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Cricket World Cup – it’s not just the Kiwis who are “like us”

July 16, 2019

It’s over. We won. My immediate reaction at the end of the Cricket World Cup Final – after unhooking the defibrillator – was to feel that I’d have been just as happy if New Zealand had won. Was that a reflection that the Kiwis seem more like us English than any other team? Or was it that they deserved to win more than us, and were robbed of the trophy by a ridiculous piece of bad luck when the ball went clattering off the outstretched bat of a diving batsman to the boundary in the last over?

Or was it that the Kiwis play the game like us? Determined to win but never surprised to fall at the last hurdle – or blade of grass in this case. Or because they seem like decent people exemplified by a talented and fair-minded bunch of cricketers? Plucky underdogs and good losers.

I can’t really speak first-hand about national traits when I’ve only met a few New Zealanders and never visited the country. Certainly their domination of rugby suggests a nation of murderous winners rather than gentlemanly wannabes.

All I’ve seen in documentaries, news and drama points to a fascinating mixture of the mundane and exotic. Landscape a bit like England, but with volcanoes and glaciers. People reserved and conservative, except when they flare up into tongue-waggling, foot-stomping haka mode. Sheep safely grazing while earthquakes bring down cathedrals.

It’s a country with a female prime minister who at a moment of national crisis behaves like a warm, empathetic human being rather than an emotionally blocked politician frightened of her shadow. A country of gun clubs and a tinge of alcohol abuse and urban violence.

Do I like the Kiwis because unlike their cousins across the Tasman Sea, they don’t seem to have a grudge against the old country? Or because unlike their other cousins at bottom of Africa they’re not the children of apartheid?

Or, perish the thought, am I the product of unconscious bias against competing nations whose representatives are not “like us”? The Indians, whose captain’s eyes gleam with the avenging fury of his divine near-namesake? The West Indians, whose predecessors knocked us over with menacing intent? The Pakistanis, whose raucous expressions of national pride are frighteningly intense?

I like to think not. As a lover of the game I grew up admiring Wes Hall, Gary Sobers and Clive Lloyd. Later in life, Viv Richards, Imran Khan, Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar. Today, the World Cup Final would been graced with the presence of Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle, Rohit Sharma and Babar Azam. And one of the joys of the day was to see Lord’s Cricket Ground packed with so-called neutrals from other countries whose teams didn’t make the final revelling in the contest.

No. Cricket, as much as any other sport but more than most, is a game whose culture, rules and traditions is shared by people who might otherwise have little in common. When I’m in a Riyadh taxi driven by someone from Peshawar or Dacca, or in a tuk-tuk wheezing up the hills above Kandy, I can have a conversation in a common language, just as the mention of Manchester United brings smiles of recognition in Bangkok, Hong Kong and Bamako.

Cricket might be a sport that has its origins in southern England and spread around the world on the coattails of empire, but it has long ago outgrown its colonial origins. It’s a sport whose governing body, for all its flaws, has been instrumental in helping it to flourish in countries such as Afghanistan, whose people have good reason to resent the influence of the former colonial power.

And within the victorious England team, the joy shared by a red-haired assassin who was born in Christchurch, a gracious captain from County Dublin, a lethal bowler from Barbados and two class acts of South Asian heritage with beards as long as two fists as they celebrated together on a sunny evening in London in front of an audience of many nationalities tells its own story.

During those eight hours, it felt as though everyone – whether at Lord’s or on a dusty plain in the foothills of the Hindu Kush – who picks up a bat, hurls a ball down a stretch of dirt or gathers together to watch, was truly “like us”.

That’s why I love cricket.

From → Social, Sport, Travel, UK

  1. Great post 🙂

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