The English invented the game centuries ago. As early as 1611, in Sussex, they prosecuted two men for skipping church to play cricket.
When the British set out to rule the world, they not only spread gunpowder, slavery and human misery to the far reaches of the globe – they also brought cricket to places like India and Pakistan. Today at those distant outposts of the Empire cricket is a national passion.
So it was last week in New Delhi and Islamabad that thousands of protestors chanted “Death to Bush,” India’s cricket squad was playing England in the Test series while Pakistan was wrapping up the Twenty-20 Cup Final.
Cricket itself is a bizarre little game. On paper it seems similar to baseball. There are innings, outs, umpires, an infield and an outfield. There is a guy who pitches a ball to a batter. The team that scores the most runs wins. But, God save the Queen, there is no seventh-inning stretch – it’s called a tea break.
But the similarities to baseball are superficial. Yes, teams win by runs – but sometimes by more than 300. A single match can take a week. A series can last for months. A player – the captain – can declare the end of an inning at his whim.
In India and Pakistan, there have been cricket matches perhaps as defining as the 1980 U.S.-Soviet hockey game. Despite a history of violence between the countries, cricket remains a source of friendly competition. Last April, India’s Manmohan Singh and Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf scheduled their peace negotiations so as not to conflict with the cricket schedule.
Into this milieu came President George W. Bush last week.
Bush, it will be recalled, is a baseball fan. As an executive with the Texas Rangers, he once traded rookies Sammy Sosa and Wilson Alvarez for Harold Baines.
He took this same level of sports acumen to Pakistan and – in another of his absurd photo-ops – quickly got whacked by an errant cricket ball. The photos of Bush with a cricket bat were almost as preposterous as the photos of him with a hard hat in New Orleans.
While Bush again was trying to show the world he was a “regular guy,” the Pakistani government was locking up its citizens so as to slow some of the anti-Bush protests.
One of the locked-up Pakistanis was Imran Khan. Khan is the former captain of Pakistan’s national cricket team and a World Cup winner. Now Khan is a political leader and opponent of the Musharraf-Bush coalition. Khan of course had to be silenced for Bush to visit the country.
The Bush hypocrisy knows no bounds. He claims to fight against terrorists yet supports Musharraf – a run-of-the mill military thug with ties to jihad groups in Kashmir. Bush claims to promote “freedom” and “democracy,” yet he is complicit in the jailing of opposition politicians – even cricket players.
There is simmering hatred of everything American on every street corner in Pakistan. Yet Bush has the gall to play the nation’s favorite sport and ignore the real problems of this Muslim country.
The people of Pakistan are still outraged over the U.S. bombing of Damadola earlier this year and the killing of 17 innocent people. Yet, Bush grins and plays cricket. It is a farce.
It is no better in India. When Bush visited the grave of Gandhi, it was another great photo-op. But Indians everywhere recognized the sordid irony. One Indian said that when Bush laid flowers upon Gandhi’s tomb, shebecame physically ill.
Instead of showing up in India and Pakistan, Bush should have stayed home and gone hunting – preferably with Dick Cheney. Or at least he should realize that silencing the opposition everywhere he goes just isn’t proper cricket.
Kyle Sheahen is a Sun Senior Writer. The Ultimate Trip will appear every other Friday this semester.