Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Clash of civilisations

It would be hard to find a confrontation between two teams that were more different in culture, approach and style than the game tomorrow between England and Pakistan. The Pakistan team is now extremely bound up in its religious identity. Yousuf Youhana has converted, becoming Mohammed Yousuf, and even the only non-Muslim in the squad, the Hindu Danish Kaneria, liberally salts his conversation with inshallah. England, on the other hand, are a supreme reflection of a secular society, although significantly more appealing than their footballing counterparts.

Does any of this matter? It's true that series between the two sides have attracted more than their share of controversy, from ball-tampering to dodgy umpires (it is not Parliamentary language to refer to a member as a 'Pakistani Umpire'), but is there anything to read into it? Osam Samiuddin believes so.

Much of his piece is an unexceptional rehearsal of history, but one or two points caught my eye.

England's heroes have been plodding, but with innate goodness and uprightness of spirit - a Colin Cowdrey or a David Gower. Their villains have been pantomime - racist, colonialist and obnoxious like Mike Gatting and, of course, Ian Botham.

Now, there is no way that anyone with half an eye and a tenth of a brain could describe David Gower, the supreme elegant left hander as 'plodding'. Colin Cowdrey may have been a bit on the large side, but his strength as a cricketer was timing and technique. To describe either of these as plodding is ridiculous. John Edrich. Geoff Boycott. Mike Atherton maybe. These could be described as 'plodding', though not as heroes.

It's also extemely tendentious (not to mention defamatory) to casually dismiss Gatting and Botham as pantomime villains, and as being racist colonialists. In what possible way is Mike Gatting a colonialist? What point is being made here? That he seeks to dominate foreign cultures? That he is himself an empire? He's bigger than some of the former British colonies admittedly. The line against Gatting rests on one incident.

And how many captains have, like Mike Gatting, vigorously indulged in a finger-pointing slanging match with an umpire? Faisalabad, as Simon Barnes argues, revealed nothing more than an absolute refusal by an Englishman to bow to a Pakistani authority.

Alternatively, it involved an umpire so strictly neutral that he used to officiate wearing a Pakistan sweater accusing Gatting, quite unfairly as a 'fucking cheating cunt' as the opening shot. That's not authority, that's offence.

What, too, to make of reverse swing? Righteously condemned as an illegal concoction of bottle-tops and fingernails in 1992 when Wasim and Waqar were rampant, it is now an art form to be marvelled at. In 13 years, like an ex-con it has undergone a complete and successful rehabilitation. On the back of reclaiming the Ashes, it has become legit.

Pakistan bowlers were caught, on camera, altering the surface of the ball using their fingernails. Sarfraz Nawaz allegedly admitted to taking a bottle-top onto the field of play in order to do do this quicker. England's bowlers last summer relied on keeping one side shiny, and one side dry. No artificial help needed. I'd say read the whole thing, but ultimately there's little to recommend it unless you like cheap accusations of racism against individuals followed by cheaper accusations of racism against an entire country.


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