Cricket Fever in South Asia

South Asia lives, breathes and en­joys cricket.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Javed An­sari

Cricket has come to South Asia in a big way. No other sport has made its pres­ence felt in the re­gion with as much pomp and hype. The fact is that the sport may have been a ‘gora’ af­fair as a part of so many other Bri­tish ex­ports that found their way into those re­gions of the world where the Brits es­tab­lished colonies but long af­ter the sun set on the Bri­tish Em­pire, the game of cricket still continues to en­thuse and bind people not only in the for­mer Bri­tish colonies but much far afield. Cricket is now played with as much enthusiasm in Canada as it is in Nepal, Afghanistan, Hol­land, the UAE and Ire­land, to name a few. None of these were for­mer Bri­tish colonies.

The man­ner in which South Asia has taken to the game is rather in­ter­est­ing. There are ten Test cricket play­ing na­tions in the world. Of these, four be­long to South Asia – In­dia, Pak­istan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Also, among the ten Test na­tions, only two are Mus­lim coun­tries –and both be­long to South Asia – Pak­istan and Bangladesh. The cricket teams of Afghanistan and Nepal, coun­tries lo­cated in South Asia, are also com­ing up fast. They may not have earned Test sta­tus yet but both have thriv­ing cricket fol­low­ings. A proof of this is that both were among the 8 qual­i­fy­ing na­tions that com­peted for a place in the Su­per 8 slot in the 2014 T20 World Cup. While these teams did not make it this time to the Su­per 8s but if they have the of­fi­cial nod and con­tin­u­ing mass pas­sion to back them up, it will not be very long when they will be fit and ready to com­pete with the top cricket play­ing na­tions of the world.

It is a fact that some­how the masses of South Asia take to cricket with more ea­ger­ness than other games. They could have adopted field hockey or foot­ball with as much fer­vour be­cause these games are rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive to play, they do not take up too much spec­ta­tor time and of­fer all that crowds are look­ing for in terms of thrills and highs both on the field and through TV broad­casts. But we all know where these games stand as far as the masses are con­cerned. It is for this rea­son that nei­ther have ad­ver­tis­ers put in too much money be­hind these sports and nor do me­dia out­lets cre­ate all that hype when hockey or foot­ball matches are played.

With cricket it is dif­fer­ent. The best part is that while the five-day Test Match or even the One-Day 50 overs game weighs down on the cricket en­thu­si­ast’s time, he is pretty much free to watch the 20 overs ver­sion which takes just three hours. It is a game full of adrenalin highs and the en­thu­si­ast can let his hair down watch­ing the likes of Shahid Afridi, M.S. Dhoni, Ku­mar San­gakarra or Shak­ibul Hasan in full bloom. It is a pity that the com­mon sports lover in South Asia has not been fed the same thrills where hockey, foot­ball or other sports are con­cerned. For ex­am­ple, foot­ball is South Asia does not drum up the same kind of crowd fever as it does in Eng­land, Italy or Brazil. In­dia and Pak­istan may have ex­celled in other sports at one time or the other but none have suc­ceeded in cap­tur­ing the fire and zest of the sport lov­ing masses in the same way as cricket. Were cricket to be in­cluded as a game in the Sum­mer Olympics, the top medal slots would per­haps go to coun­tries from South Asia.

It is un­for­tu­nate that the com­mon cricket fol­lower in Pak­istan has been de­prived of watch­ing the game in his own coun­try ever since the ter­ror­ist at­tack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in La­hore in 2009. The Sri Lankans were in Pak­istan as a re­place­ment for the In­dian team which had pulled out af­ter the 2008 Mum­bai at­tacks. In or­der to per­suade the is­lan­ders to visit, the Pak­istan govern­ment had of­fered them the same se­cu­rity ar­range­ments as they would make for a vis­it­ing Pres­i­dent. The se­ries was the first Test tour of Pak­istan since South Africa vis­ited the coun­try in Oc­to­ber 2007. But it looked like the ter­ror­ists would have none of it – and they man­aged to suc­ceed in their in­ten­tions, with

in­ter­na­tional cricket stay­ing away from Pak­istan to this day.

It is a fact that the safety of tour­ing cricket teams in Pak­istan has long been an is­sue. In May 2002, New Zealand aban­doned their Test se­ries in Pak­istan af­ter a sui­cide bomb ex­ploded out­side their ho­tel in Karachi. It is good though that the Ki­wis re­turned in the 2003 sea­son to meet their com­mit­ments. Other teams have since then re­fused to tour Pak­istan on safety grounds.

It is by de­fault then that the UAE has de­vel­oped its cricket grounds in Shar­jah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi and these cities now serve as Pak­istan’s ‘home’ grounds for stag­ing cricket se­ries in var­i­ous for­mats with other cricket play­ing na­tions. There has been some talk re­cently of cricket tours be­ing ar­ranged wherein In­dia would play against Pak­istan in Pak­istan or in the UAE but this ap­pears more like a pipedream of Na­jam Sethi, the sit­ting Chair­man of the Pak­istan Cricket Board and may never even see the light of day.

How­ever, where Pak­istan has been on the back foot, so to speak, in hold­ing ‘home’ cricket in­volv­ing top teams, In­dia has taken full ad­van­tage of the sit­u­a­tion in the form of IPL – the In­dian Pre­mier League - and is al­ready hold­ing the 7th edi­tion of

the tour­na­ment this year. De­signed on the lines of Eng­land’s Foot­ball Pre­mier League, the IPL is one cricket T20 event any­where in the world that sym­bol­izes in a very im­por­tant way the spirit of mod­ern­day cricket. Far from the laid back and sober game that cricket orig­i­nally started out as, back in Eng­land, T20 to­day pre­sents the same thrills and crowd in­volve­ment as a foot­ball match, say be­tween Manch­ester United and Ar­se­nal on a weekend af­ter­noon or a fix­ture be­tween Real Madrid and AC Mi­lan.

At­tracted by the lure of IPL, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka too have launched their own ‘Leagues’. Not as suc­cess­ful as the In­dian Pre­mier League, both the BPL and the SCL have, nev­er­the­less, suc­ceeded in cap­tur­ing the imag­i­na­tion of the masses and are turn­ing out to be im­por­tant events on the cricket cal­en­dar.

Be­cause of its very ‘in­stant­ness’, the T20 for­mat cap­tures the ex­hil­a­ra­tion and ex­cite­ment that the masses want from any sports event. This was more than ev­i­dent from the T20 World Cup which was played in Bangladesh re­cently. The Test for­mat does not of­fer any thrill what­so­ever and nei­ther does One Day in the same man­ner as T20 which cre­ates in the cricket spec­ta­tor the same hair­rais­ing ex­pec­ta­tion that a close-fought foot­ball match would. Tele­vi­sion broad­casts also make full use of the op­por­tu­nity and, thanks to lots and lots of ad­ver­tis­ing spon­sor­ship money, TV man­ages to drum up such im­mense pub­lic in­ter­est in the var­i­ous com­pe­ti­tions that cricket be­comes al­most a na­tional fever across South Asia.

All the way from Afghanistan to Bangladesh and from Nepal to Sri Lanka, these coun­tries have their re­spec­tive na­tional sports. In In­dia and Pak­istan, hockey is the na­tional sport. Kab­badi is des­ig­nated as the na­tional sport in Bangladesh and vol­ley­ball is the na­tional sport in Sri Lanka. Bukashi is treated as the na­tional sport in Afghanistan. Only Nepal counts cricket as a na­tional sport along with foot­ball. It is ob­vi­ous that, de­spite the sym­bolic sig­nif­i­cance of other sports, it is only cricket which com­mands max­i­mum pop­u­lar­ity across South Asia – and steam­rolls all other sports.

Cricket is a fever that sweeps the sub­con­ti­nent with a fury that gath­ers speed with ev­ery pass­ing day. Life comes to a stand­still when a team from South Asia is play­ing. Is there an end to this ad­dic­tion?

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