June 12, 2021
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Much More Than Just Cricket

Imran Khan might have had not just cricket but also race relations in mind when he said that this was not the right time for a Pakistan tour of England

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Much More Than Just Cricket
Much More Than Just Cricket

What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?’--C.L.R. James

Politically, Imran Khan is a man of many identities. England knows him as an Oxford graduate and as a classical liberal with a Jewish wife. In Pakistan, he is a staunch critic of "flawed" democracy. For the cricket world, he is the avowed modernist who subverted the establishment-player power relations in Pakistan cricket during his captaincy and the man who introduced the idea of neutral umpires. The Khan certainly can’t be accused of failing the James test, and his recent utterances about the Pakistan cricket team’s tour of England, one surmises, would have had more to it than just cricket. In an interview to BBC Sport Online, Imran castigated the Pakistan Cricket Board for choosing "a wrong time" to tour England. The 1992 World Cup-winning Pakistan captain, who in 1987 captained his country to its first Test series win in England and India, explained his position on cricketing grounds. The first part of the season in England would be wet and Pakistan’s inexperienced batsmen, according to Imran, would struggle against Darren Gough and Co. Besides, he said that the tour was just not worth the effort because it comprised only two Tests.

Never known to shy away from a cricketing challenge or encourage such an idea, Imran might have been stating by implication that the unhealthy racialisation of English politics and civil society would leave its impact on the cricket grounds and stands. The ace all-rounder turned politician is no stranger to the patterns of racial politics and settlement in England, his second home. Pakistani immigrants, who constitute one per cent of the three per cent South Asian diaspora in England, are concentrated in London (the East End), Birmingham, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire, all of which have Test grounds. Imran could be forgiven if he were indeed hinting that the Pakistani diaspora would be better off now without a Test series between their country of origin and England.

The political racialisation of multi-cultural England, as it moves towards its Parliamentary elections in June, has been a central issue of debate in the mainstream English media. Tory MP Michael Portillo’s refusal to sign the pledge drafted by the Commission of Racial Equality (CRE) about non-racial election campaigning prompted Foreign Secretary Robin Cook to come up with his famous culinary definition of Britain’s multi-culturalism. Chicken tikka masala, Cook said, could now seriously give fish and chips a run for its money in the race for England’s national dish. (Portillo, who claimed that his non-racist credentials were too well-defined to be subject to evaluation on the basis of ‘not signing a pledge which ordered him what not to do’, was described by former hard-line Tory MP Norman Tebbit as a ‘caring conservative’-- a Tory who was too liberal on the issue of immigrations and asylum seekers.) The Liberal Democrats, who have Lord Dholakia, a person with Indian roots, as president, pointed out Labour’s abysmal record in giving tickets to Asian candidates even for local council elections thereby insinuating that the ruling party is no saint in matters of promoting racial equality.

In the context of the England-Pakistan Test series, however, what is more pertinent is the racialised civil society in parts of England where there is a substantial concentration of Pakistani diaspora. Even as the Pakistan cricket team landed in England, the area of Oldham in Greater Manchester was in a state of high tension following clashes between Pakistani and white working class inhabitants. Pakistani youth claimed that they have been getting little support from the police in tackling white racism and decided to take the law in their own hands. They cordoned off Pakistani and Bangladeshi dominated areas and put up ‘whites not allowed’ posters. When Walter Chamberlain, a 76-year-old Second World War veteran, set foot on the area while returning home after watching a rugby match he was savagely attacked by a group of Pakistani youngsters. A few days later, even as white football fans descended there to watch a match between Oldham and Stoke City, Bangladeshi and Pakistani youth clashed with them. This prompted the right-wing British National Party, a marginal political outfit, to stage marches through the streets of Oldham in an attempt to rouse an embattled white majority who, according to the party, are under siege in their own country. The clashes between the Pakistani working class and the white working class spread to Bradford in neighbouring West Yorkshire, an area where segregated schools of whites and Pakistanis have been causing major concern to integrationists during the last few years. Incidentally, grassroot cricket in West Yorkshire has also been an integrationists’ nightmare. The Pakistani community in places such as Bradford run their own leagues.

Pakistani alienation from the white population is the result of an intersection of the discourses of race and class. The Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrants in England have abysmal indices of post-high school education and economic activity. In comparison, the Indian diaspora in England, which constitutes 1.8 per cent of the 3 per cent South Asian diaspora, can boast of educational and economic indices that are almost as good as the white population. The Pakistani immigrants have to battle it out with the white working class for space in the labour market whereas the Indian diaspora have the liberal white middle class as their competitors. To add to this, the Pakistani immigrants preferred to have ghettoised lives with their own codes of dressing, diet and kinship ties which led to them maintaining minimal contact with the white community. The socio-cultural "othering" of the Pakistani naturally found its way into the cricketing world as well. Time and again, the English broadsheets have insinuated that the combative cricket culture embodied by the Pakistan team contravenes the English idea of what sport is all about -- fair play, decorum and character. The tabloids have been remarkably less sophisticated in their opprobrium --The Mirror openly called Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis "cheats" in connection with the ball tampering controversy that surfaced during the 1992 tour.

The best illustration of white working class anger against Pakistanis is the incident in which Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate, players of Leeds United Football Club, attacked and injured British Pakistani brothers Sarfraz and Shahzad Najeib outside a Leeds night club on January 11 last year. The incident, however, is more symbolic (than real) of white working class anger in that Bowyer and Woodgate, though from the London and Yorkshire working classes respectively, have moved up the class ladder because of their football career. The Najeib brothers, who are from a middle class family, are hardly representatives of the working class Pakistani community in Yorkshire. The highly publicised £8 million trial of the footballers collapsed on April 9 this year following publication of an interview with the brothers’ father, Mohammed Najeib, in the tabloid Sunday Mirror, in which he alleged that the footballers had assaulted his sons with a clear racial motive. During the course of the hearings, Justice Poole had ruled that racial undertones could not be read into the attack and that it had to be considered as just an act of crime. Justice Poole stopped the case temporarily stating that publication of the interview at the time of jury deliberations sabotaged the process of fair trial as it had influenced the jury.

Mohammed Najeib later cried foul against the tabloid, alleging that he had been promised that the interview would be published only after the trial. Najeib stopped short of saying that newspaper had conspired to scuttle the case. The editor of the Sunday Mirror, Colin Myler, later resigned admitting that the publication of the interview was a "gross misjudgment" on his part. The most far-reaching outcome of the case, however, was the criticism of the Macpherson Report of 1999 by Justice Poole in course of the trial. The report, which looked into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, had empowered the victim of an attack or any other person related to either the victim or the scene of the attack to define its nature. Justice Poole rapped Macpherson stating that the report, which was universally adopted in good faith by police and other agencies, was subject to possible mischief.

From Botham to ‘ball tampering’

It could be argued, especially in the light of past experiences, that there is a likelihood of tension in the civil society finding an outlet in the stands. In the last decade, cricket between England and Pakistan in England has been fraught with clashes in the stands, the most famous of them being the Edgbaston clashes of 1987. During Pakistan’s infamous 1992 tour, there were clashes in Edgbaston and Headingley. And during the country’s last tour in 1996, there was much verbal heckling between Pakistani and white spectators at the Oval. By and large, Pakistani cricket spectatorship in England mirrors the community’s class composition in civil society. Passionate about cricket and at the wrong end of the racial power relations in civil society, they consider Pakistan’s victory against England on the field as nothing short of an affirmation of their rights and even existence. In contrast, the white working classes usually spend the summer months waiting for the football leagues to begin in September. Though they have been priced out of the Premiership League to a great extent, the First and Second Division league tickets are still within their reach. In normal circumstances, they would not even dream of watching international cricket, the tickets of which are priced higher than tickets for a Premiership game. However, in the wake of a racialised civil society and a Pakistan tour, they are known to descend in small numbers to the stands in Edgbaston, Headingley, Old Trafford, Lord’s and the Oval.

Many politicised people, and most certainly Imran, would identify a pattern in the tenuous racial relations existing between the two communities now and in the period preceding the acrimonious 1992 tour. In the summer of 1990, Norman Tebbit, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, came up with his famous ‘cricket test’ to measure the loyalties of immigrants. ‘When England played Pakistan or India whom did they cheer for?’ he asked. ‘Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are?’ Tebbit was being interviewed about the backbench Tory rebellion he spearheaded against his own government’s Hong Kong Bill, which proposed to admit 50,000 heads of Hong Kong households into the United Kingdom after the 1997 take over of Hong Kong by China. There was little doubt that Tebbit’s attack was levelled primarily at the Pakistani immigrants and that his reference to the Indian diaspora was meant more for the sake of completion. In 1989, many members of the Pakistani community in Britain had openly vowed to flout British law and administrative machinery so as to implement the fatwa ordered by Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini on author Salman Rushdie, then a resident of London. The Tory government had stated quite resolutely and indignantly that they would ensure full protection to Rushdie. The Hong Kong Bill and the Rushdie fatwa meant that the political atmosphere was charged with the issues of race and immigration even as Britain approached its May 1992 Parliamentary elections.

Events that unfolded on the field that summer alienated the Pakistani community from their white counterparts even more. It all started one March evening in Melbourne, the day of the 1992 World Cup final between England and Pakistan. England openers Graham Gooch and Ian Botham, who was promoted to take advantage of the field restrictions in the first 15 overs, had just begun their reply to Pakistan’s total of 260-plus. A late Wasim Akram outswinger had Botham all at sea and the Pakistan fielders appealed for a catch behind the wicket. Up went the umpire’s finger and Botham lingered at the crease for a moment, shook his head to convey his dissent at the verdict, and began his long walk back to the MCG pavilion. Five yards into his walk, he crossed a saucy Aamir Sohail who shouted at him, ‘Your mother-in-law will bat better than you.’ Sohail was giving it back to Botham who had said in the 1980s that Pakistan was the right place for packing off one’s mother-in-law. Botham went to town with Sohail’s remark and the story was splashed all over the British tabloid press. Two months later, when the Pakistan team was about to play their first Test in Edgbaston, the Pakistani diaspora in Birmingham announced a £500 award to any Pakistani bowler who got Botham’s wicket and a cash award of £100 to any batsmen who hit the great English all-rounder for six. The white working class, who considered Botham as their only cricketing hero, was incensed and they turned up in large numbers in Edgbaston to lock horns with the Pakistani community. The clash that took place outside the ground at close of play on one of the days left a few whites and Pakistanis injured.

Pakistan beat England at Lord’s in the second Test thanks to inspired bowling by Wasim and Waqar. The action moved to Old Trafford in Manchester for the third Test. Pakistani medium pacer Aaqib Javed bowled a series of bouncers at England tailender Devon Malcolm in retaliation to the liberal dose of bouncers that Malcolm had sent down to Waqar. English umpire Ken Palmer no-balled Aaqib when he bowled the second bouncer at Malcolm and then after two more bouncers, at the end of the over, Palmer handed back the bowler’s sweater in a manner Aaqib found insulting. Immediately, Palmer was surrounded by a horde of gesticulating Pakistani fielders led by captain Javed Miandad. The fielders were joined by a couple of angry Pakistani spectators who flung rolled-up newspapers on the ground. After the match, Pakistan manager Intikhab Alam criticised the umpires for inspecting the ball frequently when Pakistan bowled and not doing it when England were in the field. The first inkling of the ball-tampering controversy had come -- not from the English but ironically from Intikhab!

Benefiting from umpiring controversies and in the midst of clashes in the stands, England won the fourth Test in Headingley. The series moved to the decider, which Pakistan won at the Oval thanks to Wasim and Waqar again. At the end of the Oval Test and the series, England manager Micky Stewart mysteriously remarked he knew why Wasim and Waqar were able to swing the old ball prodigiously. Gooch gruffly remarked ‘I am sure that the Pakistani bowlers will be keeping the method to themselves.’ The statements came as grist to the tabloid mills. Photographs of Waqar and Wasim holding the ball at the sides were splashed on the back pages of The Sun and The Mirror with captions such as ‘Nailed -- Waqar appears to pick at the seam with his finger and thumbnail’. The Sun also published pictures of a cricket ball in various stages of decay under the headline: ‘Revealed! Secrets of Waqar the wrecker’.

The ball tampering controversy became official during the one-day international series between the two countries, which followed the Tests. During the rain-affected second one-day international at Lord’s, batsman Allan Lamb complained to umpires Ken Palmer and John Hampshire about the state of the ball. After consultation with match referee Deryck Murray and senior Test umpire Don Oslear during the break, they decided to change the ball. Murray told Intikhab about the decision and the Pakistani manager selected a replacement ball whereas in normal circumstances it was Gooch’s right to select the ball. The umpires and Murray insisted on doing the entire thing secretly. Oslear, however, informed the matter to Micky Stewart who passed on the information to the England players. Play resumed, and Wasim and Waqar took five wickets and helped Pakistan win the match. A few minutes after the match, a tabloid reporter was tipped off by a phone call from the England dressing room about the hushed-up change of ball during the interval. The umpires and the ICC officials skipped that evening’s Press conference but an anonymous Lord’s official informed the media that the ball had been changed under Law 42.5 -- the section dealing with unfair play and specifically ball tampering. The English media grilled not only the Pakistani team but also the ICC for trying to cover up the incident. Intikhab, however, stated that the ball had been replaced with one in similar condition, under Law 5, whereas it should have been replaced with an inferior one if Law 42.5 had been applied. Intikhab requested Murray to come out with a statement, but Murray insisted that he wouldn’t issue a public statement on the subject but would present his version in his secret report to the ICC.

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