Beating them at their own game

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - MARCH 24: Gary Wilson of Ireland makes a stop during the ICC World Twenty20 qualifier final between Ireland and Afghanistan at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on March 24, 2012 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Ian Jacobs/Getty Images)

“Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.” – WB  Yeats

“May God keep you away from the venom of the cobra, the teeth of the tiger and the revenge of the Afghan.” – Alexander the Great (supposedly)

Cricket is not a sport that was ever meant to become global. Much as basketball, baseball and the NFL in America, cricket should never have stepped out its birth place. The game’s nature is such that it was not meant to spread anywhere. If all had been right in the world, cricket would by now be an obscure former game of the English gentry.

Colonisation, however, has had the effect of making cricket an international phenomenon. And while it is technically now a global sport, it is, in all honesty, a sport majorly for the British Commonwealth. The Indian Subcontinent and subsequently Bangladesh, the West Indies, South Africa, and New Zealand were all introduced to cricket by the British settlers.

Cricket has since then become more than a sport for these formerly colonised nations. To them, it has become a method of expression. Every cricketer hopeful wants to one day see their name on the Lord’s honour board. To go to the home of cricket, the white man’s home, beat him at his own game, rip off their shirts and swing them in the air nee Ganguly. The concepts of gentlemanliness and honour in the sport are a farce – nothing more than a cover to hide what was the true purpose of the game for these oppressed nations: some tiny semblance of revenge.

It is apparent throughout cricketing history. The West Indies team under Clive Llyod are prime examples. From a team of entertaining jokers practically treated as circus monkeys, the West Indies went on to dominate world cricket for decades. In doing so their small island nations developed a sense of self. Cricketing imagery became the focal point for leftist political freedom movements. Even their cricketing colours are symbolic of their struggle: red for the blood that was shed, yellow for the gold that was stripped and green for the richness and fertility of the land.

Thus what has been constant among cricketing nations up until now has been the shared history of oppression. India, Pakistan, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh have all been exploited by the British Empire and have taken their respective freedoms in the 20th century movements. Now, however, for the first time, test cricket will be played by nations that have given the British nothing but strife in their stint as the world power and since long after. The top cricketing sides belonging to the associate nations have been granted full member status by the International Cricket Council (ICC) bringing them into the fold of test playing nations. Ireland and Afghanistan will rejoice their inclusion in the new cricketing order as it will spell not only prestige but also more revenue in the wake of an ICC order shake-up that proposes a new two-tier system consisting of test and ODI leagues.

The two nations that have been invited to join the league of test playing nations have a different history from those already playing, however. They have historically been nations that have resisted the British attempts at domination. Unlike their newly found compatriots in the test arena, the Irish and the Afghans successfully repelled the British attempts at invasion. The massacre of Elphinstone’s army in 1842 has become part of military folk lore and fodder for the nightmare of Britons. The Irish independence movement led by the Irish Republican Army has become one of the most fabled and dedicated freedom movements in the history of mankind.

In the new entries, Ireland is by far the more deserving of the two. Afghanistan is more of a talent house that has reached a certain point in very little time while Ireland is an experienced campaigner with wins against test playing nations under their belt. Both teams will take time to develop and find a brand of cricket uniquely their own. As has been seen with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka before them, cricket will become a source of pride. A method of escape from realities into moments of glory. Just as the 1996 world cup did for the ravaged Sri Lanka and as the PSL final in Lahore did for Pakistan. And while we will have to wait and see how the cricket of both nations develops, what we can assume already is that it will take colour from its people and history and will serve them in turn as a reference point, as it has done for so many others. It will be rebellious, high octane and the stakes will be as high as they can get. And for all the time that it may take, one can just feel that it’s going to be different from anything we’ve ever seen before. And that too only in a good way.