Outsider?s view: Will the twain ever meet?
Cricket's mother country is in the midst of one of modern sport's biggest crises, accentuated along the lines of race, writes Aakash Chopra.india Updated: Aug 23, 2006 15:49 IST
England, in a sense, is burning and it has nothing to do really with England itself. Cricket's mother country is in the midst of what is probably one of modern sport's biggest crises - a crisis accentuated by the circumstances of the times in a world being increasingly polarised along the lines of race and, more particularly in the UK of today, religion.
For the past few weeks, I, an outsider, have watched, with thousands of others, as a society that was already fraught with nervous tension is being forced to deal with issues that its people, for the most, had swept under the carpet. It is a situation waiting to implode.
Even as I write this tucked away in Stoke, bang in the centre of England, I can hear the sirens. They are almost invariably headed for Shelton, which largely houses Pakistani (read Muslim) immigrants.
If you had walked through the area during this final England-Pakistan Test, you would have heard cheers for the most: Pakistan, finally, were on top - till fate, in the form of the umpires, intervened. One hour to my south is Birmingham and to the north, Manchester.
England's two largest cities after London, both host to large Asian immigrant populations. You cannot live in England today and not know it is a changing world. One that is more tense and, for certain communities, more straitjacketed.
This piece, though, is not about the politics of a world gone mad. It is about cricket and a world gone mad because of the unfortunate politicisation of a beautiful game. This was perhaps inevitable.
Even as I write, I am idly surfing the internet and hearing of mini-rallies and demonstrations around Pakistan in support of their beleaguered captain and team. I can see an outpouring of emotion on the British websites.
People, mostly Muslim, some not, scathing in their disparagement of Darrell Hair and chauvinistic in their support of their Muslim brethren. It will not become an issue. On the airs, it is already one.
Coming back to the game itself, I have a point to make. Ask any player worth his salt and he'd probably tell you (in private) that once you've lost a big series, this playing for pride business is a load of bull. Especially when you're on tour and the last game is staring you in the face.
You have to pull yourself together to make a run for it - you know you're going to get short shrift when you get home, so that's what drives you on. Pakistan, actually, did very well to pick themselves up and play on at the Oval - till the afternoon of Day Four when the umpires decided in the space of some minutes that all was not well with the red cherry.
Now, whether Pakistan actually tampered with the ball or Hair was on his own trip is something no one is quite certain about at this point.
But from where I see it, both parties have erred in the past in similar situations. Still, in sport at least, people are not penalised for past misdemeanours, they are punished only on current evidence. With the ever increasing vigilance of on-field cameras, the watchful eyes of the match referee and third and fourth umpires, ball tampering has (or should have) become a thing of the past.
From a player's viewpoint, I can tell you we are not allowed to show emotions to the extent that if you see a batsman edging the ball to the keeper, you can't celebrate straight off, you have to remember to appeal first.
You have to walk as soon as you're given out without even shaking your head in disgust when you and everyone around jolly well knows you weren't out.
Dissent results in fines, possibly bans. I have one more point here. Umpires have been given more powers to run the game smoothly. But what are players left with? Yes, you can complain after the game but that seldom results in action.
I remember playing a match which we could've perhaps won but didn't, maybe because of a few bad decisions. There was a pattern: The same umpire, the same mistakes - and all one could do was complain. We complained right through but nothing changed.
Individually as a player or collectively as a team, you feel helpless. For the most, for players, it's part of the game. Sometimes you get the good guy (we all have umpires we think are jolly good fellas) and sometimes, you get the guy you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.
But for millions of fans, if they think their team has been hard done by, a feeling of betrayal is inevitable. Now, if you ask anyone in Pakistan or a Pakistani elsewhere, they would say Inzi did the right thing.
Leave alone Pakistanis, whoever I've spoken to here, be it white or Asian, there's a general consensus (right or wrong, for I am no one to judge this situation) that the umpires could have handled things better.
By awarding five penalty runs and changing the ball, they accused Pakistan of cheating and that is something no team or nation, especially one that has already lost a series, will take lying down.
Everyone here is at least glad of one thing, that this had nothing to do with the English team as, in the prevailing circumstances, such a belief could have rocked the tenuous truce that prevails in England.
These are sensitive days for Britain as a nation vis-a-vis the Muslim community and any incident with the slightest hint of racial implications would've been played up. As far as I'm concerned, though, this is not over yet. We can only pray that things are handled with care.
This is the third year running that the writer, a former India Test opener, is writing for HT about life in England over the summer. He is currently playing in the English League and can be reached email@example.com