The sun never set on the British Empire, but the same cannot be said of the cricketing world, its chief colonial legacy (apart from, you know, the rule of law and all that). Already a fairly small coterie of 10 or 11 countries (depending on Zimbabwe’s mood), it doesn’t help that several members suffer from regular terror attacks and general instability, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and even mother country, England.
It’s a sad state of affairs — so much for cricket’s civilizing mission — because international cricketers must regularly choose on the one hand between their safety and political ideas (especially with regards to Robert Mugabe) and playing the sport that they’re paid for on the other.
But while I don’t want to burden cricket with any more political baggage than it already has, Andrew Symonds has forced my hand. Although many on the Australian team have expressed reluctance to tour Pakistan in its current state, Symonds has been the most outspoken, joking last year about the number of bombs that form a part of daily life in that country. Even if the tour itinerary is shortened; even if security is beefed up; Symonds says he doesn’t want to go. Full Stop.
Obviously, I don’t wish harm on anybody, least of all cricketers, but Symonds — and the Australian team in general — cannot walk out of this corner without at least admitting to hypocrisy and, at the most, cowardice (Yeah! I’m calling ’em yella’, you hear!).
Let me explain: first, let’s get the usual double standard argument out of the way. Out of all the countries I listed above, why do players have a choice with every one bar England? No, no, we must go to England, cricketers quickly declaim; it’s always such an honor to play at Lord’s; this is the home of cricket, how could we not tour it? A bomb goes off in Colombo, however, and South Africa are quickly away.
Now yes, I admit, Pakistan (and the Asian subcontinent) is currently much more volatile — I think 450 people have lost their lives to suicide bombers in the last year — but the threat of suicide attacks in England is never far away. They might be rarer, but unfortunately, it’s not completely implausible. Last November, the chief of intelligence in the UK estimated that 30 plots and 200 terror networks are active, with more than 2,000 people listed as insurgents. So, England may appear more normal, but it isn’t. In fact, precisely because it’s so normal, terrorists make their points that much more loudly.
OK, we’ve dispensed with the stable/unstable dichotomy. But there’s a much more pressing matter with Symonds, and it has to do with his aggressive displays of masculinity on the field. This has long been a source of resentment for me, because Australians and whites are regularly portrayed as more rigidly male than Asian cricketers. Anil Kumble, Kumar Sangakarra and Mahela Jayawardene are duly praised as “thinking” captains, smart and cerebral, butAustralians like Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds are touted primarily as strong, brawny blokes (and we’ve all heard about how much the Western players drink and indulge in bar fights and the occasional rugby match — all conventional masculine rites of passage).
What’s distressing in this construction is the restricted definition of masculinity in place here. Yes, fast bowlers rely on pace and force to win their wickets, but that doesn’t make them any more manly than, say, Romesh Powar or Harbhajan Singh. Shane Warne seemed most haunted by his spin label; what else can explain his unbelievably robust displays of sexual libido (on tape even!)?
But the Australians revel in proving their militaristic variety of manliness. The constant displays of aggression with the onfield chatter; their impatience with draws and obsessive need for scoring runs at a clip; their distrust of spin (so long, Hogg and MacGill!); even their basic strategy of mental disintegration that threatens opponents to “take it like a man” — all these suggest a hyper-masculine world where hair and muscles rule the roost.
So when Andrew Symonds, et al., say that they do not want to tour Pakistan, they are failing their own ridiculous chest-pumping standards. Of course, the Australians can reply that who they are on the field is separate when they’re off it, but I don’t buy it. Throughout the horrid series against India, the Australians have shown how difficult it is even for them to leave the chatter on cricket terrain, and from all accounts, neither team can stand each other. That’s what the Australians have done in this game: in the Victorian era, cricketers acted as gentlemen while playing the game, and otherwise acted their usual swine selves off it. The Australians reversed the equation: on the fields, they’re bullies and stupid jocks; off the field, well, they’re bullies and stupid jocks.
So, don’t tour Pakistan. And feel justified about it, too. No one wants you to die. But the next time you glare at Asian batsmen, or ask them what Brian Lara’s penis tastes like, realize that these men actually live with terror all their lives, in Mumbai or in Karachi or in Colombo, and quit your faux-manliness. You don’t fool anyone.