It’s just a game of cricket, right?

I have decided when I watch sports on the beloved box in the corner, be it football, cricket, tennis, snooker, Olympics etc. I somehow inadvertently curse the team or individual I am supporting so I have become quite useless with my lack of avid following of major sporting events to avoid the disappointment of loss that I bring to the player’s invisible television forcefield and of course the sadness of defeat I would feel, it is for their own good and my own self-preservation that I refrain from spectating.

This has resulted with my-once passionate interest in sport dwindling and disappearing to a chalkboard score of ZERO. I am losing.  How has this happened? I adored all kinds of sport in my childhood and in my teens I knew every component person of every single team ever, in the world, and let me assure you, that is no mean feat.  I believe that it was mainly due to my father or Ubba Ji in Urdu, brother and uncles – there were no girls in the family, oh curséd me, I was the only one (along with my Mum’s youngest sister two years my senior) so football and cricket were major pass-times in the extended yards either side of our fish and chip shop.

Living and breathing sport, I wanted to cry for English football in my first experience of the World Cup in 1990. All my uncles, three strapping 6’0 twenty-something dudes at the time who played football every Sunday morning, squeezed into the tiny lounge at the back of our chippy (which happily coincided living life with the Irish pub across the way, now an Asian halal restaurant). My uncles would spend as long as they could in the lounge, trying to gauge as much of the game as possible, skiving from work whilst my grandparents screamed Get back in the shop! There’s customers to serve! Thinking back, I wonder which customers (as kids we were not allowed out front during opening hours) as surely everyone would have been super glued to the television to watch what we knew to be the most important game in the whole of human history. How the world has changed since then.

My younger brother and I could just about watch from behind the sofa, because apart from being so overexcited at the thought of En-ger-land w-i-n-n-i-n-g, our uncles took over the entire dark-chocolate sofas between the three of them. We were on the verge of happiness, oh England, England, great country that we are. Oohs and Aahs and several exclamations echoed from the lounge against the backdrop of the fans in Turin after each goal and each penalty as we held our breath on the hottest, stickiest, summery night that seemingly had no end in sight.

I do not remember much of the memory than that, I block out things that have a profound effect on me but heartache was stamped into my soul as Gascoigne wiped away his tears and my uncles left the lounge dejected with defeat, We were robbed and muttering utterings about Germans that needless to say, I could not quite catch. Perhaps it was this moment, intuitively, I knew I was English, there is always hope and as an England football fan, there is, pathetically, always this headcase notion of hope no matter what.

On the other hand, or indeed on the other side of my heart rather like a pound coin – heads or tails – lies the gentleman’s game of cricket, and the infamous pain my father’s beloved Pakistan like to cause their fans at every given opportunity. I die a death for the heartbreak that he suffers each time the team just throw it all away (ring any bells with English football?) and although my father was born in Pakistan in 1951 having emigrated to England in magical 1966 (I should find out if this was pre- or post- trophy win), he and my brother also die a death each time England lose in football, sharing the intuition that one-day-we-will-taste-the-sweetest-glory to which the entire country aspires.

My cricket support is slightly contested. I receive shock from people when I tell them, or if it arises in passing conversation, that I support the Pakistani team, it is apparent that a singular identity is slightly problematic.  Let me discuss.

Yes, I am English, I understand I perhaps may not be brown enough for the likes of the National Front or English Defence League or British National Party but who are they to tell me what I am, or indeed, what I am not.  I may not be Elizabeth Bingley or Jane Eyre or live in a manor house or next in line to the throne, but does this make me any less English?

Yes, I am British, I was born, raised, educated and absorb the very air of Britain into the pores of my skin. Each time I board a departing plane from a foreign country, I cannot wait to reach home and feel the tarmac of Heathrow or Gatwick beneath my British brown feet (I wear shoes, I am not a hobo, I just thought I would point that out) breathing in the ‘fresh’ polluting smog that I have yearned for from the sweltering paradise of the beach (it is a Welcome Back to civilisation, do not deny this Reader, relief fills your veins on landing!)

Yes, I am Kashmiri – or am I Pakistani, my heritage is Kashmiri – wait or do I mean Pakistani, I am not going to disinherit my rights to origin.  My mother was only six months old when she was brought to England from Kashmir and being perhaps first of the first-generation of Asians being brought up in England, was embroiled in some unbelievable forms of racism at school and within the community of the 60’s and 70’s as you can imagine.

Should I disinherit my father’s life in Kashmir (where does Kashmir even belong?  Do you see how this complicates identity issues) up until he was fifteen years old when he emigrated – by car – across continents – to England.  He has experienced more of the world than I – a world that is no longer encapsulated in today’s reality, the memory is fleeting and archaic even to him now – and I am double the age he was then.

Both sets of grandparents are here in England, ill, but very much alive. My grandfather must be at least 80 years old and still sweeps up heaps of orange-brown-green Autumn leaves from the front garden and shovels the snow in the rear garden in his shalwar kameez.

Should I disinherit their meaning to my life, ignore the melodies of Mohammed Rafi (I actually thought my father had a recording contract and it was his voice on the cassette tapes!) that filled the house.  The next day my Mum would be listening to Cindi Lauper or The Bangles or Michael Jackson and apparently I was the biggest Adam Ant fan, I have no recollection of this whatsoever, which altogether combined, bring back memories of my – British Kashmiri Pakistani – childhood in an instant.

Yes, I am Muslim as well. Just to add fuel to the fire. There is enough surrounding this subject at the moment so I will leave my copper twopence for another time.  I will say this though, having recently seen footage of Muslim apathy towards British politics, we need to become more involved with the political process in the country in which we live.

Taking all the above into account, how can we discuss identity and nationality and allegiance to a game of cricket?  I am sometimes taken aback that I receive silence or an Oh right for supporting the Pakistani team as if I am not British enough, which is actually quite offensive.

When I was a child, our community comprised Afro-Caribbeans, Irish, Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims, and being young, religion and different ways of life did not prevent me from being best friends with everyone, and this is something that has carried me through to this day. However, growing up, I became more aware of the subtleties of racism via sport, especially through cricket. How odd, considering it’s a gentleman’s game.

At the time, I was not able to bring myself to support the English national cricket team due to the racist taunts and undertones I felt from the media and newspaper headlines, hearing the term ‘Paki’* more prevalently when cricket matches were played. Even as recently as ten years ago now, race riots were taking place all over Northern England. I could not fathom supporting an England that I felt I did not even know, for an England that had no place for a Kashmiri Pakistani born and bred as English / British ten-year-old crying tears of heartbreak for losing to West Germany, on penalties.  England is mine too, I could not comprehend the attitudes towards the Kashmiri Pakistanis, who laboured and worked in the 1970s and 1980s and who are every bit as deserving for their [our] equal place in society.

After colonising and unbalancing South East Asians on the other side of the world, Pakistanis (and in the same breath Indians and Bangladeshis) were being cast as the ‘other’ on this side of the world too. It is not as if I could paint myself white and pretend, I am brown after all.  India was stolen and Pakistan fabricated, harmony disaffected. Where is the fair and just? But I was learning life was not fair. How did anything make any sense? (I was a child, so this would have been fairly simplistic thought).

It was not like we were taught about this kind of thing at infant or junior school. I thought Indians and Kashmiris and Bangladeshis and Pakistanis were the same, what did I know of different religions when I was seven years old? I did not even know what Partition was, and England’s part in another lovely episode of history. I learned of all the religious hatred and atrocities much too late and through personal research and unanswered questions teachers could not (or would not) respond. Innocence is always lost through knowledge.  But it’s just a game of cricket, right?

My beautiful mother chose the best moments to undertake household chores, usually when Ubba Ji, my brother and I were sitting in the lounge of our own house trying to watch the cricket. UMMI my brother and I would call without the JI which meant we were not being respectful through our frustration at the reverberating continually loud-fade-loud eeeehhhhhh-EEEEHHHHHH of the vacuum.

My punishment would be i) being told off by Ubba Ji for missing ‘ji’ off even though secretly he would have been annoyed with the noise too, and then I would have to help Ummi Ji with the housework and miss half of the match, argh! whilst my brother sat blissfully infront of the TV like butter would not even melt, I glared at him as I closed the door behind me whilst I left the room so they could watch the cricket in peace. It was at this moment I learned that I was a girl, and that there was no getting away from it. I was not best pleased at this bite-size piece of information.

I tried to be sneaky, find out from (Ubba Ji) way in advance when the cricket would be on, used the callous backstabbing newspapers to plan housework schedules, so I had completed all my chores and there could be no complaints whatsoever, from anybody. YES! My plan worked! Test matches were especially brilliant, we would have breakfast in the kitchen and wait for 11.00AM retiring to the comfort of the lounge, for the first ball of the first over of the first day to hear the crowd ooooOOOOOH as Wasim Akram took his run-up bowling from the pavilion end at Lord’s, wondering about Javed Miandad’s tactics and Inzamam’s nonchalant I’m-just-going-to-hit-this-for-six-over-here-yes-that-will-do-devil-may-care-attitude.

Praying Mushtaq Ahmed would bowl a googly solely because I loved to hear Geoffrey Boycott say ‘googly’ because the word just about describes the type of bowl it is, in the onomatopoeiac sense.  I would wait for Waqar Younis to clean strike the stumps to batsman’s disbelief and the roar of the crowd tinkled in my mind finding the chant Pak-istan! Zindabaad! (Long Live Pakistan!) funny to the ear, as the words had not graced my ears before.

I have to add here, I also prayed that larger than life Curtley Ambrose would bowl lethal bouncers so I could howl “HAAAA” inside my skull at the television and hope that India and Sri Lanka would also outplay England, Australia or South Africa as if it was some sort of justification for the battle between ‘brown’ and ‘white’.

Ubba Ji would watch replays of 1992’s World Cup epic clash between England and Pakistan at my uncle’s house, Team Green like the earth and Team Blue like the sea. I would anticipate and wish golden ducks for England and dance around as the fat little animated duck dressed in cricket garb sullenly walked across the screen shaking his feathery head, and then verge on the point of tears if a Pakistani batsman made the same mistake.

Supporting England cricket was the lesser of two evils as I grew up, especially when playing Australia who were just so darn good and then, all of a sudden, I started taking offence at the banter between the Ozzies and the ‘poms’.  Maybe I just like to support the underdog, this thought has crossed my mind too. As I got older and the boundaries (!) became clearer and racism rows practically exploded with the onset of Nasser Hussein as England captain, I was wondering what the fuss was about as by that point I was already supporting England whole-heartedly (I had already warmed to Michael Atherton, Alec Stewart, Darren Gough and Dominic Cork, ish) but I still felt as if I would be denounced from English society for supporting the Pakistani team first and foremost.

At this point, I stopped watching.  Sport somehow became politicized and it intruded as a microcosm to the greater world.  Double standards and tricks. Ball-tampering for Pakistan was reverse-swing for England. All my sports fascination of course stemmed from Ubba Ji and my brother (who supports Manchester United, at nine years old he would be listening to matches on a tiny make-shift radio), so moving away from home for university meant that sport was no longer prevalent in my environment.

I am playing into stereotypes here but being a girl, it is not so hard to forget about sport when a man in your life is quite so significantly absent. My only recent exposure was attending a 20-20 Warwickshire v Worcestershire match at Edgbaston which was actually fantastical.  The only other time I would perhaps be under the influence is when I return home to Birmingham and my father might be checking scores on Teletext, yes, he still does that. It’s kind of part of the culture of yester-year.

Culture is an important word (understatement) and needs to be understood by everybody to move forwards, culture is not always right.  It is a gift from generations past, and the greater gift, is that culture can be changed by ourselves to improve ourselves for those cloudy parts.  Culture is separate to heritage of history as history cannot be changed, but it does not mean heritage should be rendered completely meaningless.  Undoubtedly, it is a precarious situation.

Flipping the same coin though, we are on tails now, I think there is a misconception and something that is sometimes not quite understood by NF, EDL or BNP or indeed any other crazy narcissistic fascists and it is this.

As I was born in England, I am actually considered too ‘white’ to be Kashmiri / Pakistani by actual Kashmiri / Pakistanis, spotting me from ten miles away when arriving at Islamabad airport, hiking up prices for every tiny thing to leech as much cash from me as possible!  But seriously, what-ho, what limbo is this?! Too brown to be English, too white to be Pakistani. Never mind having a multicultural community on a national level, I am the embodiment of multiculturalism itself, and I realised this as a ten-year-old-girl trying to figure out which cricket team I was supposed to be supporting!

Each of the four elements reject my belonging even though I commit to each of them, where am I supposed to go, what am I supposed to do, where am I supposed to fit in? This is perhaps the reason for the inescapable square peg-circle hole scenario that pervades life.  As if I was not already confused enough.

1> English / British / Pakistani / Muslim = Asian, so let me be who I am.
2> North / South / East / West = Direction, so let me be the compass.
3> Earth / Fire / Wind / Water = Earth, so let me begin my journey.

Forcing to choose one or the other has never been an intended goal, it seems to have escaped everyone’s attention that I can be everything, even if that renders me slightly schizophrenic.

For the first time in years, I listened to sports radio quite by accident, cricket commentators Roshan Abeysinghe and Russel Arnold on BBC Radio 5 Live (Sport Extra) tell me that England’s dreams for Cricket World Cup 2011, are sadly over. Sri Lanka are 202-0 whilst England batted 229-6 (Dilshan has just made a century from 107 balls, on his haunches, now on his knees…. England just got thrashed, Sri Lankan fans are going crazy, trumpets blaring. Sri Lanka are three runs shy of England’s total, Dilshan blocks the ball so his partner can also make a century and Taranga is now on strike for his landmark figure. He wants a boundary and does not take the single run. Commentator says It’s like a rat playing with an injured mouse. Sri Lanka have won by ten wickets and England are absolutely knocked out and Dilshan is lying on his back through heat exhaustion in Colombo. Sri Lanka v New Zealand Semi Final.

It made me think about the other semi-final on Wednesday 30 March 2011 that I have been pretending to ignore (pertaining to the if-I-outwardly-support-my-favourite-team-they-will-undoubtedly-lose so no country names are mentioned here) and the match that everyone who is anyone and excuse the pun, is bowling themselves over about. I am planning to plug in my earphones at work to listen, hopefully the roar of the crowd will not pop my already popping ears.

I hope that it will be a day to celebrate cricket, the great English sport. I hope that any media hype leading up to the match and the allegiance that British Pakistanis, British Indians and British Bangladeshis pledge to homeland countries of our parents remains uncriticised and I would hope that the fans of both will behave and enjoy excellent sportsmanship combined with shared, transitional Asian culture.

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

“My message to you all is of hope, courage and confidence. Let us mobilize all our resources in a systematic and organized way and tackle the grave issues that confront us with grim determination and discipline worthy of a great nation.”
– Muhammad Ali Jinna (Quaid-e-Azam)

Some Interesting & Older Articles:
False starts and big questions
Is British sport still racist?
United Front
Nationality is a thing of the past

* I looked up the etymology of the word ‘Pakistan’ as personally I resent the term ‘Paki’ unless of course it’s amongst like-for-like Pakistanis solely due to the racial history the word generates from racist attitudes. It is interesting to know the following, extracted from here:

The Cambridge student and Muslim nationalist Choudhary Rahmat Ali coined this name. He devised the word and first published it on 28 January 1933 in the pamphlet “Now or Never”. He constructed the name as an acronym of the different states/homelands/regions, which broke down into: P=Punjab, A=Afghania (Ali’s preferred name for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), K=Kashmir, S=Sindh . The suffix -stan from Balochistan, thus forming “Pakstan”. An “i” intruded later to ease pronunciation. The suffix -stan in Persian means “home of” and in Sanskrit means “place”. Rahmat Ali later expanded upon this in his 1947 book Pakistan: the Fatherland of the Pak Nation. In that book he explains the acronym as follows: P=Punjab, A=Afghania, K=Kashmir, I=Indus Valley, S=Sindh, T=Turkharistan (roughly the modern central-Asian states), A=Afghanistan and N=BalochistaN. The Persian word پاک pāk, which means “pure”, adds another level of meaning, with the full name thus meaning “land of the pure”.

So how is it that the racists can take a term of purity and convey such derogatory essence to it instead? <sigh>

3 thoughts on “It’s just a game of cricket, right?

  1. Oh Wasim Akram. A true great. Even when we were being torn apart by him and Waqar there was a part of me that was applauding.
    I also love the ‘ish’ after Dominic Cork…
    I would love Pakistan (I’m allowed to say the name, aren’t I?) to win their semi-final. Their cricketers are so richly talented, and to do it without two of the brightest of those talents (you know who I mean and I don’t include Salman Butt) would be an amazing achievement, and a fantastic pinnacle for Shahid Afridi’s career. What a crazily magnificent cricketer he has been.
    But then I would love to see Sachin in a World Cup final too…and Zaheer Khan…
    Most of all I hope it’s a game worthy of the occasion.

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  2. True, great cricketers, whatever nationality, stand the test of time (didn’t mean that as a pun!).

    I was in two minds whether to take that out, or leave it in…glad I left it in place!

    It was more to do with the racial ‘abbreviation’ lol of course you can say Pakistan!

    Send forth the positive vibes, after England’s success retaining the Ashes they’ve been playing non-stop cricket, burn-out would eventually surface, it’s a shame but it would be inhumanly wonderful if Pakistan lifted the trophy, but that’s just getting ahead of myself. I shall be supporting India if they go through to the final – invisibly of course so as not to harm the karmic universe!

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