Cricket and Politics

By Samia Altaf 

SHORTLY after the emergency was imposed in Nov 2007, I wrote an article that used cricket as a metaphor to ask why Pakistani citizens accept the kind of blatant manipulation in the realm of politics that they would instantly reject in the world of cricket. After the Feb 2008 elections, I find that cricket still provides a good analogy to describe the present situation. In one sentence I would characterise it as follows: the bowlers have done their job; now it is up to the batsmen to deliver. The voters have performed beyond expectations and left it to the politicians to wrap it up.

Will they? How many times have we been here before? How many times have the batsmen managed to defy all odds and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? How many times have we needed a sensible display of maturity and have been subjected to the most bizarre displays of incompetence? So why would it be different this time?

I recall a Pakistani team six of whose members had been captain at one time or another. There were some who had allegedly thrown matches in the past, some who had sold out. I wonder if there were some who did not wish the credit of victory to be attributed to a rival. The winning skipper might have been rewarded by being appointed captain for the next season. Such was the Machiavellian world of Pakistani cricket. 

Coming back to politics, one would have to say that none of the captains-in-waiting have really earned their places in the team — most of them are kinsmen, adopted or real, of previous chairmen of the board. And they have already started stuffing their teams with their own kith and kin. So what is the team that would finally come on to the field and what exactly is to be expected of it when it does?

I agree we don’t have the luxury to assemble a dream team; we have to field the players at our disposal. The voters have done the best given the limited choices. We have the same individuals who have opened for us before. Dare we expect them to perform so far above their averages? Is there a way the spectators can make that happen?

In ordinary circumstances, I wouldn’t bet the farm on the team. Expect that this time the skippers ought to know full well that the self-appointed coach is waiting in the pavilion with a gun. If the captains screw up this time, they could well find themselves hanging upside down by their jock straps.

Do they understand that? Or are there still some who think they can pull a fast one and hit a six on the last ball? If we wait long enough we will find out no doubt. One really wouldn’t mind the captains getting what they deserve except that this is a team that can’t afford too many more defeats. Another loss here will certainly knock it out of the tournament for good. 

There are two alternatives. We can join our cricketers who, when they couldn’t win anything, proceeded to Raiwind to pray for divine blessings. But knowing the outcome of that effort, we really don’t have a choice left. We can’t be spectators any more sitting on the bleachers enjoying our cakes and tea. We need to make our presence felt and add force to the struggle that has enabled our bowlers to give us half a chance. We need to join the struggle to get the neutral umpires back.

There is not much time left: it is the tea interval on the fifth day and the rain is threatening to come down. 

Dr. Samia Altaf is the 2007-2008 Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington, DC. This op-ed appeared in Dawn, Karachi, on March 17, 2008. 

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