The aftermath of the 2022 Men’s ICC T20 World Cup continues to impact cricket nations around the world.
England have come back to earth, losing all three games in an ODI series against Australia.
The team lacked some of their stars and more than a little bit of focus, but the crushing defeat took some of the luster out of the T20 World Cup performance.
In India, the Cricket Control Board exercised its control function by dismissing the entire selection panel and immediately inviting applicants to the vacancies.
Meanwhile, there is concern in Pakistan. This is not due to captain, selector or coach dismissals.
England’s first Test there in 17 years is scheduled for Rawalpindi on December 1. Political unrest is in the air. An anti-government march in support of Imran Khan, former prime minister and national cricket captain who recently survived an assassination attempt, threatens the three-game series itinerary.
How ironic that a top-flight British-trained high-society cricketer who led Pakistan to a World Cup win over England in 1992 should be the person in the eye of that storm.
This speaks volumes for the intricate, complex nature of England’s relationship with Pakistan, a subject brilliantly explored in a recent book, Cricket in Pakistan: Nation, Identity and Politics, by Ali Khan of Lahore University of Management Sciences.
He begins by quoting CLR James’ famous “What do they know about cricket, who knows cricket?”
James’ work was based in the West Indies but his message that cricket is not just a sport but part of a larger reality can be applied universally.
The extent to which this has been acknowledged by the game’s numerous stakeholders is a matter of debate. The fact that allegations and examples of racism still plague the game clearly means that James’ idealism went unrecognized by many, even if they knew it at all.
Can there be any doubt that cricket reflects the history, structure, culture and politics of a society? In societies where it is the main sport, it can also reflect hopes and fears.
In the case of Pakistan, this is obvious. Cricket is a unifying force against the obstacles the country faces in the world.
Khan proposes that cricket represents Pakistan and articulates its history, culture, society and economy in a way that no other construct can match. As an example, he cites the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team’s bus on its way to Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium in March 2009.
As a result, Pakistan was not allowed to host international cricket for over a decade. This has hampered the team’s global competitiveness, an isolated example of where the country can do this. Cricket’s ability to be a unifying influence when all else seems to be going badly took a severe psychological hit from the attack. Its players were condemned to a life on the streets.
Consistency has never been a commonly used description of the Pakistani men’s cricket team’s achievements. This may be unfair as few teams manage to achieve lasting consistency. A description I have heard frequently is quicksilver, and this is what Khan refers to. He feels that the epithet, while exaggerated, is a defining feature of Pakistani cricket. Why this is so ingrained seems to be a function of the country’s history, the way Pakistani cricket developed and the changing ideologies its society has been exposed to.
The early years of cricket in Pakistan was mainly played by the urban middle class. Lahore and Karachi were the main centers of activity, with universities, schools and sports clubs forming the basic structure. This regime lasted around 30 years, with the team achieving international success in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Societal changes, population growth, particularly in urban areas, fluctuating policies from various political ideologues, and the televising of cricket meant that the sport was played and viewed by a much wider spectrum of the population. It also brought in other types of players from different backgrounds than those who represented Pakistan in its early days. One factor that Khan felt did not receive the recognition it deserved was the role played by tape ball cricket.
Insulating tape is stretched over a tennis ball. This eliminated the natural bounce of a tennis ball, and those who could bowl fast benefited from low rebound, especially when the ball was thrown close to the striker’s feet. As the tape frayed, the ball’s motion spun through the air.
Matches of short duration were played at breakneck speed under streetlights, while some laws of cricket were ignored, such as B. Leg before wicket, as well as umpires. These conditions generated innovation through a variety of bowling actions, not all legal, and batting shots. Of course there was no coaching. The players who came into professional sports via the tape ball route were uninhibited, natural, risky and, to some degree, lawless.
Some of Pakistan’s finest bowlers of the late 20th and early 21st centuries learned their tricks from tape ball cricket. Her ability to throw quick punches in the feet of forwards, deflect the ball once it’s lost its shine, and spin on surfaces others couldn’t handle was wondrous to behold. However, the lack of coaching and fitness levels meant they lacked an alternative plan when these natural assets were counteracted. This in turn fed the images of contradiction and mercuriality.
The inconsistent label has not been supported by previous “match-fixing” incidents and controversy. These ruined the reputations and careers of both veteran and junior cricketers, and resulted in part of the team being removed in one fell swoop that had to be replaced almost immediately.
Pakistan’s renewed hope of hosting international cricket – this time against a former colonial ruler and protagonist – is hanging by a thread.