Rodney Cavalier, the chairman of Sydney Cricket Ground, once said that cricket as sport had the capacity to “engage of all the spectators’ senses”; it provides what he called “a soporific indifference to time and circumstance”. Even though Cavalier made that observation while celebrating the cerebral elements of the sport and the art and literature it inspires ahead of the New Year’s Test in Sydney three years ago, in a way, his account also explains some of the more extreme reactions that cricket routinely brings here in the sub-continent.
Burning posters and effigies, angry slogan clad rallies, and more outrageous protests by stoning players’ houses, calls for them to be arrested, they’re bank accounts be sealed, all this just in response to a loss at the World Cup. This latest stream of violence from some fans in both India and Pakistan
that has led to increased security outside players’ homes has come after the two sides’ upset defeats against Bangladesh and Ireland respectively; reversibly fans in Bangladesh
have reportedly come out on the streets to celebrate, with firecrackers, high waving flags and nationalistic chants.
Such extreme reactions are not one off. In Ranchi
, the hometown of Indian wicket keeper batsman Dhoni, some 200 angry “fans” stormed the player’s under construction house after India’s loss, one of them complaining that he was "banking more on modelling than wicket-keeping and batting". State authorities have had to as result assign paramilitary units for the protection of Dhoni’s property. Speaking of which, this property, reportedly, a 360 square metre (4,000 square feet) plot of land, worth five million rupees ($110,000) was “awarded” to Dhoni by the Jharkand State it self.
So you’re left wondering what’s more outrageous, the fact that the state government decided to honor a cricketer by giving him free land, or the fact that angry fans tried to mob it after the said player had a bad day in the office. What drives such excessive reactions? Is it merely that ability of cricket to make its followers indifferent to time and circumstance and in this case, indifferent to logical perspective as well, or is it something deeper rotted, underlying and more sinister?
Amit Varma, whilst writing in The Mint
that it’s driven by a misplaced since of “nationalism associated with cricket”. “This is a product of our past:” he writes, “For the first few decades of our independence, there was nothing at which an Indian could point and say, “Ah, India dominates in that, it can show the rest of the world how it’s done.” Cricket, for what its worth, turned out to be something we weren’t too bad at.” And the media he adds, “cannot separate nation from cricket either”, “some of our best writers still talk of our players being symbols of a newly assertive India, of how the journey of the cricket team mirrors the rise of our nation, and other such impressive-sounding rubbish”.
Whilst the perceptions here in Pakistan may not be decidedly the same, in fact, given the new spiritual look of the team, many commentators have argued the image Inzamam’s men project is contradicting that of Musharaf’s modern and liberal ‘enlightened moderated’ Pakistan, but that sense of correlating cricket with national pride and shame, nevertheless exists.
Amongst many of the fans that were on the streets pleading emotionally for the government to take action by withdrawing all the awards given to the players and management, there was a certain Yasir Ali, from Inzamam’s hometown Multan, “That is the least they can do for the shame and disgrace they have brought upon us” he lamented, adding that “They must be made to pay for their spineless performance”. In Hyderabad, another protester, club cricketer Saleem Kazi, asserted while taking part in the mock burial that they had “every right” to vent their anger given “people celebrated when the team won”. Obviously, no even ever told Saleem that two wrongs never make a right; placing cricketers on a pedestal when they win as if they were national saviors is just as wrong as demeaning them as insults to the nation when they lose.
Sportsmen and women are perceived as ambassadors for their nations at some levels through out the world, but such exaggerated chauvinism is unique to the subcontinent, and may well be the reflection of some of our hidden insecurities. But the misplaced nationalism theory still doesn’t completely explain the violence. You can be passionate about a sport, even regard it as matter of national disgrace or honor if the team loses or wins, but why go to such lengths to peruse this idea that in the process disregard all natural parameters of life?
Some play cards in the aforementioned protests to Pakistan’s loss chanted “death to Inzi, death to Woolmer”; the world and Woolmer’s mourning family, can now only wonder how much the unrelenting stresses of such a job may have contributed to his eventual tragic death yesterday. But the very next day, my local paper still reports that some ‘fans’ are expected to take out a protest rally in front of the Karachi Press Club, the cricket induced nationalism shouldn’t entice people to such acute lack of sensitivity, and disrespect of human life it self.
Such thoughtlessness too is not a one-off. Prem Panicker, a long time cricket writer for Rediff.com, for instance, discovered
this condolence message for Woolmer’s family at the Rediff message board with a shocking recommendation for the Indian coach Greg Chapel:
“i think greg chappel should also learn from this thing.,.,1 advice fr him is -if he cannot lead the team of india.,.,he should commit suicide.,.,its like playinn wid d semtiiments of the billion ppl of india…”
Prem wonders “what kind of warped mind will view the death of one giant of sport, to advise another to kill himself?”, but it seems few things came in the way of the fanatical obsession some people have. You’d have hoped the sudden nature and timing of Woolmer’s tragic death would have put some perspective back into these guys, but perhaps, as Prem implies, this is what their 'passion' for cricket has brought them to, “mental myopia” and “moral atrophy”. May God bless the soul of Bob Woolmer, and guide these ignorant out of their misery they’re in.Cross Posted at Sundries & Cricket Bloggers of Pakistan