BENGALURU: International cricket returned last week with West Indies beating England in the first Test match. This was the first international cricket match being played after the entire world ground to a halt due to Covid-19. The game was played under the newly set rules by the International Cricket Council, which included empty stands, restrictions on high-fives and celebrations, and a ban on applying saliva to the ball to make it shinier. If cricket is a strange sport in itself, Test cricket is like the old grandfather that people respect, even if they don’t understand him completely. It is played for five days, and could still end up having no result. A format where a ‘draw’ is celebrated as enthusiastically as a thrilling win. A five-day war with smaller battles in between.
It is also interesting that the match was played between England and West Indies. Much of my early worldview was shaped by cricket. The only place I heard English being spoken was during cricket commentary. It was the only space where I witnessed sportsmen representing their nation.For one, I assumed West Indies was a country. It took a rap on my knuckle from our Geography ma’am to realise that West Indies was actually a collection of 13 individual island nations that came together to play the sport. To my utter shock, I later realised that England is not a country either! That the United Kingdom consists of England, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and all of them have their own international teams.
So while 13 countries were pooled together to play as one, the UK herself played three international teams! No other sport in the world carries the burden of colonialism like cricket does. My 8-year-old mind processed all the cricket information without any context. For example, I assumed South Africa was a white nation, since every cricketer in the team was white. I did read about Nelson Mandela and his freedom struggle, but I wondered what he was doing in a white nation in the first place! Zimbabwe too had a completely white team, leading to similar assumptions.
Australia was the undisputed cricketing superpower when I grew up, and so I assumed that it was one of the biggest superpowers in the world. Since Kiwi cricketers were always fit, and their stadiums large and lush, I assumed New Zealand must be a large nation with a huge population. Sri Lanka hammered India all through the 1990s, and I assumed that they were a superpower too. And finally, there was Pakistan. Back in the ‘90s, Pakistan were clearly the better team. Every time India played Pakistan, it involved fear, rumours and prayers. Going by my limited worldview, I assumed that Pakistan was a much more powerful country than India.
Cricket is the only sport where every playing nation was once colonised by the British. A sport where legends of the game have been at the receiving end of racist taunts. A sport where apartheid and discrimination are sewed into the leather of the cricket ball. No sport embodies colonialism and racism like cricket does.
Which was why it was heartening to see cricket wake up to the Black Lives Matter protests. Players wore black armbands and knelt before the match to express solidarity to the cause. Ironically, cricket chose a Test match with zero spectators to express solidarity. When cricket does finally return to packed stadiums, cricketers will be bending their knees for Sona-Chandi Chyawanprash, and raising their arms for Zandu Pain Balm advertisements!