Why cricket matters - Rafia Zakaria - Wednesday 30th March 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/03/30/why-cricket-matters.html

FOR as long as he could remember, Ali wanted to be a pilot. Growing up in a suburb of Lahore, every toy he ever bought, every game he ever played and every book he ever read was centred on flying planes.
There was simply no doubt in his mind that he wanted to devote his life to being a pilot. When he was 18, Ali received a scholarship to an engineering college in the United Kingdom. Suddenly, he was faced with a dilemma: he could choose to stay in Pakistan and pursue his dreams of becoming a pilot, or go abroad and obtain an aeronautical engineering degree. His parents, knowing his dream, did not pressure him. Eventually, of his own accord, Ali chose to go to the UK. He was extremely successful in his work and came back to start his own company in Pakistan.
I tell Ali’s story to illustrate a simple fact. Ali, and all the rest of us, face many decisions in life of which some are more momentous than others. Was it a victory to win a scholarship that required Ali to abandon his dreams of becoming a pilot? Would it have been a loss to abandon the scholarship to fulfil the dream of flying planes?
At the end of it all, Ali is quite happy with the decision he made; if you asked him today, he would say he has no regrets about the path not chosen. His story, representative in so many ways of many stories of our own, is typical of life itself — full of grey and sadly lacking in black and white. We skip and jump, fall and falter, but in the end, somehow make peace with what lies before us — a necessary reconciliation in the face of contingencies that we never planned for but will inevitably face.
Such wisdom is useful today, when so many of us await with bated breath the outcome of the semi-final to be played between Pakistan and India. Unlike life, whose undulating terrain is marked with uncertainty, sport — in our case, cricket — presents a welcome contrast. The rules are clear, the time limits specified and the outcome unarguably definite. Pakistan will either win or lose, our team will either disappoint or elate, and there is no guesswork and no conjecture about the outcome of this or that decision. Cricket, like most sport, is thus unlike life: it affords certainty and that is indeed why we are so enthralled by it.
But certainty is not the only gift cricket affords us. A few songs of praise must be sung today for the welcome escapism that immersion in a competition fought by others inevitably provides.
Unlike any other venue in our socially stratified, economically disparate country, rooting for the national team emerges as an equaliser, providing master and servant a temporary exit from their varied worries.
The fact that nothing we do can actually control the outcome is particularly useful in this regard since it absolves us of either guilt or complicity.
In this important sense, the actual outcome of the match is thus completely irrelevant. If we win, the revelry will enable a celebration we did nothing to effectuate; if we lose, we can drown in a catharsis that can only be enabled by tragedy.
Yet the cricket match in Pakistan has significance beyond its escapism and cathartic possibilities. Unlike other colonial imports, roundly denounced for their connections to a subjugated past, cricket has managed to absolve itself by gaining a place in Pakistan’s present that other similar imports have failed to achieve.
Played on every street corner and in every village, few would question the indigenisation of the sport and its rebirth as a truly Pakistani form of entertainment. Cricket’s very ubiquity is, in fact, a testament to the ability of a society to take something completely alien and make it one’s own.
In this sense cricket, its popularity and mass appeal, is an argument in favour of the idea that something good and in this case entertaining can be extricated from the inequity and oppression of its origins and become organically and naturally a part of a society that chooses to adopt it.
In philosophical terms, then, cricket represents the hope that the legacy of colonialism does not automatically mean the rejection of absolutely everything and anything associated with it. It represents the possibility that we can at least in these limited terms evaluate things beyond whether they are ‘western’ or truly Pakistani.
To make cricket our own, we have not found it necessary to change its rules, to attach clauses or remove restrictions. We have kept the sport intact and aspire to beat all others to prove our mastery of it. Cricket can be just cricket and we can still love it.
Pakistan’s relationship with cricket also represents a useful attitude towards a past that we have struggled to come to terms with and that continues to mire us in demands for the blanket rejection of all things colonial. If we can make cricket our own, and vindicate ourselves by excelling against teams representing places where it was invented, we can also perhaps adopt an attitude towards colonialism and the West that is drastically more productive and radically less self-sabotaging.
Pakistan’s relationship with cricket represents an opportunity, an orientation toward the world that goes far beyond the sport and presents answers to historical conundrums.
Caught in a post-colonial moment, Pakistanis struggling to define themselves and eager to reject as artificial and inauthentic anything associated with the West can see in cricket a reality that they may otherwise be unwilling to acknowledge: that ideas and sports should be judged not on the basis of their origin but on the basis of who can put them to the best use.
If the Pakistani team wins today, it will have proven just that: the fact that good things, sports or systems, belong not only to their inventors but to everyone, and most of all to those who excel at them.
The writer is a US-based attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

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