How cricket can save the world
Islamabad — Watching bushy-bearded Pakistani batsmen compete in the Champions Trophy competition on late-night television here a few weeks ago, it suddenly became obvious: Cricket — yes, cricket! — can save the world.
What’s the only sport played in Pakistani madrassas, where the other way to work up a sweat is by joining the international jihad? Allahu akhbar, it’s cricket!
What’s the sport that unites feuding neighbors India and Pakistan, for whom international “test matches” are a substitute for fratricidal warfare? Cricket!
What’s the sport where the global powerhouses include tiny, lovable second-tier nations such as Sri Lanka, New Zealand and the West Indies? You guessed it. Begins with “C.”
And perhaps most important in the world-saving department, what’s the sport where the United States — the nation that the rest of the globe resents for its dominance of nearly everything — is totally incompetent and, for the most part, doesn’t even play? Yes, that would be cricket.
Cricket unites the world’s religions. It brings together East and West. It is the living vestige of the British empire, the only one since Rome to deserve the name. It has all the merits of baseball -- it’s slow, boring, played on a beautiful field of green grass, and has a wealth of incomprehensible statistics and jargon -- plus, it’s global. When cricket has a “world series,” like the Champions Trophy competition in South Africa this month, it’s really a world series.
Yes, I know that soccer is supposed to be the sport that “explains the world.” Franklin Foer wrote a good book with that title, but he’s wrong. Soccer isn’t the beautiful game anymore. It has become as ugly as American football. It’s dirty play, and fakery, and a few highly overpaid superstars lording it over everyone else. Just like the financial industry, you might say. No, soccer isn’t going to save the world. It’s part of the disease.
But consider the other peculiar international sport, where the bowler hurls a rock-hard leather ball in an attempt to knock down pins set atop three spindly sticks, while the batsman tries to wallop the ball as it approaches this “wicket” and “hit it for six,” which is the equivalent of a home run. The winning score in a one-day cricket match will be, let’s say, 217 for 6, which means that the batsmen scored 217 runs while the opposing team’s bowlers knocked down six wickets. And if you don’t understand that, well, too bad.
My conviction that cricket can save the world was bolstered by Chaudhary Muhammad Faraz, a Pakistani friend who organized a tournament last year for the madrassas of Islamabad and Lahore. “It was a step toward bringing these people into the mainstream of society,” he explained.
And it worked. Despite a blast from local mullahs, who claimed the competition was a conspiracy by the enemies of Islam, the games went on. The Islamabad tournament included 24 religious seminaries and was won by Riaz ul-Alum, a Deobandi school. The Lahore competition had 80 teams and was won by Jannat ul-Atfal from the Wahhabi league.
Watching the Pakistani national team on television (and the audience, near as I could tell, included basically the entire country), I was struck by how many of the good players had the beards that marked them as practicing Muslims. Among them was the superstar batsman Mohammad Yousuf, who used to be a Christian but converted in 2005. The most popular player on the team is probably Shahid Afridi, a Pashtun from the Khyber tribal agency.
Yousuf, Afridi and many former cricket stars are members of a Muslim religious group called Tablighi Jamaat, which was founded by a pacifist. One of its preachers is Saeed Anwar, one of the greatest batsman in Pakistan’s history, who scored the all-time world record of 194 runs in a one-day international match.
Cricket is un-American. That’s a fact. But in a world that is nervous about U.S. power, and is looking for ways to express itself other than with suicide bombs, that may not be a bad thing.
Now, if you’re really interested, I can explain to you how Saqlain Mushtaq, another passionate Pakistani Muslim cricketer, invented a new form of spin bowling, known as the “doosra,” that breaks away from a right-handed batsman, from the “leg side” to the “off side,” which is the opposite of a "googly." But we’ll save that until after our misnamed World Series is over.
Posted by: bmukwaira | October 22, 2009 8:45 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: MadiganT | October 22, 2009 9:28 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: roblimo | October 22, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: schluckebier | October 22, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Please_Fix_VAs_Roads | October 22, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: helengoing | October 22, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: arun1patel | October 23, 2009 10:12 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.