Book Review: ‘Taliban Cricket Club’ is a novel with a twist

Published: Tuesday, May 15, 2012

By NAHAL TOOSI

“The Taliban Cricket Club” (Ecco), by Timeri N. Murari: Writing a novel about Afghanistan can be a difficult, unenviable undertaking. Continue reading

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India and Pakistan’s Cricket Battle: Just What They Need – TIME

Pakistan’s Saeed Anwar takes a swing during a 2003 cricket World Cup game against India. The teams will face off again on Wednesday


Serious sport, wrote George Orwell, amounts to “war minus the shooting.” India and Pakistan have certainly done plenty of shooting in the three wars they’ve fought since being separated in birth by the departing British Empire in 1948. But on Wednesday, they’ll channel their rivalry into another ritual bequeathed by the British, when they face off in an eagerly awaited semifinal of cricket’s Word Cup. Both countries’ leaders will be among the tens of thousands squeezed into the stadium in the Indian city of Mohali, recognizing the sporting showdown as a rare opportunity to ease the geopolitical one.

“This is the mother of all matches,” says Mushahid Hussain, a prominent Pakistani opposition politician. It is difficult to exaggerate the excitement built up on both sides of the border, with anticipation of the match having dominated the news cycle for days now on a subcontinent obsessed with the sport. Hundreds of millions of viewers are expected to watch the match on television, with absenteeism at work likely to reach record highs. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who will be at the match, has announced that government offices will close two hours before the opening ball is bowled.Cricket is a rare source of cohesion in an increasingly fractured Pakistani society, in which passion for the game is as widespread and embedded in the national identity as is the embrace of Islam. But whereas religion has proved to be a violent source of division in recent years, cricket unites Pakistanis across the dangerous fissures of ethnicity, sect and social class. But the violent fanaticism that cloaks itself in religion impinged on the sanctity of cricket when, in March 2009, the visiting Sri Lankan team was attacked by terrorists. No foreign team has toured there since. Were it not for the terror threat, Pakistan would be co-hosting the World Cup. Some say that it is better they were spared the embarrassment of hosting matches at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium, named in honor of the Libyan dictator for his support of Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear weapons pursuit.

Terrorism has also sabotaged efforts to repair relations between India and Pakistan. After the November 2008 Mumbai massacre, New Delhi severed diplomatic links with Islamabad. The attackers went from Pakistan and were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a terrorist outfit that Pakistan had backed as a proxy in the anti-Indian insurgency in Kashmir — and had banned only under pressure from the Bush Administration.The Mumbai attacks brought the nuclear-armed neighbors perilously close to war; now, partly thanks to cricket, the peace process is slowly resuming. On Monday and Tuesday, the interior secretaries of the two countries met for scheduled talks. In a breakthrough, Islamabad agreed to allow Indian investigators probing the Mumbai massacre to visit Pakistan. On Wednesday, the two Prime Ministers will also meet — at the match.

Once the two countries had beaten their quarterfinal opponents to set up the Mohali showdown, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh didn’t hesitate to invite Gilani to the game. “One can call it symbolism,” says politician Hussain, “but in the checkered history of India-Pakistan relations, even symbolism becomes substance.”Cricket diplomacy had proved useful in easing tensions before. In 1987, Pakistan’s General Mohammed Zia ul-Haq unilaterally decided to watch the teams play in Jaipur, India, a move that is said to have defused fears of a cross-border attack. And in 2004 and 2005, leaders from both countries traveled to watch cricket on both sides of the border as hostilities in Kashmir subsided and a back-channel dialogue got under way.

One side will have to lose Wednesday’s match, but the politicians won’t let that cloud a diplomatic opening. “Both leaders have shown wisdom in not letting this opportunity pass,” says Sherry Rehman, a Pakistani lawmaker heavily involved in track-two diplomacy and also a cricket fan on her way to Mohali. “We must not expect major summitry here, as this is not a structured dialogue, but it can become a window for new beginnings, for turning a new corner. God knows both countries could use one.”Pakistan’s security establishment remains obsessed with the idea that the country faces an existential threat from India, seeing Indian support for the Karzai government in Afghanistan as part of a scheme to encircle Pakistan. India complains that Pakistan has done little to crack down effectively on LeT, which despite being banned still holds public rallies to incite jihad against India. So there are limits to what cricket diplomacy can achieve. Prime Minister Gilani, after all, is forced to defer to Pakistan’s powerful military in matters of national strategy, while India’s Prime Minister Singh appears to be in a minority in his own Cabinet.

For many on both sides, part of what makes the political divide so frustrating is also what makes the cricket rivalry so enjoyable: “India and Pakistan are so close in many ways and so far in others,” says H.M. Naqvi, a Pakistani novelist who recently won the award for best South Asian fiction at the Jaipur Literature Festival. “The rivalry is a function of our peculiar relationship. We all watch Bollywood, eat dhal, listen to qawwali [music] and enjoy cricket. And yet, despite all these commonalities, we’ve often been at daggers drawn.The ritual combat of cricket, however, offers a more attractive — and bloodless — avenue of conflict. Even the most enthusiastic peaceniks fail to suppress their nationalism when it comes to the sport. “The competition on the pitch helps let off steam,” adds Naqvi. “All our aspirations and anxieties are played out on the field. The rivalry also makes for a great goddamned match!” The two teams are among the best in the world, with a history of nail-bitingly close finishes. On this occasion, however, India is the favorite — a stronger team on paper with a powerful home-ground advantage.

But Pakistan needs the victory more. The national cricket team has become a metaphor for the national malaise, plagued by instability and a match-fixing scandal that has taken down some of its top players. And while India has keenly burnished a global image as a rising economic power, Pakistan’s headlines are dominated by terrorism, assassinations, floods and deepening economic gloom. A cricket win would certainly lift morale.

Although Wednesday’s game is only a semifinal, few Pakistanis care whether they ultimately win the World Cup. Fans merely dread a humiliation at the hands of the archrival next door. “Lose to any team you want,” Pakistanis often say, “but never lose to India.”

 

The Dawn Blog » Blog Archive » I delivered that no-ball by Ahmer Naqvi

The misfortune of Pakistan is that its tragedy appears as farce.

Over the past few years, our screens have been awash with images both gruesome and depressing in equal measures. And they have been punctually followed by television anchors and television politicians blaming India, Israel, CIA, NASA and any other bogeyman you can think of – as long as the perpetrators weren’t one of us.

Each time, amidst the despondency, I would find myself laughing at such incredulous claims. When, I would wonder, will such people face up to the brazen facts?

Over the past 48 hours, one of the greatest passions of my life has witnessed a sickening turn of events.

And since then, people have asked one of Pakistan’s largest religious communities – the cricket-fans – when will you face up to the facts?

After Bangalore 1996, Lord’s 1999, after the Qayyum Report and the player revolts, after everything that has happened, how could we still be shocked?

After all, for the most part, the players have always been corrupt, the board has always been dysfunctional, the system has been abused to the point where it is nothing but abusive – how did we not see this coming?

As I asked myself this question, I realised I was no better than those TV hosts and politicians I mocked – just like them I had always found someone else to blame.

It’s the unfair pay-cheques, the IPL bans, the lack of education, the War on Terror, the colonial prejudices.

So I decided to blame the greedy players, the short-sighted administrators, the extractive system.

But love has this way of denuding you and your rationalisations. And my love of cricket asked me – when will you blame yourself?

Myself? How am I to blame?

I whizz past red lights while forwarding a text about the laws broken by the government.

I feast myself silly on all-you-can-eat-buffets, and yet I cringe at the greed of those boys.

I glower at my sister’s slipping dupatta as I leave for a night out, and still its the hypocrisy of Amir’s sajda at Lord’s that rankles me.

I shame Hollywood celebrities for their apathy towards the floods, when no amount of disasters slices me as much as a bunch of young men dropping some catches.

I curse the bus-driver when his swerving makes me miss my turn for the mosque.

I am someone who is in denial of the wrongs I commit.

I must be someone who is the change I wish to see.

This article was published on The Dawn Blog.

DAWN.COM | Cricket | Ponting ponders in “The Captain’s Year”

COOLUM, Australia: Flipping through the pages of Ricky Ponting’s new book, there’s nowhere in a 10,000-word chapter devoted to the forthcoming Ashes series that the Australia captain predicts a 5-0 whitewash over England.

For good reason: Ponting says quotes attributed to him last week to that effect were a big stretch.

“Don’t believe everything that you read,” Ponting said, smiling, during the launch of “The Captain’s Year,” his eighth book. It came during a player camp at a five-star resort north of Brisbane that included all 25 contracted players and Cricket Australia personnel.

Ponting said he was asked last week whether another 5-0 series win was possible, a feat Australia achieved in 2006-07 when it regained the Ashes at home after losing the previous series in England in 2005.

“There are five games to play, so anything is possible,” Ponting said Monday. “If we play our best cricket for every minute of every Test match, then there is a possibility we could do that. But I never said we were going to win 5-nil.”

Ponting and the Australians are preparing for a two-Test, three limited-overs matches tour of India, a home series with Sri Lanka and then the five-Test Ashes before the World Cup next year.

“We’re expecting a very high level of performance for the next eight months,” Ponting said. “The expectations are that we will be ultra-competitive in every match we play.”

To do that, Ponting said the team will have to overcome a series of batting collapses that saw quick wickets fall and matches given away, first at Lord’s and then The Oval during last year’s series won 2-1 by England.

The Australians were also out for low scores against West Indies in Perth last year, then against Pakistan in Sydney in January and most recently at Headingley in England in July.

“Looking back at the Ashes series, it was probably the major reason we didn’t win that series,” Ponting said. “When England got on a roll with the ball we weren’t able to stop that.”

Ponting said the team has been more consistent since, and has more experience.

“We have been able to adapt and adjust to different game situations a lot quicker than we probably did last year,” Ponting said. “And if you look at the makeup of our team, we had quite a few reasonably inexperienced players in that side.

“Now, 12 months down the track, they have played another 10 or 12 Test matches, and they should be able to understand the situation a lot better.”

Ponting was careful to respond to a question about England’s players reportedly being banned from using Twitter and other social networking sites during the Ashes.

“I think the job of all international players these days is that if we can bring people closer to the game with that kind of information … bring people through the gates, then that’s good,” Ponting said.

“It’s the helmet-on, helmet-off, sort of stuff. Very few people around the world know what we’re like with the helmet off. I’m totally for that, as long as it’s done in the right way. You won’t see us banning our players.”

Ponting makes that point in his book, where he includes numerous Facebook entries he’s made during the last year. None of them are particularly earth-shattering, some of them are a plug for his sponsors, but every now and then he’ll talk about an injury or why he chose to bat first after winning a toss.

He also included a chapter entitled “The Best of the Best” – his highlight reel of players he’s faced in the past decade.

His top-order batsmen are Virender Sehwag of India and South Africans Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis. The middle order is veteran stars Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara and Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara.

The all-rounder is Andrew Flintoff of England, the pace bowlers Curtly Ambrose of West Indies, Wasim Akram of Pakistan and South Africa’s Shaun Pollock and the spin bowler all-time top Test wicket-taker Muttiah Muralitharan.

Ponting pays Flintoff a compliment, then takes it away.

“Freddie Flintoff was one of the most talented cricketers I saw during the past 10 years,” Ponting wrote. “However, I can’t help thinking he should have achieved more than what he did.”

The five-Test Ashes series begins on Nov. 25 in Brisbane, followed by matches starting Dec. 3 in Adelaide, Dec. 16 in Perth, Dec. 26 in Melbourne and Jan. 3 in Sydney.

Ponting lamented the fact that he’s been so busy with cricket business he hasn’t been able to play the championship Hyatt Regency golf course outside his door and which hosts the Australian PGA tournament each year.

The single handicap golfer said he hopes to get out on the final day of the team’s stay at Coolum, but realises why he’s here.

“It’s been mentioned that I’ve been the only captain in the history of Australian cricket to lose two Ashes series,” Ponting said.

“I’m going to do my absolute best to make sure that it’s not three.” —AP

This article was published in Dawn.

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