September 29, 2020
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The Republic Of Cricket

Cricket sublimates, despite being a very mean game most of the time; and the same applies to democracy. Will our elections be cricket? And who will be the third umpire and the match referee this time?

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How far from the Best Bakery does Irfan Pathan live?

I am not a spoilsport. I too would like to feel good though I am not one of those Brave New Hindus. But I was born and raised in Baroda, or Vadodara, and my childhood heroes--all Ranji Trophy players for the Baroda team--were Vijay Hazare, Gul Mohammad, Amir Elahi, and Hemu Adhikari. ‘Dada’ Hazare was a Maharashtrian Christian, and the two Muslim stars of the Baroda team became mohajirs in Pakistan. Colonel Adhikari--one of my maternal uncle’s bosom buddies--was the only Hindu in this list.

You need a Ramchandra Guha to read cricket as a dimension of India’s social and political history. But for him, few of us would have understood what the Dalitness of the Palwankar brothers contributed to our cricketing dynamics as well as to our democratic evolution. Guha showed us how the ‘Quadrangular’ championship helped the British to divide and play a very Indian kind of cricket.

I moved to Mumbai during my early adolescence and lived near Shivaji Park. To know a cricketer’s religion and caste, his community and jati, did not necessarily make one a communalist. We all learnt that cricket was a great leveller and not just a gentleman’s game as imagined by upper-class English snobs. We didn’t have an Indian reader of C.L.R. James’s calibre until the arrival of Guha who could read the sociological subtexts of cricket and, of course, its broader and deeper political context.

When the Ranji Trophy replaced the Quadrangular, we had started moving from the colonised ethos towards the postcolonial era, though the divisive communal politics that led to the trauma of Partition also impacted cricket’s meaning to the millions that listened to radio commentaries of India-Pakistan encounters. They were viewed as battles in an unending proxy war. The Opposition’s occupation of the crease was uncannily like the most hated neighbour’s occupation of Kashmir. The wicket was a disputed territory.

Everybody in India and Pakistan knows that cricket is a marginalised minority’s only chance to become a national and a transnational hero. So, in both countries, individual heroics were seen as social salvation and an honourable way out of oppression. But to win Test matches, a cohesion of talent was needed as well as a ‘killer instinct’. Sheer aggression and cricketing genius were not enough even for someone leading from the front as Lala Amarnath did. The English drove a class wedge into the Indian cricketer’s mind. A nincompoop cricketer such as the Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram could lead a talented team to defeat, just because he happened to be some sort of a ‘prince’.

Saurav Ganguly has the Lala’s aggression, but not his acumen. However, Ganguly knows how to transform eleven players into a team. It has taken Indian society a century to create cricket out of a plurality of talent--whatever its source; and become consistent international winners. But let us all remember that the laws of cricket were not written by Manu and neither were they inscribed and enshrined in the Shariyat.

Cricket sublimates, despite being a very mean game most of the time; and the same applies to democracy. Will our elections be cricket? And who will be the third umpire and the match referee this time?


Dilip Chitre, a Sahitya Akademi awardee is a poet, writer, translator of Bhakti poetry, painter and filmmaker. He lives in Pune.


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