Sunday, February 07, 2010

Cricket and Islam in Pakistan

A strange brew, made in Pakistan - cheating in cricket is supposedly connected to its ruling ideology. Note the following:

1. The ball-tampering incident
And then there is Shahid Afridi or, to get it correctly, Sahibzada Mohammad Shahid Khan Afridi, him of the team of baboons chattering and jumping about as the Aussies systematically roasted them over large bonfires lit by the baboons themselves. Till mid-Jan this year, the man has played 293 ODIs 26 tests, 57 Twenty20s, is almost 30, if he is to be believed. Yet, in the 5th ODI, in the tense 46th over, he starts to tamper the ball, gnawing at it like baboons do. "I was smelling it," he says later. Oh please, Mr Afridi. He chews at the seam in the middle of a packed Perth ground with dozens of cameras capturing every moment in super slow-mo.

The terrible cricketing crime is seen by millions on TV. When confronted, as he was going to be, the Sahibzada apologises and says he was tampering the ball so that Pakistan could win the face-saving 5th ODI – "just one match," he pleads to Geo. Hello? "All teams do it," the genius next announces. That, of course, makes it right in Afridi's thin book of rules.

2. The incident's purported connection to Pakistan's Islamization
The Afridi ball-tampering incident can be traced back to the Pakistan state-sponsored education and socialisation project initiated in the mid-1980s by the military government of General Ziaul Haq. This pattern of education and socialisation lasted into the first decade of this century. State education, the state-media and the state’s reward system shifted the focus of young people from Pakistan as a nation-state, civic education in the context of citizenship, and cultural-religious pluralism to Islam as a transnational identity, religious-Islamic explanation and interpretation of the past and the present, greater attention to conservative Islamic ritualism, global conspiracy against the Muslims and admiration for militancy.

These policies produced a generation whose intellectual and psychological ties are weak with Pakistan as a nation-state and it invariably views the domestic and international processes within religious parameters. The main discourse of this generation is Islamic-conservative, and greater emphasis on public display of religiousness. Several cricketers have become Islamic preachers and there were reports of collective offering of prayers in cricket fields. This disposition has got nothing to do with professionalism and sports discipline.

With such a blinkered disposition, one can engage in offensive activities that cannot be condemned from a purely religious point of view. A ‘victory’ against the non-believers is a desirable objective from personal and collective perspectives. Therefore, the rules of the game and professionalism become secondary.


So there is the question - did Afridi think that tampering with the ball was OK in order to get a victory over the unbeliever Australians?

PS: see this about the Islamization of the Pakistani cricket team.

PPS: Another explanation:
Afridi comes from an era, a cricketing culture, where ball-tampering is considered a normal cricket activity, the done thing on flat Pakistani pitches - an art form and not a sin. It's been a part of the Pakistan team's standard operating procedure......Calling ball-tampering unlawful and an offence is regrettable. If ball-tampering is being openly admitted by the players, and given that it is difficult to assign reasons for why reverse swing happens (since even tampering is often ineffective in generating reverse swing), shouldn't the authorities stop looking at the practice with suspicion and instead look to bring it into the cricket syllabus so that we can all move on?