Like the other billion-and-a-half people who watched yesterday’s World Cup semi-final, let’s calmly and dispassionately analyse the match. (Memo to reader: I use yesterday in a purely metaphysical sense. Due to deadline vagaries, this column is actually being written before the match so use a white-out marker where appropriate and finish my slightly incomplete analysis.)
After that stupendously epic/horrific let-down of a match, it is obvious that captain Shahid Afridi is greater than Jinnah/ must have taken money from bookmakers and I cannot wait to go to the airport and greet the team with perfumed petals/rotten vegetables.
Not that I actually needed to watch the match to know who won or lost. If, for some unfathomable reason, you decided that the best way to stay informed about cricket was to rely on the media, you will know that the true victor is peace. It is not surprising that such inanities were spouted by the same people who think the best way to mollify the Taliban is by sending them bouquets of flowers and mithai. Millions of Pakistanis, who have never spent more than a few minutes pondering Kashmir, know that the only cricket diplomacy worth its name will be sent from the back of Afridi’s hand and will uproot Sachin’s middle stump. If, in the eight hours they were at the match, the prime ministers of Pakistan and India debated anything more vexing than the Duckworth-Lewis method, that should surely be grounds for impeachment.
Even before the match, it is obvious who the losers are. I use loser here in the slangy pejorative sense. There is interior minister and fledgling cheerleader Rehman Malik, who must have mistaken George Orwell’s 1984 as a self-help guide. It might not be a sure-fire technique to boost the team’s morale, but letting them know that their movements and phone calls are being monitored should at least ensure that they don’t take money to throw away the most important match they will ever play. Thanks to Malik’s interjection, any cricketer who thought a World Cup semi-final against India is an exhibition match may have taken the match slightly more seriously.
Then there are those two or three Pakistanis who once heard somewhere that Marx (Karl, not the Brothers) was not a fan of nationalism and so declared that, to temper the jingoism, they would be supporting India. If it turns out we have won the match, they can be safely mocked as the kind of people who, when presented with a wishing well, decide to urinate in it. If we lost, Rehman Malik might want to call the spooks off the cricketers and get them checking on such people’s citizenship papers.
None of these spoilsports, though, compare to the ‘cricket will be the real winner’ brigade. I may not know if Pakistan or India won the match, but the winner more assuredly wasn’t cricket. For those who trot out such banal clichés, a place is reserved in a tenth circle in hell that is so deep even Dante couldn’t spot it. Cricket wins when match-fixing is rooted out, there are no scandals involving performance-enhancing and Brian Lara is given a knighthood. The only winner of this match was the team that, you know, won it.
Once every four years ago it is okay to be hyper-nationalist, to make harmless jokes about daal-eaters and dumb Pathans. Only pedants and serial scolds would think this will lead to a war that transcends words. Karl Marx may not agree, but then he never saw a Shoaib Akhtar yorker.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2011.