottles on the ground (six years earlier the Indian fans had stopped a World Cup semi-final at Calcutta when their team was being clouted by Sri Lanka).
The Indian fans are getting more and more partisan. They like to see their team win and are now intolerant of any lapse or slip up on their part. The hush over the ground when Riaz bowled Yuvraj first ball was absolutely deafening – you could, as they say, hear a pin drop. Is this cricket?? They can become belligerent not only with the opposition but also their own heroes. Houses are attacked, effigies burnt and life and limb endangered. The ICC should play a stricter role in taking corrective measures. The print and electronic media of every country should play a positive role rather than indulge in mud-slinging and name-calling. I was appalled to see and hear some very so called seasoned commentators exchange what almost amounted to puerile banter and mud-slinging before the IndiaPakistan S/F. It embarrassed me no end. The media should play an informative role in telling the masses that games should be viewed and watched with sportsperson spirit, not treated as battles or wars. But then, is there more to it than meets the eye? The extremists on either side should preach and practice restraint. Was it cricket (and was the ICC deaf, dumb and blind) when some political extremists announced that they would not let Pakistan play at Bombay. Then why stage the World Cup?
In the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean, China used its diplomatic expertise to win over a number of countries who were pro-Taiwan. China pumped in a total of U.S. $ 132 million to develop World Cup grounds in Antigua, St. Lucia, St. Vincent. Compare this to the ICC’s U.S. $ 70 million development budget for 10 years. This diplomacy worked and the beneficiaries dissociated themselves from Taiwan and aligned themselves to China.
Not to be left behind Taiwan also chipped in with U.S. $ 32 million in Nevis, St. Kitts and the Grenadines.
The 2011 World Cup invitation by Dr. Manmohan Singh to President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani and its acceptance should be appreciated as it came after the 2008 socalled “Bombay attacks” and helped to thaw matters somewhat. It is too early to tell. But it should be taken positively although it can be “…..full of sound and fury signifying nothing….” in the end.
The gestures from both sides are to be appreciated. But spare a thought for the organizers. A party of four or six is all right but for Heaven’s sake why take a plane load of hangers-on (whom the Indian controlled camera crew did not even show on TV; glad they had the good sense to give some “shots” of the two Prime Ministers) to an event which is fraught with security risks and for which every single seat has been sold months in advance. Have some consideration for the common man; your voter; let him not be baton-charged. This only happens in this region although I am not sure that how large an entourage Mr. Rajapakse, the Sri Lankan President, took to Bombay for the final; or did the New Zealand Prime Minister come to Colombo for “his” semi-final? Why cannot our VVIPs watch a cricket match like the English, Australia, and other dignitaries? There was at times a green Jaguar car parked inside the compound of the Oval in London when Pakistan were touring England. On enquiry the gatekeeper told me that Mr. John Major had come to watch the afternoon session. I rest my case. And you need rest as well. The writer is a well-known figure in Pakistan cricket journalism and broadcasting and a popular cricket commentator.
Cricket has changed from being a game of dignity to an expression
of mass frenzy in South Asia.