COMMENT: There is something about cricket —Zaair Hussain - Friday, March 18, 2011

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Our lads are no great orators. But when they make the ball sing, and their bats scream defiance, they create the poetry of Shakespeare and Ghalib, the epics of Homer and Tolstoy, spoken equally to the rich and the poor, the Sindhi and the Punjabi, the Shia and the Sunni

The game on the line, the trophy before us, triumph and too much tragedy behind. A nation biting their lips, affixed immovably to television screens and radios. The Cricket World Cup is in full stride.

So what? It is just a game, is it not?

Not on your life. Calling a sport “just a game” is in any case a meaningless statement of would-be intellectuals who would like us to believe they are above it all, but probably just take themselves too seriously. But this is not an article about how sports are important, though they certainly are. It is an article about how cricket is important to us, how it is woven into the very fabric of our national spirit.

Why cricket? Who knows. It is not the only sport we enjoy watching, but following cricket is profound in a way that following football can never be, with the latter’s bitter division amongst Pakistani boys about which English or Spanish city they have never visited boasts the better collection of pedigreed millionaire players.

Nor is it the only sport we have excelled at. Four Pakistani Khans (Hashim, Azam, Jahangir and Jansher) between them dominated squash for a combined total of some four decades, and along with our neighbour we were the great power in hockey in the 80s. Neither sport captured the beating public heart in the manner of cricket. They never even came close.

Cricket fever is worthy of the name. It is infectious. It flits and spreads from person to person and home to home across the country like a livewire through a lake, until the coolest customers, the most “above it all” Pakistanis, will find themselves furtively sneaking glances at the score and find their hearts beating just a little faster, an automatic prayer or applause or curse in their hearts.

Perhaps there is just something about cricket.

Maybe we see in our mercurial team what we would like to see in ourselves, as a country: scrappy and talented people with every imaginable odd stacked against them (as of this writing, we are still shunned as a venue due to security risks, and our cricket board is second to absolutely everyone) who nevertheless upset their bigger, richer, better managed, better trained rivals. We cannot help but cheer our heroes when they succeed in spite of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) hanging around their neck like an albatross, Ijaz Butt playing the role of villain so well that it becomes downright cartoonish.

Cricket is where we come together. It pours water on every clear line in our political and social sand, if only for a few precious moments. Whatever your class or creed or sect, whatever you shout in the streets or pontificate at home, whichever politician or general or judge you claim should be memorialised or lynched, you will cheer with your neighbours, blood pounding in your ears, when the game is tight and Afridi takes a wicket, standing resplendent in the field like a green colossus of Rhodes, and you will scream with them when Kamran Akmal proves time and again why a wicketkeeper should not line his gloves with cement.

Miraculously, in a country with such wretchedly rigid divisions between the rich and the poor, socio-economic classes implode. The rich may procure better seats and watch in higher definition, but at the end of the day no pomp or power can purchase a faster ball, a sweeter stroke, a less idiotic run-out. For all the tension and exploitation present between the classes, when the coin is tossed and the dice are rolled, when our boys in green face the music, we all rise or fall together.

Cricket is also the closest thing to a meritocracy most Pakistani have ever seen. Most great players throughout the ages have not had fathers of note; their talent and grit were simply so great that they rose like cream through a curdled system. We can all admire that. Perhaps someday we will make the leap to emulation.

Our language, so often a chequered board of division amongst us, fades until its lines are half-erased, visible but delineating nothing. Elated whoops, anguished cries and grumbling complaints sound, for all the world, the same in any tongue. Our lads are no great orators. But when they make the ball sing, and their bats scream defiance, they create the poetry of Shakespeare and Ghalib, the epics of Homer and Tolstoy, spoken equally to the rich and the poor, the Sindhi and the Punjabi, the Shia and the Sunni.

Certainly, cricket inspires nationalism. But it is a softer nationalism, the right nationalism. We may retain our cherished enmity with India, but it is not the enmity of old, bare-fanged and blood-lusted. It is the enmity of nervous laughter in the death overs. It is the hurling of colourful epithets while we quietly admire that accursed Tendulkar who seems, for all his brevity of stature, a giant among men. In victory, it is the jeering of a sometimes downed — but never out —rival. In defeat, it is the vow of “next time!”

It is a far cry from the dark hatred encouraged by extremists on both sides of the border, yet our rabid psychotics have not yet wrapped their coils around it, have not tried to squeeze the life out of it like they do every other source of entertainment or stimulation. Why?

Because, in their heart of hearts — or whatever black thing pumps bile through their bodies — they are terrified of its power. They tried and failed to slay Pakistani cricket in the attack on the Sri Lankan team. They cannot preach against cricket in the pulpits, cannot bury it in their bankrupt ideology, because it is stronger than they. They would be eaten alive. Cricket endures.

May it ever be so. Let this game flourish in our nation again, bringing together communities street by street. Let us hold our heads up high as our team takes our flag to the near and far places of the world. Let us applaud and shout, hope and despair as one. At least while our players are on the pitch let us, for all our differences, be Pakistanis together.
Play on.

The writer is a Lahore-based freelance columnist. He can be reached at

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