Let cricket be cricket - Maria Kamal - Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=38885&Cat=9

Everyone is talking about it. Love the game or hate it, you can’t deny that the semi-final today has fast become the foremost topic of drawing room, street, workplace, and op-ed discussions, and is beyond doubt, the most talked about contest in the World Cup, in the subcontinent at least.

Tune into any TV channel and everyone is spewing cricket. And the discussion isn’t limited to Afridi’s bowling and whether or not Shoaib Akhtar will play. All kinds of angles have been dissected.

There’s the ‘cricket diplomacy’ angle. Our very own Prime Minister Gilani is going across the border to watch the match upon Indian Prime Minister Singh’s invitation – so much for playing without pressure.

Some hope the semi-final will herald a new era of diplomacy between India and Pakistan. But champions of ‘cricket diplomacy’ forget what matters most to the crowds watching and the teams playing the sport: winning.

This match promises to be an aggressive game of cricket. Dirty looks and angry words are bound to be exchanged by the two sides. Expect many tense moments during the course of the game. Expect bouncers, stumps, and sixes to go flying around the field. Expect umpire decisions to be challenged. Expect fireworks. Also expect media on both sides to portray this contest of 22 men chasing a cricket ball as all out war.

The prize is nothing less than national honour. Hardly anyone is talking about a place in the World Cup final.

Supporters of either side are not paying exorbitant ticket prices just so they can wave hello to one another in Mohali. They want their side to win, so much so, that I fear both teams must be prepared for the shoes that are likely to rain upon them if they are defeated.

Our interest in the game brings out a whole new level of bi-polar in us. We go from showering the team with applause, singing eulogies in their honour, posting facebook status updates and display pictures celebrating our men in green, to crying match-fixing and making death threats against them.

And this time, cricket fever has really gone viral. It has gripped every TV channel in Pakistan and India, giving rise to what can only be described as a complete media circus. The nature of some of the World Cup coverage is alarmingly jingoistic, incredibly bizarre, and unlikely to create friendly vibes in the stadium. (kala pathar is a case in point)

There is also the terrorism angle. Security specialists are busy detailing the myriad security threats surrounding the contest – another sad reminder that World Cup or not, Terrorism is always in our midst.

And of course, the match fixing angle – Rehman Malik has announced that intelligence agencies are trailing our cricket players to ensure a fair contest.

Meanwhile, outraged fans are busy SMS-ing everyone they know – or don’t know – announcements that the match is already fixed, invoking bewildered recipients to take to the streets and protest this act most foul.

There are moral judgements being made too – suddenly ‘cricket enthusiast’ and ‘morally depraved’ are synonymous. Those watching matches on TV even as target killings, drone attacks and inflation ravage our country ought to crumple in shame, moralists exclaim. Alright, I exaggerate a little. But one wonders why these spoil sports (pun intended) don’t object to the year-round consumption of soaps and movies in the same vein.

What we need to understand is, our cricket players, are just that. Players. Sportsmen. Athletes. And cricket is just a sport. Arguably, the greatest sport of them all, but a sport nonetheless. No doubt, the game brings us great joy and palpitations too, but when we begin to imagine the green 11 to be a team of superheroes capable of fantastic feats such as mending relations between two hostile countries, championing politics, solving all our problems, and restoring the national honour we lost to Davis-the-worst-spy-in-history, of all people – we are a little out of line.

All our cricket team owes us is a great game of cricket and its very best efforts on the field. Nothing more, nothing less. So let’s not allow our fantasies to spiral out of control.

As far as talks between our politicians go, they will hopefully be – hopeful. The two prime ministers are not likely to reach amicable agreement over Kashmir and the Indus Water Treaty during the course of this visit. And whether or not there is a round two of dialogue depends more on foreign policy on both sides, than the schedules of our two cricket teams.

One cannot help but wish for good sense to prevail. While one set of our esteemed commentators glorify our team and captain Afridi to the point of wishing him the president of the country should he succeed in winning the semi-final for us, the other lot are full of self-loathing; they deride cricket fans in Pakistan for their enthusiasm, terming them guilty of insensitivity to death and destruction in the country.

If you ask me, the cynicism that envelopes us as a country is greater cause for concern than cricket mania among our people. Coming together to watch cricket does not denote our moral corruption. It just means we love the game.

To all of the above, our esteemed commentators, I say: Please leave cricket alone. When the match begins, all eyes will be on the players. We will not then be considering the merits of ‘cricket diplomacy’. Above all, fans of cricket in Pakistan are eager to watch their team give a brilliant performance again.

We welcome peace between India and Pakistan, and pray that it comes during our lifetimes. God knows we need it. But let’s not trivialise the enormity of the task and its implications on the lives of over a billion people by deeming cricket our best hope of peace in the region. Much more needs to be done to achieve this mammoth mission.

Let cricket remain cricket. Don’t kill the fun with incessant talk of its all-encompassing healing power. Don’t jinx it with exaggerated analyses. And don’t burden the shoulders of sportsmen with the weight of our own agendas.

Cricket is undoubtedly an integral part of our shared South Asian heritage. It brings tremendous joy to, and is held dear by, millions across this region. Our passion for the game is just one more thing we have in common with our neighbour.

But were cricket alone enough, as some commentators appear to suggest – Partition would never have come.

The writer is a staff member.

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