A cricketing crisis

The words crisis, Pakistan, and Musharraf get Washington’s attention fast. So, it will come as a relief to this city’s inhabitants that the incident involves nothing more dangerous than a cricket ball. Yesterday, cricket umpires accused Pakistan’s team of cheating in the game against England. The Pakistanis, outraged at the allegation, refused to retake the ...

607419_cricket35.jpg
607419_cricket35.jpg

The words crisis, Pakistan, and Musharraf get Washington's attention fast. So, it will come as a relief to this city's inhabitants that the incident involves nothing more dangerous than a cricket ball. Yesterday, cricket umpires accused Pakistan's team of cheating in the game against England. The Pakistanis, outraged at the allegation, refused to retake the field after the tea break and the umpires awarded the match to England. It's the first time in cricket history that a Test Match has been forfeited.

This situation has raised all the issues of imperialism, race, and culture that bubble just below cricket's veneer of gentility. The British Empire must be unique in that, even after its dissolution, its constituent parts still play sports against each other. However, this adds a whole other level of tension to the contests. England v. Pakistan series have been notoriously tempestuous affairs. Pakistan regularly accuses the English of imperial arrogance and the English make it abundantly clear that they regard the Pakistanis as the least favorite—and least civilized—member of the "cricketing family." (One English cricketer famously referred to Pakistan as an ideal "place to send one's mother in law all expenses paid.") Now, the games are intertwined with the whole debate about the integration of British Muslims, many of whose families hail from Pakistan originally.

The words crisis, Pakistan, and Musharraf get Washington’s attention fast. So, it will come as a relief to this city’s inhabitants that the incident involves nothing more dangerous than a cricket ball. Yesterday, cricket umpires accused Pakistan’s team of cheating in the game against England. The Pakistanis, outraged at the allegation, refused to retake the field after the tea break and the umpires awarded the match to England. It’s the first time in cricket history that a Test Match has been forfeited.

This situation has raised all the issues of imperialism, race, and culture that bubble just below cricket’s veneer of gentility. The British Empire must be unique in that, even after its dissolution, its constituent parts still play sports against each other. However, this adds a whole other level of tension to the contests. England v. Pakistan series have been notoriously tempestuous affairs. Pakistan regularly accuses the English of imperial arrogance and the English make it abundantly clear that they regard the Pakistanis as the least favorite—and least civilized—member of the “cricketing family.” (One English cricketer famously referred to Pakistan as an ideal “place to send one’s mother in law all expenses paid.”) Now, the games are intertwined with the whole debate about the integration of British Muslims, many of whose families hail from Pakistan originally.

Ironically, though, this current flap was sparked not by an Englishman, but an Australian. Partly as a consequence of the constant rows over umpiring that afflicted England – Pakistan matches, the International Cricket Conference—formerly, the Imperial Cricket Conference—introduced neutral umpires into Test cricket in 1994. Indeed, I doubt that an English umpire, who’d have felt more obliged to be historically sensitive, would have made the call. This dispute won’t end anytime soon. The Pakistan captain, who received a call from Musharraf offering his support, has been charged with bringing the game into disrepute and could be suspended, which would likely lead to Pakistan simply refusing to play anyone until the punishment is lifted. Meanwhile, the Pakistanis have accused the umpire involved with being prejudiced against Asian teams. Expect to see the man who led the Koran-flushing protests, the legendary Pakistani cricketer turned demagogue Imran Khan, try and exploit this situation to stir-up anti-Western sentiment. He’s already called the umpire in question a “mini-Hitler.” In a country where cricket and honor are so important, Musharraf’s popularity might well end up depending on his ability to resolve this standoff.

James Forsyth is assistant editor at Foreign Policy.

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