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.