I discussed this problem on Twitter already, but I wanted to flesh out my thoughts a bit more. Yesterday, during the first day of the Test between Aus. and N.Z., Mark Nicholas said a shot by Usman Khawaja was almost “Asian looking.” Cricinfo immediately ridiculed the comment as insensitive, as did some of my Twitter friends — but the issue is a little more delicate.
Here’s why it makes us cringe: 1) Any mention of racial essentialism is not cool. Saying a practice is inherent to a race/culture takes you to tricky areas (“You are Indian, therefore you must like X.”). 2) Khawaja is Asian (of Pakistani descent, specifically), but he plays for Australia. To say he is an ‘Asian’ batsman implies he’s not fully Australian; he’s a foreigner in our midst. (I’ve addressed Khawaja’s heritage in another post.)
A related example: A few years ago, I went with my family on vacation to South Africa. At one stop, my father met a South African shopkeeper of Indian descent; naturally (because all Indians rejoice inside when they see a member of the diaspora), my father asked him where he was from. My brother later berated him for doing so; it’s probable that this particular South African had lived in the country for generations; to ask where he was from implies he wasn’t from South Africa. (Similarly, I have friends of Indian descent here in America who absolutely hate answering the “where are you really from” question because white people never have to answer it, and it sort of emphasizes their difference and exclusion. “Oh, you’re not really American; you’re a foreigner.”)
OK. But here’s why it’s a difficult issue: 1) To call a batsman ‘Asian’ in cricket means they have deft wrists. It’s as style of play that apparently was once associated with Asian players (Ranji, I’m told, in particular). It’s sort of why we call left-handed leg-spinners Chinamen. In other words, it’s nothing about a person’s culture or heritage; it’s simply cricketing shorthand. (Dissent: But when was the last time you heard a white batsman called ‘Asian’? Surely there are wristy players outside the subcontinent, right? And isn’t ‘cricket shorthand’ derivative of colonial/racist discourse? I mean, come on — Chinaman?)
2) Then again, we know that the diversity of cricket (and how it is played) is its chief attraction. Pitches are different around the world, as are sporting cultures; this leads to different types of players and techniques. How can we talk about this diversity without referring to different cultures? (Dissent: But is it true that Asians are now more “wristy” than other batsmen? And what exactly is the “West Indian style” of cricket? If you find yourself using words like exuberant and Calypso — well, that’s taking us back to colonialist discourse, right?)
Perhaps Nicholas should have just named famous players who did in fact play with their wrists. “Khawaja almost looked like X there.” I don’t know — am I just indulging the worst kind of political correctness here?
Sins Of Star Cricket Commentary
If it’s hard for a bowling side to watch batsmen pile on the runs, as the Australians are doing in Sydney right now, it’s even harder for the audience to listen to the commentary. Moments like these are a real challenge for the microphone-wielders: what do you talk about when it’s clear just where the Test match is headed and there are few strategies or tactics to dissect? Here’s what Ian Chappell and Co. tried out:
1) Female streakers. A truly bizarre moment: Chappell sees Michael Clarke hug Ricky Ponting after reaching a double ton. “I’ve never seen the need to hug anyone on a cricket field,” Chappell said, betraying yet another sign that his hyper-masculinity may all be an elaborate attempt to compensate for a secret penchant for cross-dressing. He then qualified his statement, noting he did in fact hug two streakers once. “What gender?” Shastri asked, mischievously. “Female,” came the fast reply (God forbid the other option!). I think Chappell then went on to suggest the women in question were strippers. I’m really not sure.
2) Ian Chappell discusses the other boring Test match. What’s better than discussing the current one-sided Test match unfolding languidly before your eyes? The other boring Test match across the world, namely Sri Lanka receiving a pummeling from Kallis and Co. I can just see Chappell’s producers pleading with him through his ear-piece to talk about the weather, or Sydney tourist attractions instead.
3) Tip Foster. Apparently, there was once a dude who captained England in both football and cricket and did reasonably well in both. He scored 287 on debut in Australia. He also died early from diabetes (at age 36). I know this because one commentator — Dean Jones? — decided he needed to talk about it, and Wasim Akram repeated the exact same thing a moment later.
4) Diabetes is really terrible. Just to follow up on Tip Foster — Wasim Akram issued a public service announcement on how to avoid diabetes. (Hint: it involves not eating biryani every day.)