London Diary: Cricket, Conflict, Coexistence

London Diary: Cricket, Conflict, Coexistence

Though living in Britain imposes discipline, a hot word or two is exchanged beyond the friendly banter

London and other British cities are gearing up for the World Cup to be hosted in a different time zone, jointly by Australians and New-Zealanders – Kangaroos & Kiwis. Londoners, sub-continentals, especially in the city—Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri-Lankans, are already re-setting their schedules to stay in tune with the World Cup.

There is a snag however, matches would start in wee hours mostly, an hour or two after midnight. It means losing sleep, tough for working professionals.

However, hardly if any, is prepared to miss cricket on the nights the subcontinental teams would be taking the field. Of particular interest is the Sunday clash between arch rivals, India and Pakistan.

Across United Kingdom, in cities where subcontinentals predominantly live—twin city of Leeds/Bradford, Birmingham, Leicester, Manchester, in spite of cohabitation, conflict of interests is evident. Though living in Britain imposes discipline, a hot word or two is exchanged beyond the friendly banter. 

Indians take pride that India has always come one-up in World Cup clashes. Pat comes the retort from Pakistanis—there is always a first time, it could be around, a Pakistan win.

Kashmiris feel involved, as they are prone to. They bear the brunt of Indo-Pak clashes, be it the international border, the working border or LoC.  

As the concern transfers to cricket field, tempers hype.  In joint meets, worth, weakness of contending sides is fiercely debated, even by ones, who Cricket Knoweth not, talk as if they have the final word. MS Dhoni is jaded, no more the captain cool that he used to be. Misbah-ul-Haq in contrast retains his cool and sparkles though aged, so too Shahid Afridi.

Hafiz might be out, but highly dependable Younis Khan is there. Yes, but isn’t he out of form, and his comfort level confined to longer version, Test Cricket? And look, India has a cool batting line-up with Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Rahane, Shekhar Dawan, and old war horse Raina, runs the counter argument. A weak bowling attack nevertheless, as renowned an expert as Sunil Gavaskar admits it, the argument continues with no end in sight.  

Sky sports, highly popular sports channel debating comparative strengths and the weaknesses is a favourite reference point.

As the channel hyped the pace potential of taller than Amitabh Bachan, Mohammad Irfan the buzz went around, with SMSs going around from Pakistanis to their Indian friends to watch sky. Incidentally, Amitabh’s Shamitabh hit the silver screen, and across the divide subcontinentals picked up their cellphones to reserve week-end bookings.

I was dragged along, a decade of missing cinema was hugely compensated by superlative Amitabh appearance. Cricket was laid aside for a moment, as Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis watched, spellbound by the performance of the super star. There are occasions when conflict melts and cohabitation prevails.

However, whatever the level of bonhomie on occasions of inter-mixing, the conflict between subcontinental twins, borne of same ethno-cultural entity, nevertheless with a wide apart political profile, remains an abiding feature. The mercury level of the conflict though varies, very much related to prevailing situation in the subcontinent in the given time period. The current chill transfers across seas and onto the cricket field.

Kashmiris in the midst of conflict zone, in the very thick of it, do not stay free of concern, and remain in tune with what is happening back home. Quick look of ‘GK’ e-paper before retiring is the norm. ‘GK’ e-paper past mid-night norm at home appears in Britain the evening before, around 8 or 9 P.M. As the loss mounts, like the one in Palhalan during the week, it is noted with concern.

East or west, home indeed remains the best. Life oversees, with British or American passport hardly makes a difference. Skype exchanges, viber calls, whatsapp audios melt distances.

Cricket for the present dominates. While the young are excited, old timers reflect on old times. India or Pakistan, the class of old times is missing, though watching cricket, World Cup especially remains a passion.

While cricket would be watched, class of Tendulkar, Dravid, VVS Laxman would be missed, whatever the batting skills of present Indian team. Mohammad Irfan might have pace and advantage of height, he is however nowhere near swing sultan—Wasim Akram.

 There might be Dale Steyns, Mitchell Johnsons, and Andersons in competing line-ups, none however has as lethal an in-swinging Yorker as that of Waqar Younis. Subcontinental spin wizards of the past—BS Bedi, Chandrasekhar, EAS Prassana, Mathai Murlidharan, Mushtaq Mohammad, Saqlain Mushtaq, as also the Australian wizard—Shane Warne hardly find a match, as bench strengths are assessed.

Syed Ajmal, the lone spinner with a touch of class, though cleared by ICC assessors remains out, inexplicably though.  

Captains might be strategizing and working out plans, the deep knowledge of the academics of the game a la Sunil Gavaskar, Imran Khan, Steve Waugh, and Mike Brierley  seems to be nowhere in sight.

Cricket has commercialized over the years, it is as instant as instant coffee, what is missing is the depth, the class that made cricket, a delightful spectacle.  

London is the Mecca of cricket, though a tax exile, headquarters have moved from Lords to Dubai. Arabs are getting into cricket business, Afghans have taken to wielding the bat instead of AK 47.

An Afghan team in World Cup a distant dream is a reality, as also UAE Arab team. Welcome additions though, there are other cricket related concerns.

Cricket columnists a la Neville Cardus and AFS Talyarkhan, commentators a la Omar Quereshi, Jamsheed Marker, Richie Benaud remain valued relics of the past. Alas, cricket related class is missing, whatever the aspect of the game. 

More on cricket from oversees, Saturday next, Inshallah

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]