Casino and the Prayer Mat: Cricket on a Limb

[aflatoon is a philosopher who walks the hills of Pakistani terror territories. He is a long time supporter of CM and we are delighted to share him today. We hope for his return soon. — sepoy]

Pakistan Team Praying

The chief selector, Moin Khan, has been spotted in a Casino in New Zealand, and some others have spotted Pakistan team offering their prayer collectively in the middle of the ground, in the middle of the World Cup, in the middle of the match against West Indies accusing it of exhibitionism of unpardonable proportion; as if the team has not been depending on cricket but on a prayer’s limb. Moin Khan might equally have been guilty of match fixing in team’s favor outside of cricket. Who knows? In case of cricket, it is always non-cricketing reasons that come to define Pakistan’s victory or defeat. It is never cricket.

When Pakistan won the World Cup, 1st and the last time in 1992, it was for the cancer hospital; in his victory speech, Pakistan team captain Imran Khan (now a contender for premiership for having won the same World Cup) felt relieved of the fulfilment of his most cherished desire that he won it finally at the twilight of his career, otherwise, the cancer hospital would have remained a pipe-dream. He forgot that there were 14 other players in the team fighting for cricketing glory. My father had his own theory on Inzamam — how a stomach ailment made him agile for the semi-final and final — that, I leave it there.

As they say, victory has thousand fathers and defeat is an orphan. Similar non-cricketing reasons become liability in defeat. In good old times, late 70s-early 80s, it was always the players’ late night binges or hotel room activities that were held responsible for their losing matches. In the 90s, this changed into match fixing. Whereas, the legendary Imran Khan and company suffered from the accusations of the first sort, Wasim Akram and company had to go through the accusational transition of losing because of smoking pot on the beaches of Caribbean to losing through match-fixing. After the 1996 epic quarter final loss to India, in which he didn’t feature because of injury, Wasim Akram’s house was raided by the angry fan-club, his caricatured photos were splashed as graffiti on the street poles, displaying him in earrings and nose-ring of a newlywed woman.

By 2003, it began to change. Longer beards were seen in the team as never before. Their captain had links with the Tableeghi Jamat. After the disastrous campaign for the 2007 World Cup, when the team coach Bob Woolmer died in mysterious circumstances, team’s media manager accused the captain Inzamamul Haq of taking more interest in “preaching than in playing cricket.” Shahryar Khan, the current chairman of the PCB also spoke of Bob Woolmer’s frustration with the team on this score, to which he advised Woolmer not to be that perturbed since his interference would only be counter-productive. Bob Woolmer learned to live with it and later acknowledged the positive effect their praying together had on the team spirit and bonding as a unit. Both Inzamam and Mohammad Yousaf had the best runs of their career under the beard and the Bob. They scored heavily. In their own estimation, turn to religion helped them in their concentration and focus on the game. Later, when they lost, the liberal commentariat accused them of the fatalism of the beard that originated with Saeed Anwar when his daughter died and he took solace in religion and Tableeghi Jamat.

After the 1992 glory, every World Cup has had some tragedy unfold for team Pakistan. Barely two games, and two defeats, into this World Cup, we already have two objects of defeat to contend with: the Casino, and the prayer mat in the middle of the ground sans cricket. The problem with Casino is that it is a public place that one can visit to eat or have a good time. What that has to do with cricket is anybody’s guess. But, Moin Khan has since been sent back home straight from the casino. The problem with the prayer mat is that the photo in question that the liberal enthusiast deems to have been taken in the West Indies World Cup match shows Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Abdul Razzak, Kamran Akmal (clearly visible) and some other lesser known players who have not been selected for this World Cup. It’s an old photo from a practice session and not from a playing arena during the match. They never did this during the match even in the best of Tableeghi days. Under Misbah, that is hardly the case. But when has dating photographs ever prevented history mongering? Captioned as theatre of the absurd, this social media post reprimands the team for their exhibitionism that led to their failure, as their prayers returned empty. Others commented as if they were battling for Islam and not cricket.

Barely two games, and two defeats into this World Cup, it seems, we have already made up our mind that we are not gonna make it this time. A miracle won’t happen, since Misbah is not intending to build any hospital. Previously, this did not happen until the team was completely ousted from the tournament. It is no longer cricket as it used to be. Perhaps, we no longer play cricket on the playground. Whatever cricket survived the administrative boardrooms and sponsors’ logos, we already have lost it to our liberal and pietistic ideologies. If cricket is the mirror of our societal tendencies, the casino and the prayer mat maybe its new ground — of an already doomed.