Watching the final game of the T20 World Cup last night was both kind of fun (I’ve learned enough about cricket—from Joseph O’Neill’s beautiful recent novel Netherland to the group of kids who play it in the street in front of our place here in Pune—that I can follow it and even understand things like a bowler’s terrible frustration at the failure to call a clear lbw) and weirdly complex: it was, after all, Sri Lanka versus Pakistan. Wasn’t that just a few months ago that the Sri Lankan team was targeted in a terrorist attack in Lahore? Wasn’t Kumar Sangakkara, now Sri Lanka’s team captain, injured by shrapnel in that attack? Aren’t there major refugee crises in both countries? Why does this part of the world so love this game?
Mine is an admittedly American perspective, and, unfortunately, I’m used to sports coverage in which commentators prattle on about lots of stuff unrelated to sports. They can’t let anything go unremarked upon. So I guess I expected that throughout last night’s match. I expected to get sick of it, in fact. I thought: for three hours I’ll have to listen to these guys go on about how this is the same Sri Lankan team whose bus driver was killed in Lahore. I counted on the self-congratulatory posturing of the sports world, expecting to hear talk about how wonderful it was that international sports competition rises above all that nastiness at home, above the refugees, the insurgents and suicide bombers. I can’t say I missed all that—the commentary was actually, as far as I could tell, pretty much exactly what you want in sports commentary (I just wish I fully understood what a yorker were). But it felt weird not to hear anything about it.
Perhaps it would have been impolite to call attention to any of this at all, or to the fact that Pakistan has threatened legal action against the International Cricket Council because that group—after the attack on the Sri Lanka team in March—rescheduled all fourteen of the Pakistan-hosted games in the 2011 World Cup. That alone is hard to process: an international team visiting your country gets shot up on the way to a game, and you demand that other international teams keep coming anyway? You threaten international legal action to get your games back?
Perhaps it would have been impolite to call attention to the wars and refugees and improbability of this final face-off, given the placid, the cool and sunny, the wealthy and secure environs of Lord’s in London. Maybe that was it: maybe it would be like pointing out that England is just fine, thanks. That wouldn’t really have been comfortable for anyone.
As for the Indian Team, the defending champions who did not fare so well this year, the logic here in India went something like this: this T20 tournament was right on the heels of the end of the India Premier [cricket] League season, so Indian players barely had time to get ready. Also, I was told: T20 isn’t “real cricket.” This is easier to believe. I don’t think real cricket has cheerleaders.