On the mad­ness, money, pol­i­tics and bat­tles - and all the rest that drives cricket in South Asia.

Southasia - - Cover story - By Chishty Mu­jahid

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.

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