Sports and the Nation

Is a country’s political and social health reflected in how its sporting entities perform?

Over the decades, the cricketing fortunes of India, Pakistan, West Indies and England have been linked to turmoil on home soil.

One keeps hearing about how the state of Pakistan’s cricket reflects the state of the country. According to this theory, the condition of cricket in the country and its team mirrors the economic and political situation in Pakistan.

This theory is popular in other countries as well. For example, Brazil’s dismal performance in 2014’s football World Cup impelled many Brazilians to propose that the economic woes being faced by the country and the rise of corruption in Brazil’s political institutions were reflected in the way the Brazilian football team performed in the mega event.

In 1974, when the Indian cricket team was battered by England (3-0) in a Test series, some Indian commentators suggested that the political upheaval being faced at the time by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had left Indian society feeling agitated and cynical.

They suggested that it was this mind-set that was then also exhibited by the lethargic performance of the Indian cricket team on its tour of England that year.

Team India all packed for another thrashing on the 1974 tour of England. Critics suggested the men were being affected by the political turmoil back home.
Team India all packed for another thrashing on the 1974 tour of England. Critics suggested the men were being affected by the political turmoil back home.

Against the tide

There are numerous such examples involving various countries. But in the last decade or so, the way Pakistan’s economy and politics have suffered due to the rise of religious and sectarian violence, economic mismanagement, and a startling rise in crime, the Pakistan cricket team’s wildly unpredictable performances have often been described by many to be reflective of whatever bad that is going on in the country.

I am sure a lot of what goes wrong does rub off on how a country’s sporting culture takes its contemporary shape, but there is no hard and fast rule that this is always the case.

For example, in 1971, when Pakistan was being ripped apart by a vicious civil war in its eastern wing, the Pakistan hockey team actually went on to win hockey’s first ever World Cup (held in Barcelona, Spain).

Then, when Pakistan was being harshly criticised for employing violent methods against separatists in East Pakistan, its hockey squad was pushed to play out of its skin to produce results that would contradict the negative perception of a country on the brink of a political and economic collapse.

1971: As civil war raged back home, the Pakistan hockey team went on to win the inaugural Hockey World Cup in Barcelona.
1971: As civil war raged back home, the Pakistan hockey team went on to win the inaugural Hockey World Cup in Barcelona.

Unity in adversity

In the context of cricket, two most vivid examples come to mind in which teams from countries caught in political, social and economic strife, actually used the predicament to inspire themselves to achieve something on the cricket field that was in stark contrast to what was happening in their respective countries.

In the 1970s, almost all of the island-states in the Caribbean that make up the West Indies cricket team, were in the grip of radical political upheaval, so much so that some of the larger Islands were even on the brink of a revolution, as supporters of political parties often fought running battles against each other and the police.

The economy was suffering, the politics was shaky and society often faced rising incidents of crime and violence. This is when a batsman from Guyana, Clive Lloyd, was made the captain of the West Indies cricket team (1975).

Streetkids face off against troops in Kingston, Jamaica (1976).
Streetkids face off against troops in Kingston, Jamaica (1976).

But compared to what was going on in the Island states, Lloyd’s team reacted in an opposite manner.

The team negated the political disunity and turmoil on the Islands and replaced it with cricketing unity and a determination to change (through cricket) the perception of the Islands being shaky banana republics.

Turmoil on the Islands remained till the early 1980s, but from 1975 onward, the West Indies cricket team began its climb to eventually become the number one Test and ODI side in the world, a status it would continue to enjoy throughout the decade.

The Windies' rise: As political chaos engulfed the Carribean states in the 1970s and early 1980s, the cricket team responded (under Clive Lloyd) by becoming the leading cricket team through the 1980s.
The Windies' rise: As political chaos engulfed the Carribean states in the 1970s and early 1980s, the cricket team responded (under Clive Lloyd) by becoming the leading cricket team through the 1980s.

And the irony is, the team’s performances actually began to decline when (in the 1990s), political stability began to return to the Islands and the economy started to exhibit signs of improvement.

Play

English revival

Another cricket side saw itself rising as a cricketing power in the late 1970s. England had been a strong Test side but it had fallen on the wayside in the mid-1970s.

However, between 1977 and 1979, England toppled the time’s top two teams, WI and Australia (under the captaincy of Mike Brearley, who was considered to be more of an intellectual than a batsman).

This happened when England was facing some of its worst post-War economic and political crises and race riots between West Indian and South Asian immigrants on the one side and White supremacists on the other.

As unemployment, strikes and riots were bringing England to a halt, the England cricket squad was emerging to become the world’s leading team.

As the economy continued to nosedive, race riots erupted in England in the late 1970s.
As the economy continued to nosedive, race riots erupted in England in the late 1970s.

This supremacy was lost after 1979, but when even worse race riots erupted again in 1981, Brearley (now in his 40s) was reappointed as captain after England lost the first Test of the 1981 Ashes series against Australia.

Brearley came in after the second Test of the six-Test series, and as various cities in England (and Northern Ireland) burned, England went on to defeat a strong Australian side 3-1 (after being 1-0 down).

Like the West Indies, England’s captain had turned political and economic turmoil into an inspiration to do (on the cricket field) the opposite of what was happening on the streets.

Mike Brearley, 1981: He was considered more of an intellectual than a batsman. As a captain, he twice took the England team to the top, especially during a shaky period for the country's politics and economy.
Mike Brearley, 1981: He was considered more of an intellectual than a batsman. As a captain, he twice took the England team to the top, especially during a shaky period for the country's politics and economy.

Misbah's charge

In Pakistan, it is only now that men such as Misbah-ul-Haq have begun to receive acclaim and appreciation for captaining the Pakistan cricket team to success in an era when the country was being ripped apart by extremists and (ever since 2009), no Test playing side was willing to tour Pakistan.

Play
Pakistan turn things around to chase 302 against Sri Lanka at Sharjah

The country was falling apart, but did Pakistan cricket? Not quite. On the contrary, in the year international cricket came to a halt in Pakistan (2009), the team won that year’s T20 World Cup in England.

And, when three Pakistani cricketers were caught spot-fixing during a Test match in England in 2010; and consequently, the Pakistan cricket team became the scene of a vicious power struggle between opposing groups of players, many observers stated that the team was reflecting the state of the country, which at the time, was in shambles.

Such a state would continue to haunt Pakistan till the launch of the military operation against extreme militants in 2014.

But ironically, under Misbah (who was appointed captain in 2011), the Pakistan cricket team performed quite brilliantly, especially considering the fact that all Pakistan matches were now being played abroad and in foreign conditions.

Also, Misbah had been given a team suffering from severe infighting and of a country in the grip of a grave existentialist crisis.

Misbah-ul-Haq: The wartime skipper.
Misbah-ul-Haq: The wartime skipper.

This year’s inauguration of the ambitious Pakistan Super League, masterminded by Pakistan Cricket Board’s Najam Sethi, is yet another example negating the theory that a country’s political and social health is always reflected in the way its sporting entities perform.

There are no such hard and fast rules.

The Pakistan Super League kicks off in great style.
The Pakistan Super League kicks off in great style.

This article was first published on Dawn.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Movies can make you leap beyond what is possible

Movies have the power to inspire us like nothing else.

Why do we love watching movies? The question might be elementary, but one that generates a range of responses. If you had to visualise the world of movies on a spectrum, it would reflect vivid shades of human emotions like inspiration, thrill, fantasy, adventure, love, motivation and empathy - generating a universal appeal bigger than of any other art form.

“I distinctly remember when I first watched Mission Impossible I. The scene where Tom Cruise suspends himself from a ventilator to steal a hard drive is probably the first time I saw special effects, stunts and suspense combined so brilliantly.”  

— Shristi, 30

Beyond the vibe of a movie theatre and the smell of fresh popcorn, there is a deeply personal relationship one creates with films. And with increased access to movies on television channels like &flix, Zee Entertainment’s brand-new English movie channel, we can experience the magic of movies easily, in the comforts of our home.

The channel’s tagline ‘Leap Forth’ is a nod to the exciting and inspiring role that English cinema plays in our lives. Comparable to the pizazz of the movie premieres, the channel launched its logo and tagline through a big reveal on a billboard with Spider-Man in Mumbai, activated by 10,000 tweets from English movies buffs. Their impressive line-up of movies was also shown as part of the launch, enticing fans with new releases such as Spider-Man: Homecoming, Baby Driver, Blade Runner 2049, The Dark Tower, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Life.

“Edgar Wright is my favourite writer and director. I got interested in film-making because of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the dead. I love his unique style of storytelling, especially in his latest movie Baby Driver.”

— Siddhant, 26

Indeed, movies can inspire us to ‘leap forth’ in our lives. They give us an out-of-this-world experience by showing us fantasy worlds full of magic and wonder, while being relatable through stories of love, kindness and courage. These movies help us escape the sameness of our everyday lives; expanding our imagination and inspiring us in different ways. The movie world is a window to a universe that is full of people’s imaginations and dreams. It’s vast, vivid and populated with space creatures, superheroes, dragons, mutants and artificial intelligence – making us root for the impossible. Speaking of which, the American science fiction blockbuster, Ghost in the Shell will be premiering on the 24th of June at 1:00 P.M. and 9:00 P.M, only on &flix.

“I relate a lot to Peter Parker. I identified with his shy, dorky nature as well as his loyalty towards his friends. With great power, comes great responsibility is a killer line, one that I would remember for life. Of all the superheroes, I will always root for Spiderman”

— Apoorv, 21

There are a whole lot of movies between the ones that leave a lasting impression and ones that take us through an exhilarating two-hour-long ride. This wide range of movies is available on &flix. The channel’s extensive movie library includes over 450 great titles bringing one hit movie premiere every week. To get a taste of the exciting movies available on &flix, watch the video below:

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of &flix and not by the Scroll editorial team.