It's Not Cricket

I feel sorry for the people and cricket players of Pakistan. I have no position or great insight into the decision of the IPL bidders but I do feel it’s an example of the world really not wanting to engage with the mess that is Pakistan.

I feel sorry for the people and cricket players of Pakistan. Fact is that the world now has a tough time dealing with a region that has spun out of control. No cricket team wants to play in that country and the brutal attack on Sri Lankan players completely ruled out the possibility of the bravest athlete venturing into that troubled region. And now the Pakistanis are smarting under the decision taken by the managers of IPL teams not to bid for their players. The word is that the owners and managers of the teams just don’t want the possible hassles that the Pakistani players invite. I am told that this includes the following reasons:

  • Venues like Mumbai are not welcoming to Pakistanis after 26/11. And there is definitely no chance that a team like Mumbai Indians would bid for a Pakistani player. 
  • Pakistani players can have visa problems.
  • Pakistani players are enormously talented but not disciplined.
  • The managers of the IPL are business oriented and simply don’t want any real or imagined hassle that having Pakistani players can involve.

I have no position or great insight into the decision of the IPL bidders but I do feel it’s an example of the world really not wanting to engage with the mess that is Pakistan. I recall a conversation with a well known Australian cricket expert some years ago. He had said that in his view the country with the greatest natural talent for the game is Pakistan even though they have no organized national tournament to spot talent comparable to, even, say the Ranji trophy. Having travelled to Pakistan several times and even to Mianwalli, the region dominated by Pathans from the Niazi tribe from which the cricketing legend Imran Khan hails, I know what he meant by “natural talent”. The men of that region were a good head taller than the average Indian so there is a grain of truth in generalities and stereotypes about why Pakistan produces great fast bowlers and India does not. 

Yet let me confess to a great discomfort during my forays into the Pakistani countryside. I had gone to Mianwalli in 1996 with Nawaz Sharif for a day’s campaigning during an election. I was the only woman I spotted out in public without a veil or chador and this is before Pakistan became the hard-line Islamic mess it is today. India may not be the liberated west but it’s certainly easier for all sorts of women to survive here without covering their faces in public. Three years ago I again had a visa that allowed me access to a Pakistan village (as opposed to the city specific visas usually given to Indian journalists). The village I went to was a few hours drive from Lahore so very well connected to the big city. The hospitality was spectacular but again it was the men who were the hosts. No woman came even for the feast laid out for me.

The point I am making is that we may have been one big country before the Partition but today India and Pakistan are very different entities. And it’s not just the geo-political mess that Pakistan is or the failure of democracy in that country. The ethnic stock, social norms, tribal values (and lately religious extremism) make Pakistan a wild west that is not friendly to women except the very well made up and fashionable ladies one meets in the metros. Pakistan certainly has huge problems. But some Pakistanis have a hard time dealing with the reality that their country is a mess.

In the India-Pakistan context this gets tied up with the schizophrenia people of both countries have about each other. I am quite certain that there was also a subtle communal attitude at play in the signal given to IPL managers not to bid for Pakistanis. We certainly have many groups in India ready to abuse Pakistanis. Some residents of the neighbouring country have also responded with some shocking communal stereotyping. Consider this conversation that took place in a TV show titled “A morning with Farah” on ATV, a Pakistan channel and the entire show can be seen on Youtube [4:21 to 4:23]

Sohail Tanvir, who helped the Rajasthan Royals win and got the highest number of wickets in the first IPL is being interviewed by another journalist while the glamorous hostess, Farah, looks on. Consider Tanvir’s remark: “Hinduon ki zahaniyat hi aisi hai (the Hindu nature is like that only)” the implication being that the Hindus have deliberately deceived and humiliated Pakistanis. The journalist responds with a remark about Indians being “baniyas” and says: “bagal meN chhuri/ muuNh meN Ram Ram” (they are ready to plunge a knife behind your back though they will keep saying Ram Ram). The gentleman with this shocking view of Indians in general and Hindus in particular then goes on about how India is tricking Pakistan out of hosting the world cup next year. 

Clearly many Pakistanis are in denial about the fact that no one except for the intrepid journalist (such as yours truly) wants to travel to that country.

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