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23 August 2006

More generalisations on race, nationality and otherness - the umpire strikes back

So, a little English boy comes home from school after his first introduction to cricket. Mum says "What did you learn today?" (as you do) and the lad replies, "I learned all about cricket. They throw balls at you and if you don't hit them, you're out. Unless the ball hits you in the leg, and then you're a BMW." (For non-cricket-playing folk, see Law 36 for an explanation. Not that you'll understand it any better.)
I have been following the story of the forfeited test cricket match, with all its overtones of dying empire, the tough but fair Aussie umpire, the aggrieved and dignified Pakistani team captain, and the British, Asian and Australian public, all divided in opinions and slants on the subject. (Except for those who don't really care.)
Sport is a tricky subject, but cricket is especially so. A lot of people see it as a pretentious, upper-class holdover, and it does embody a lot of the worst and best about Englishness. And then it is transmuted through the crucible of colonialism, so that there is a quintessentially West Indian cricket, a brusque and ultra-conservative Australian cricket and a passionate version of Pakistani cricket, charged with politics and nationalism. It never really caught on in anglophone Canada (not that I noticed) let alone Scotland, Wales or Ireland, yet India, Sri Lanka and South Africa all have their devoted fans. What is it about cricket - is it the tea interval, the silly white coats and stilted gestures of the umpires, the massive and Byzantine "laws of cricket" (when other sports, even English ones, are quite happy to have "rules".) And is this latest crisis, which some have called a farce, the echo of a dying empire or the roar of an unrepentant umpire?

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