I don’t like cricket, I love it.
Cricket is my favourite sport. My first love. And also, if I must be honest, I’ve always seen it as a connection to my heritage.
My earliest memories of the “Gentleman’s game”, are watching matches on television with my parents. I remember quite early on I used to pester my mum with questions about how it worked.. well with how everything worked I guess.. in that sense cricket was no different.. But I did realise fairly quickly that there was something about this game that allowed me to access a cultural space that generally lingered beyond my reach but within my line of sight.
I spent countless hours glued to the screen of 5 day test matches interspersed with shorter formats of the game that had me pacing around the living room during the climax.. It wasn’t long before I knew every stat, and milestone of every player.. the legends, the underdogs, the young and up coming.. all of it. I developed a special friendship with the old British commentators who spoke with wit and a flair that really appealed to a young colonial subject like myself..
Yeah,, I love this game.
In my neighborhood in Fort Gale, I was well known for playing alone in our garden for hours and hours. Practicing batting, emulating the likes of Brian Lara while throwing a tennis ball against a wall trying to pierce the gap between a Rose bush and a thorny thicket of Bugambila. Bowling, over and over to a set of sticks stuck in the center of my parents well tended garden. Racing against our dog to get the ball before she’d break it with her overenthusiastic jaws and paws. Decimating the carefully pruned flowers in the process… Oh well..
I love this game.
I remember watching the Indian team. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid & Sourav Ganguly. My heros. I felt as though I knew them. I felt as though by knowing them and emulating them in my garden. I could acquire the authenticity I desired. After all, I too am Indian in my own way right?
I remember playing in small local tournaments held infrequently by the local Hindu society. I played in teams with many Indian immigrants, 1st & 2nd generation. Many of whom whether my mothers colleagues at the University. Those moments I spent, briefly, providing me into an insight into what it would have been like as part of their community.. those interactions.. some of acceptance.. some of rejection.. they left an impression on my heart. Cricket has always allowed me to access an “Indian-ness” that I struggle to embrace otherwise.
And so, for many years I lived, breathed, and ate cricket. And after a lot of practice, I’ll tell you I wasn’t so bad for a skinny little chap.
All the way through High School and up until this very day, stepping out onto a field and giving my best is something I consider to be a cultural ritual. Out there on the field my abilities – or in some cases the lack their of – define who I am. An imitation of a wristy flick from an Indian player, or a West Indian legend provide satisfaction and internal validation that can’t be taken away from me.
With this said, while providing a platform for me to befriend many young Indians. The game of cricket I love to romanticise is so often co-opted by exclusionary habits of the sorts of people who take time to invest in team sports like cricket.
Damaging perceptions of masculinity, relationships and at times perceptions of Race run rampant in pretty much every team I have been a part of. There is a clear difference to the scenarios I watched from the safety of my living room to the reality of the pitch.. far away from the comfort of the blooming flowers and shrubbery that always kept me company.
Having to prove yourself. To be part of the group. Showing aggression through expressions of your maleness. Boasting of sexual conquests to assert dominance in the group. Are common place. And they come with the territory.
Yes, even in the “Gentleman’s game”.
Things where rarely as subtle, nuanced and poetically described as my old British custodians of the game. The gentle old white men I often saw on the screen now appeared before in other physical forms as Grumpy old fashioned White Men. Laden with prejudice, bluntness and racist ambivalence that quite often was pretty hard to dismiss.
Team camaraderie that I often romanticised. Often came at a price. To say and to do things that otherwise you would not be caught dead uttering. Submitting to the dominant voice of men whose confidence in themselves in worldly affairs was often seriously poorly misplaced.
The Gentleman’s game. I still love it.
But, with time it becomes harder to play. The pitch seems further and further from what I always thought it was growing up. It becomes harder to see this sport as a safe place to explore my identity. Especially when the competition of the pitch brings out between us, unsavoury hierarchies.
I hope though. That one day. Young men and women will pick up Cricket bats. And bowl with cricket balls in teams that embrace respect, generosity and positivity. Sport has great potential to provide meaning, and affirmation for the young in the old. In ways that are much like we have come to expect from Art.
These games themselves are vehicles of expression. And they are going to need to go through an ideological revolution of sorts. The Unity that sports proports to incite and excite, in my experience, has been superficial at best.. Too often do we hide conversations and declarations of against “others” and too often do we tolerate words that are tantamount to violence against women.
Cricket may be a receding home for sections of my Identity, as it is for many others.. but as lovers of the game we have a long way to go.. before this truly becomes..
“The Gentleman’s game”