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Cricket as a Means of Liberation

1st January 2011.

Decades ago it was said of Neville Cardus that he “changed the course of the writing of cricket. He showed what could be done. He dignified and illuminated the task.”

Cardus’s ability to combine music and cricket, his insights into character, his images and asides, the sheer quality of his prose, altered the way people thought about the game.

Ever since cricket writing has been regarded as a skill in its own right, and not a mere adjunct to the game. Inevitably tone and temper have shifted.

Neville Cardus
Nevill Cardus

Cardus could compose his copy at the dinner table, completing his comments over port and sending them to his employers via a runner. It was all extremely civilised.

Suffice it to say the demands are more immediate these days. Writers are constantly called upon to update websites and check the latest tweets kindly offered by players.

As the game has changed, so has the coverage. Not so long ago English wordsmiths were regarded as first amongst equals. Upon reaching India they’d be asked their opinions on all matters and next day their sacred words would appear in the newspapers. Now India produces its own writers, stands its own ground.

Accept responsibility

But the current generation must accept a responsibility ignored by the ancients. The task is nothing less than to demonstrate that cricket is not a separate activity but part and parcel of the wider world. It is to confirm that sport, and cricket in particular, is not a recreation to be patronised, not a distraction, but a means of liberation.

Romanticism served its purpose, showed that cricket is at once a game of skill and potential beauty and also a human drama. It has a significance and power beyond the ken of self-proclaimed intellectuals. The game is worthy of intelligent attention and wide dissemination. What do they know of cricket who only cricket know? What do they know of politics that only politics know?

Consider the current Test series taking place in Africa and Australia. Usman Khawaja is set to become the first Muslim to play cricket for his country. Of course it is a great day for the player but it’s also a breakthrough for cricket and his country.

Usman Khawaja Australian cricketer

Usman Khawaja in 2011.

Australia tends to get a bad press. It’s noisy but not necessarily disreputable.

Four years ago fears were held that Monty Panesar might be barracked by locals. Instead he became a folk hero. People just took to him. Still the cricket side has remained lily white. Meanwhile tensions periodically arise between hot-headed advocates of different faiths. Then along came Khawaja.

Time to celebrate

Some locals insist that the newcomer’s faith is irrelevant and ought not to be mentioned. After 140 years a Muslim plays for Australia and it does not matter? To the contrary it is a cause for celebration, a step towards enlightenment.

It’s the same in Africa. India’s victory in the second Test was superb but not half as important as the make up of the home side. Three of the batsmen could not have voted, let alone represented their country, under previous dispensations. It is another step towards the accomplishment of Martin Luther King’s dream. And cricket scribes are supposed to discuss the no-ball rule?

Far from avoiding these matters in the old way – with some honourable exceptions, commentators did not say much about whites captaining the West Indies – cricket ought to embrace them.

Only ten nations play the game to the highest level. They include black, brown and white, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Christian, and much else besides. It is a challenge, but also an opportunity, and not to be ducked in deed or word.

This article was written for The Hindu.
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