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Cricket Paranoia in Pakistan – Karamatullah K Ghori

Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq walks off after being dismissed by the West Indies during their 2015 Cricket World Cup Group B match in Christchurch. – AFP Photo

Given the nature of the game of cricket, it’s amateurish, if not stupid, to expect your side to come out on top every time they take to the field. The news media of Pakistan shares a large portion of blame for feeding to the people an unhealthy diet of expectations in regard to the team


[dropcap]N[/dropcap]o denying that the Pakistani squad’s performance at the 2015 World Cup, so far, has been deeply disappointing, to say the very least. It has lost both its matches—against India and the West Indies—with huge margins and little face-saving.
But are two successive defeats too much for Pakistanis the world over to fly into tantrums befitting spoiled brats and bordering on paranoia?
Cricket—until not too long ago—was known for being the gentlemen’s sport. And it, in fact, had all that cool poise and reserve, dignity and decorum associated with the well-bred English upper crust. Everything about Cricket oozed serenity: its au rigueur whites, its leisurely pace, its drink-breaks, its afternoon-tea, its pavilions where the puffed-ups treated themselves to leisurely luncheons and high-teas. It was much more than a mere sport: it was an excuse for picnics at which every class of society could enjoy themselves to their own tastes.
Cricket, of late, has been robbed of its gentlemanly past by the incursion of two egregious elements into its sanctum: money and media.
Cricket didn’t have money, and cricketers—even the legendary ones—lived mostly on their fame but not on pelf. One never heard of a legendary cricketer with earnings, per annum, into six figures, much less seven—which is now the norm and taken for granted for anyone in the big league.
I remember when I was joining the Foreign Service of Pakistan—back in 1966—a well-wisher of mine bemoaned my selection of one ‘superior’ service of Pakistan that was known for being ‘barren.’ Why was it barren, I asked him completely bowled by his repartee. He said there was as little money in the Foreign Service as there was in Cricket; both, he quipped, were barren of ‘fringe benefits’ and windfalls, common to other ‘superior’ services of Pakistan.
One-Day Cricket (ODIs) brought money into the game; the bunyas of India, with their unrivalled gift of making money virtually out of nothing came right in tow behind, and that was the end of the gentlemen’s game. The game of cricket hasn’t recovered from that shock; its tremors can be seen and felt in every game of cricket these days.
The virtual Indian monopoly over betting has myriad manifestations. One is the obvious panoply of Indian Premiere League (IPL) which has turned the gentlemen’s sport on its head and transformed it into a circus. The way players from around the world are auctioned and bought at open auctions, every year, before the start of a new IPL season is reminiscent, to history buffs, of Rome at its zenith when gladiators were groomed to display their talent at the Coliseum of Rome in front of howling spectators. The spectators at IPL games—howling and shrieking at every boundary and sixer—come close to re-enacting the spectacle of the Coliseum.
Money has opened the flood gates to corruption and all those unethical practices that were unheard of as long as it was a gentlemen’s sport. Bookies and touts working for those who are prepared to invest millions into betting—in preparation to reap tens of millions in windfall benefits—regularly induce and trap unsuspecting cricketers into their net. They have ruined the careers of so many promising cricketers through their machinations. The example of three Pakistani cricketers trapped in UK, five years ago, best illustrates the lethal effect of the betters’ shenanigans at the cost of cricketer X, Y, or Z’ career.
The news media—on the prowl for money-making more than scoops making sensational headlines—couldn’t keep its fingers from poking into the new and radically transformed formats of classical cricket. The media barons, egged on by their corporate bosses, could sniff big bucks in latching on to the lure of ‘new cricket.’
Media is almost universally owned by multi-faceted global corporations. Their culture is anchored in money-making. Because of the corrosive influence of money-making, journalistic ethics of yore have been corrupted beyond recognition; it’s now nothing more than a wishful slogan for any newspaper or television channel to claim that it stands for journalistic probity and transparency. It stands, more than anything else, for ensuring that the bottom line of the corporate ledger of annual profit reflects healthy numbers—many zeros—to massage the egos of corporate bosses and money-lust of the share-holders.
So, that, more or less, reflects the current—though distasteful and unsavory–reality of the once sport of gentlemen. It’s, in its mutated visage, a spectator sport geared to making money—and thick wads of it—for gamblers, bookies and media barons.
The ethics and refinement of culture for which cricket was known and admired have gone out of the window. It was rare, very rare, in the halcyon days of cricket for a bowler to behave like a circus clown when he took a wicket. There was no high-five or kangaroo-like jumping, or throwing fists in the air, or show the big finger to the batsman going out. Now it’s not only a common sight but is regarded as a ‘must’ to keep the spectators enjoying the spectacle.
Cricket teams, in most cricket-playing countries of the world, are now seen as investments. India is the most telling example of the new culture of the game. The cricket board of that country is headed by a man like Srinivasan, who has been declared a crook and a gambler by the highest court of India. However, the taint on his character hasn’t handicapped him, one bit; he goes on as before.
Where does it all leave Pakistani cricket and what’s its effect on Pakistan?
Whereas most cricket-playing countries seem to have realized that cricket is as much a commercial undertaking, like investing in oil-prospecting or search for lucrative minerals, and adapted themselves to suit the new requirements, Pakistan remains hopelessly wedded to its past. In Pakistan cricket-management is still one more lever of power in the hands of the PM. The PCB, cricket’s mother-goose, is just another department under the PM’s belt; its stewardship is awarded to one PM deems worthy of his favour and patronage.
I’ve the highest personal regard for the incumbent PCB head-honcho, Mian Shehryar. He’s a former senior service colleague of mine and not just I but any other Foreign Service officer who served under him would vouch for his integrity and sterling character. He’s the antithesis of Najam Sethi. Mian would be a stellar PCB chief had the game of cricket still retained its old poise and patina. But he, sadly, is a misfit in the new culture of cricket.
However, Pakistan’s great misfortune is that at the other end of the spectrum in Pakistan’s culture of cricket, one comes across a wheeler-dealer like Sethi—who could easily be a mirror-image of a crook like Srinivasan. But wheeler-dealers end up lining only their own nest and end up ruining the face of cricket in the country. That’s the damage wrought on Pakistani cricket by the likes of Sethi and inept and ill-prepared serving or retired generals of the army who thought their swagger would make up for their inefficiency and inadequacy for the job.
So if the team performs poorly—as it has thus far in the ongoing World Cup in Australia and New Zeeland—it’s a reflection of the ongoing malaise of poor or inane supervision that’s completely out of sync with the new demands of cricket management.
But why should the people of Pakistan be so enraged so early in the game? It’s only two games lost, while there are many more to go. So what explains this frenzy, this chest-beating and shedding of tears, as if Pakistan has already been kicked out of the tournament?
Basically, it’s a sad reflection of the nation’s psychological imbalance. It’s yet another manifestation of level-headedness and emotional stability long been missing from the collective psyche of the nation.
Pakistanis in their rage—which is a national outrage, to be honest—often remind me of those Roman spectators at the Coliseum who wanted their gladiators to come on top, every time, and slay the beast without mercy.
It’s a sign of collective immaturity. But more than that, it’s a symptom of that gargantuan frustration that has long been the bane of the country and its people. There’s hardly anything else in the dismal panorama of Pakistan for its people to cheer on, save the occasional glory their cricket heroes bring to them. So when they fail to oblige and fail to win laurels for the country they must be condemned and ridiculed savagely.
The people of Pakistan have lost that poise, the societal balance and equilibrium that tutor a people, a nation, to see not just black or white but also shades of grey. The country’s political leadership has failed the nation so regularly—and shamelessly, too—that the people have lost all faith in any healing touch coming from it. That, once again, burdens the poor cricketers with all the expectations to be the winners every time.
Given the nature of the game of cricket, it’s amateurish, if not stupid, to expect your side to come out on top every time they take to the field. But that’s how vacuous the people of Pakistan are.
The news media of Pakistan shares a large portion of blame for feeding to the people an unhealthy diet of expectations in regard to the team. Every game of cricket turns into a forum of speculation and debate for TV anchors who may never have held a cricket bat in their hands. The so-called experts invited to ad lib to whatever the anchor may spew out literally pour oil on a burning fire every time the team loses a game. This is sheer madness, if not outright dishonesty, with the team and the audience.

Even in its heavily-watered-down version of the once gentlemanly game, cricket still demands some input of decency and decorum. And that applies equally to players, managers and spectators or audiences. The Pakistani team still has the potential to bounce back and claw its way back to the winning ways, as it did so illustriously in 1992, at the same venues. It’s the people of Pakistan who, regrettably, lack the potential to live up to the requirements of the day. They need a heavier make-over.
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