Incredible Asia!

Part of the fun of being an amateur post-colonial theorist comes from finding hidden hegemonic codes in otherwise innocuous literature. It’s a wonderful game of treasure-hunting, and with cricket, there’s always a few goodies on hand.

Writing in the New Zealand Times, Paran Balakrishnan charts the rise of the new “global order” in cricket, whose center has shifted irrevocably to India, the game’s financial powerhouse. It’s a solid article, except for one paragraph, which reveals the usual insecurities of the post-colonial mind, i.e., England and Australia are so beautiful; India and Pakistan are such horrid places to play the game.

Have a listen:

Now many of the world’s top cricketers will be picking up their kit and converging on the subcontinent for 45 days a year. They’ll brave the Indian summer and the other attendant dangers of living in this part of the world, like the much-feared Delhi Belly. They’ll learn to drink only bottled water and avoid raw food if they want to stay healthy – yep, that means no salads.

Now, I’m not saying that India is the greatest place to visit; it has plenty of challenges for the newcomer. And I understand that not having alcohol freely available in Karachi or Islamabad can be a huge drag, especially if you belong to the extreme drinking culture that pervades most of the white teams.

But still, it’s fairly absurd to feel pity for touring parties: for one thing, they live in the swankiest hotels and enjoy some of the finest foods, not to mention the star-like attraction they exude to local fans (yes, Symonds included). While it would be terrible to have to stay put in a hotel for security reasons, it’s not such a bad life.

More broadly, however, it’s just not fair to Asian cricketers, who have to brave as much culture shock when they travel abroad. The old country may be delightful, but it can also be hard to love, cold and fickle weather and all. And think of the Indian players in Australia, who have been there now for over three months, away from the sights and sounds they grew up with. Just because it’s, say, cleaner in Adelaide does not expell all homesickness immediately.

Incidentally, Steve Waugh understood that the on/off field division did not work in cricket. When analyzing why Australia had not been able to breach the “final frontier” of India for so long, he argued primarily that Australians just couldn’t overcome their culture shock — the food, the noise, the rampant poverty.

And, to his credit, he suggested that they embrace the country rather than shrink from it (he started charities and a number of outreach efforts), if only because it would lead to better cricket (and, you know, because Indian cuisine tastes much, much better than beans on toast, which was Warne’s staple diet on tour).

Cricket is one of the few sports — perhaps the only one — that insists on long international tours that require cultural dialogue and patience. That’s part of the challenge of touring, and it’s a huge part of the accomplishment on offer. So, come to India, all you IPL signees, and have a ball. And hell, even eat a salad or two.


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