With the eyes and ears of more than a billion people worldwide (mostly brown) focused on Mohali, cricket once again found itself in the pangs of another India vs Pakistan encounter.
Pakistan was supposed to be one of the original hosts of this World Cup alongside its Southasian neighbours: India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. However, the unstable political and security situation in the country did not let that happen. Still, Pakistan managed to defy expectations after expectations to fight its way into the World Cup semis and face off against its eternal rival, India, at Mohali. Does not matter that it lost; it was a creditable performance.
As soon as the two sides won their respective quarter-finals – Pakistan against a lacklustre West Indies, and India against an equally unimpressive Australia – the public, the media and the politicians in both countries began to sound the war trumpets.
One cannot enjoy cricket without recalling all the India-Pakistan encounters throughout history. Given the historical animosity between the two countries in just about anything and everything, it’s no surprise that the cricket field has managed to become a battlefield of sorts.
Nationalistic sentiment is high, hyperactivity reaches fever pitch, and the news media happily plays the sensationalist propaganda card. And what about the bookies? Well, they have a ball. With so much money at stake, thanks to mega-sponsorship deals and TV coverage, a few crore rupees betted on such encounters has now become peanuts. And the reports of match-fixing – both real and mere conspiracy theories alike – have embroiled the game in continued controversies, undermining sportsmanship and fair play.
Not bad for a sport played at the highest level by not more than ten countries, and one in which it takes a whole day to finish a match!
Amidst all this hoopla, the voices of disillusionment are forgotten. Many people, for various reasons and preferences, don’t give cricket the attention it screams for in our television sets and what not. It may be disdain for sport, preference for other sports like football, or a simple desire to not waste time on a sport that takes forever to reach a conclusion.
I am one of these naysayers. I did grow up loving cricket because it is the only game we, Pakistanis, are good at. I screamed, cheered, cried, cursed, and lived for this game whenever Pakistan walked onto the field. But the dirty side of the game was always bothersome, not to mention how our other sports like field hockey simply pressed their brakes whenever the Pakistan-India cricket match took place.
Apart from the odd wins here and there, both countries began by playing second fiddle to the dominant Australians – the nation that takes all of its sports seriously. The sudden popularity of increasingly shorter versions of Cricket (T20) made the game into a money-fest. Aggression became the defining feature, rather than the cool temperament and patience usually associated with Test matches.
Although called a ‘religion’, cricket has yet to find a level of maturity and genuine professionalism in this part of the world. All too often we see our heroes fall into the gaping hole of disgrace. Surprisingly though, such raw talent and mindset seems to add more flavour to the game. In the end, it’s all about the hype and wild moments, especially whenever Pakistan and India are in the same sentence.
More than a billion people will be tuning in to watch the semi-final. However, my indifference remains standing. Cricket has become the quintessential ‘opium of the masses’ here, the ‘one-trick pony’ of sports for more than a billion people on both sides of the Wagah-divide.
Other sports such as football, tennis, athletics, boxing, wrestling, basketball and volleyball have tremendous potential in both countries. With the right amount of corporate support, public interest, media coverage, and government attention, we can achieve much in these sports on both Asian and world levels.
As a football fan, promoter and activist for nearly a decade, in Pakistan and the greater Southasian region, I know how much cricket has asphyxiated the progress of other sports in the region. Take football – a game that has a very rich and colourful history in the Subcontinent. Yet, there are no football teams here that the rest of the world talks about with respect. Many in the region do not even know about its sorry state despite the growing middle-class support for European football clubs. This lack of interest gets reflected in the lack of support from both the media and the corporate sector.
Just last week, there was a Pakistan-India football match. Held in Malaysia, India fought hard to beat Pakistan 3-1 in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers. One expects that almost any India-Pakistan sporting event would generate hype, and it often does, but thanks to cricket, the football match was not broadcast live, as no TV channels from the two countries cared to even show up. People like me had to rely on text message updates and online scoreboards sans event descriptions or commentaries.
Sure, if we were to qualify for a mega-event rather than falling short against some mid-ranking Asian team, the public may take football seriously. Everyone loves a winner, but you cannot create winners if you do not care to groom the raw gems at home. Indifference towards other sports and over-reliance on cricket is not the way forward.
The writer is the Chief Editor, Forum Administrator, and Pakistan Correspondent for FootballPakistan.Com (FPDC). As a result, he is rather indifferent and cold towards cricket and cannot wait for the Cricket World Cup to finish so that we can all get back to our miserable lives!
Romila Thapar addresses invitees at the
Southasian relaunch of Himal Southasian,
IIC, New Delhi, January 2013.
Old Faces, New Precedents
On 11 May 2013, Pakistan went to the polls in a general election that will transfer power democratically for the first time in the nation's history. Nawaz Sharif has claimed victory for the Pakistan Muslim League-N.
From our archive:
Mehreen Zahra-Malik discusses novel means of holding corrupt officials to account in 'A coup by other means?' (July 2012)
Shamshad Ahmad on praetorian irony, Machiavelli's prince, and Pakistan's fight for constitutional primacy. (January 2008)
Zia Mian and A H Nayyar write about Pakistan's coup culture and Nawaz Sharif's 'absolutist sense of power.' (November 1999)