Political Shades in the Indian Stardom at the 2019 World Cup in England

Gerald Peiris, in The Island, 5 July 2019, with this titleIndia-England cricket Encounters – An Opinion by G. H. Peiris”**

I am no cricket commentator. Cricket, however, has been one of my ardent interests since childhood. And what I write now is no more than a fan ‘Opinion’. May I add that, in the very early stages of my cricket career my uncle who was awaiting demobilization from the British forces at the Ratmalana airbase, brought to our home in Angulana (less than a mile to the south) discarded sports goods like tennis balls hardly ever available to children like us during WWII; and I was allowed by the ayyas of the neighbourhood with whom we played to bat with a tennis racquet.  Then, the Indians were our favourites, with those like Nawab of Pataudi, Vijaya Merchant and Vinoo Mankad et. al. figuring prominently in my treasured cricket-picture collections. It remained that way until recent times when I liked India to win against all others except our team.

That Cricket is not played within a level field everyone knows. But it has certainly become worse than that. This was driven home with unprecedented intensity yesterday as I watched the entire England-India ODI, and was delighted with the unexpected England win, except that the margin of victory would have been much larger had Root batted further down the batting order. At one-down he was a misfit. Sticking faithfully to text-book prescriptions of stroke-making in test cricket, he was often constrained by text-book field settings. So, at one time he was actually preventing his partner from accelerating the pace, by (inadvertently) crossing over to the bowler’s end in the last ball or two of the over and resting there until Hardik Pandya has had his formidable say in the next over.

My liking for the Indian team changed mainly because the Indian sports channels, ‘Star’ and ‘Sony’ (the only source of the cricket coverage we receive here) have become fanatic purveyors of Hindu bigotry, probably because that brings them a massive revenue. The Indian cricket establishment also goes that way, buying pro-Indian banalities of the ‘greats’ of the past, such men as Matthew Hayden, Dean Jones, Brian Lara and Bret Lee. to root for them from the Dugout.

Did you notice the sudden change in the players’ kit colour ˗ from ‘blue’ to a garish orange (colour of the BJP, VHP, and RSS) in yesterday’s match? I believe that it was intended to convey a political message, especially in the context of the fact that, except for the occasionally brilliant Mohammed Shyami, we didn’t see the usual quota of  Muslims, despite constituting, as they do, 14 % of the total population, and the largest Muslim population in the world within a national entity (!) from which highly skilled players were drawn into Indian teams of the past. Moreover, in the pre-game build-up that stretched over several days, there were the disgustingly frequent references to India’s 2 world-cup victories, one 36 years ago, and the other in 2012 when India co-hosted the series, defeating SL in the finals, but only because it was played in the Wankhede Stadium (the unofficial ‘HQ’ of Indian cricket) where MSD annihilated a panicked Malinga at the tail-end, and won the cup. The choice of that venue for the Final disregarded the fact that it ought to have been played in a neutral venue like, say, Dhaka (a co-host of the series). According to Pakistani gossip, Cricket India’s ‘God Father’ Gavaskar pressured the ICC so much that it agreed with reluctance to the Indian demand. The Pakis, don’t forget, danced in the streets of Lahore and Karachi when SL won that final, and even composed and sang a catchy pop song about it. They have been our friends-in-need in other ways as well.

There were, in addition, detailed news broadcasts of India’s ‘past greats’ (‘God Tendulkar’ leading the pantheon, and ‘King Kohli’  the monarch of all whom he stares at in the field (both of them likable, but mutually contrasting role models), and the ‘not so greats’. All pinpointing their wins in various World  Cup matches, with no mention of their past failures to even proceed beyond the league stage, and not a murmur about the two humiliating defeats  – one during the league stage in Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla, and the other in the semi-finals at Eden Gardens.

Yet, funnily, Star Cricket is probably unmindful of the fact that the foremost sponsor of its TV cricket coverage is a firm manufacturing men’s deodorant, with its ads focusing on body-stench reported emanating from otherwise presentable men’s torsos.  And then, there is the frenzied behaviour of the Indian fans with wild cheering even for a dot ball or a single run, in contrast to the dignity and decorum of the England fans (the Old and the Middle-aged, who are not at all like their soccer hooligans) conveying the impression of the persistence among these expatriates of a ‘Lagaan’ mindset (Bollywood film Hit, portraying rural cricket in Colonial times) – a servant class playing against their British masters, at present, with only a change of venue.

Yes, I am jealous, and I am furious about the Sri Lankan team being treated as outcastes. So be it.

13 Mar 1996: Sachin Tendulkar of India is stumped by Kaluwitharana of Sri Lanka for 65 during the semi-final in the Cricket World Cup between India and Sri Lanka played at Eden Gardens in Calcutta, India. Mandatory Credit: Ross Kinnaird/ALLSPORT

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**  Professor Gerald Peiris, is an Emeritus Professor of Geography, Peradeniya University and has an extensive corpus of publications in geography, economics and politics –inclusive of items in such journals as FAULTLINES (which is Indian)


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One response to “Political Shades in the Indian Stardom at the 2019 World Cup in England

  1. AN EMAIL COMMENT from Professor SANJAY SRIVASTAVA in Delhi: “The author is quite right about the kind of boosterism and hyper-nationalism that is now so much a part of Indian cricket. However, it is too late in the history of capitalism to complain about it. The Australians were pioneers and the Indians have merely ‘refined’ it. Mass sport cannot but be nationalism — otherwise it is not financially viable.”

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