What is it about cricket? Is it the players? Or maybe the type of person who is content to watch five days of play that ends in a draw? Is it the individual duals between batsman and bowler within a team sport? Does it have something to do with empire and independence? Is it the sandwiches?
Whatever it is, somewhere between the wickets – or indeed within its single 22 yards, such is the ambiguity of so many aspects of the sport – lies truth.
Football books are dire (unless they are about Nottingham Forest or – even better – Brian Clough). Rugby? Forget it. The only other sports that I can tolerate reading about (by which I don’t mean transfer updates or match reports, which I will assume we all read) are cycling, because most of the people doing it are bonkers or cheats, or baseball, which I guess shares some of the characteristics of cricket (and if ever I meet you in the pub, by all means ask me how the differences between the two sports encapsulates the differences between the US and England – I really am fascinating on this subject).
Anyway, I have believed for a long time that everything that you need to know about Pakistan can be found in its cricket team. One example is here.
And in Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, there is evidence that the same holds true for the whole of South Asia, if not the entire cricket-playing world. It’s a fun novel based around a drunk sports writer’s search for a mysterious Sri Lankan practitioner of left-arm unorthodox spin. It’s flawed in places, but its rambling account is beguiling for the way in which it takes in the history, politics, economics and conflicts of the country in which it is set. No other sport could manage that. One example:
I realise that when it comes down to it, our cricket retains the passion of the street. The West respects law, but questions authority. It is us who bow down to lawmakers even as we disregard laws. Today we reverse that. We dare to call the umpire a hora.
Somehow, a fantastical novel about a forgotten spinner has helped me understand why traffic lights in Pakistan are routinely ignored, tax laws are considered optional but in some situations nothing can be done without a No Objection Certificate or sometimes a man in a uniform.
Piece in today’s Sunday Times (behind the paywall) confirms theory that all of Pakistan can be understood by looking at the cricket team. In this case it’s how the captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, has transformed the team’s fortunes…
Geoff Lawson, an earlier Pakistan coach, rates Misbah the cleverest man in Pakistan cricket. “He has a statesman-like demeanour, which so many Pakistan captains lacked,” Lawson said. “He handles adversity analytically, not emotionally.”
Me, I like a packet of crisps. Cheese and onion is my favourite, if you are asking, but generally I need no invitation to sample a new flavour. So I was easily led by Lay’s cricket world cup tie-in, featuring new flavours representing the teams taking part. On offer were
- English sour cream and onion – the thinking man’s cheese and onion, nice
- Pakistani chicken achari – I have a packet to try later
- South African salsa – really? salsa?
- Australian roasted onion and balsamic vinegar – rubbish, don’t bother unless you think that this might be better than pickled onion flavour, which as we all know is simply too sharp and needs the balance of some cheesy flavourings
I initially assumed that there would be flavours for all the teams taking part: West Indian curried goat, Indian madras, Irish er potato, Canadian poutine, Kenyan nyama choma… that sort of thing. But no, it seems that in Pakistan we just get those four. Shame.
In India – and the rest of the world, I guess – it seems, crisp fans get a choice of six flavours. South Africa there is represented by a much more reasonable peri peri chilli flavour. The only major test nations absent are New Zealand, and surprise, surprise Pakistan.
It seems that not only have the two countries been to war three times, not only do they remain locked in a nuclear arms race, but they simply will not tolerate each other’s crisps.
This cartoon, in today’s Daily Times, nicely sums up the state of Pakistan cricket. The men face an uphill struggle against South Africa, who have declared just shy of 600 runs, so let’s enjoy the success of the women’s team who have won gold at the Asian Games. What’s their secret? Maybe they have taken the radical step of appointing a batting coach…
Posted in pakistan
To Lahore last week, on the trail of anyone who could shed light on Zulqarnain Haider’s odd defection, and who should I bump into at Model Town Green’s Cricket Club but Salman Butt, the Pakistan cricket captain currently suspended over spot fixing allegations.
I politely enquired whether he or any other of the club cricketers present might be friends with Haider, Butt replied snappily: “He has no friends.”
There are plenty of suggestions floating around in Pakistan that Haider may have been forced out as part of a plot by players within the team, or that his distance from team mates may have made it harder for him to see off illegal advances made by bookies. Either way, once again, Butt makes it sounds as if there’s little to distinguish the Pakistan dressing room from a pit of vipers.
The directions were vague: drive into Shahnoor, a cluttered corner of Lahore named after a movie studio, where the narrow streets are filled with carts loaded with bananas and motorised rickshaws, then telephone again for more information. After 30 stop-start minutes of 11-point turns we reached our destination. It looked like a half-constructed shopfront. Inside was bare concrete, with two white plastic chairs for visitors.
There I met PK, one of Lahore’s bookmakers. After 20 minutes of stilted chitchat – during which time he was presumably screening me – he led me to the back of the building, where we climbed through a hole in the wall, went up a flight of stairs and arrived at his illegal gambling den just in time for the start of the fourth England-Pakistan one day cricket international…. read more
I’m still on the steep part of the Pakistan learning curve. Even so, after four months it’s pretty clear there are two things that you need to know about in this place: Cricket and conspiracy theories. The two have come together rather neatly in the betting scandal, when Mazhar Majeed apparently accepted £150,000 in return for promising Pakistani bowlers would deliver no-balls to order. It didn’t take long for India, and its intelligence agency RAW, to be exposed as the hidden hand behind the slur on Pakistan
Mazhar Majeed told the undercover reporter that there are no major activities when the “Indian market is not open”. On the other side he has been closely interacting with Pakistani cricketers since many years. Mazhar Majeed is a RAW front man and holds a key position in RAW’s illicit fund generation program that includes running Mafia wings, running brothel houses, prostitution syndicates gambling dens, and betting on matches of Cricket, soccer and even tennis. He was handpicked by RAW and was put under the command of RAW’s Special Operations Division SOD, headed by Chhota Rajan where he was trained for sports betting.
This is the sort of stuff you’d expect here. What I didn’t expect was a senior politician to tell me the whole thing was a set-up, questioning the News of the World’s reputation (well, yes, I see the point) and that the video of the handover was probably filmed after the balls were bowled. He wisely asked for his comments to be off the record. After the meeting I watched Pakistan’s High Commissioner to London, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, say exactly the same thing to an assembled media throng.
This will not surprise Pakistani lovers of cricket. But another thing I am learning is that you shouldn’t expect cricket here to be cleaned up any time soon.