Cricket is seen as a shared cultural manifestation of the society. The sport is not merely a form of entertainment. It encompasses discussions on politics, social (dis)order, cultural norms, class distinctions, and religion – a conduit for addressing the deep-seated tensions within our nation. It has evolved into a miniature of Pakistani society, encapsulating its political landscape, historical trajectory, cultural essence, and collective ambitions. Symbolizing the essence of contemporary existence—spanning from the vibrancy, dynamism, and creativity of a youthful nation, to the rising religiosity, corruption, and international relations. Pakistani cricket was all about vitality, freedom, and brilliance, yet it also exhibited elements of corruption, lack of discipline, disorderly and chaotic.

Cricket and Culture

The cultural tradition of cricket stands as the most accurate expression of Pakistan’s history, culture, societal dynamics, and economic structure. However, cricket, akin to other sports, operates as a vast industry worth billions of dollars, carrying extensive social and economic implications. Consequently, it possesses the capacity to construct and convey meaning, granting it the power to influence the cultural fabric of the society it is interwoven with. Sports defines cultures, propels economies, and moulds political landscapes.

Cricket and the Corporates

The corporate entities have millions riding on the games. In an effort to enhance their commercial interests, they engage sports celebrities as representatives for their products, thereby contributing to the marketability of both the sport and its prominent figures. This dynamic interaction between the sport and society can give rise to unique social interpretations that can be both shaped and unraveled. Is this an inevitable downside that accompanies the enthusiasm for the game?

The commercialization process made its way into cricket relatively late, beginning with the World Series Cricket in the late 1970s. Every sport requires financial resources for its sustenance and growth, thus making commercialization a necessary evil, and one that comes with its own drawbacks. However, it can be effectively harnessed to bolster the sport itself. Nevertheless, there are inherent risks associated with rapid commercialization, as evidenced by the match-fixing scandals that have impacted nations. This trend is increasingly noticeable with the attraction of lucrative T20 leagues conflicting with players’ national responsibilities.

In cricket, these issues are exacerbated due to the sport’s intrinsic moralistic ideology, which contradicts the practical realities of its engagement within the context capitalism in today’s political economy. The process of commercialization is undeniably reshaping cricket’s traditional values, replacing them with a new set of principles. This transformation, characterized by what anthropologist Arjun Appadurai refers to as the ‘transcendence of traditional cricketing norms and values,’ is marked by an increased emphasis on profit-making rather than upholding the ‘spirit of the game’ or prioritizing national concerns.

Globalization further contributes to the erosion of players’ national identities, rendering them captives to market forces. This phenomenon is most starkly exemplified in the practice of Twenty20 auctions, where players sold to the highest bidder. Subsequent lists are compiled, with players who have been successfully acquired along with their corresponding prices, alongside those who remain unsold.

Is Cricket the King?

Sports are an integral part of the collective imagination and popular culture. Their impact extends beyond the players. Cricket, in particular, has deeply ingrained itself in Pakistan’s national psyche from the country’s inception. Its influence was already firmly established even before the Partition. It’s not surprising that Ashis Nandy characterized it as an “Indian game accidentally discovered by the British.”

However, the widespread popularity of cricket across the Global South has inadvertently hindered the growth of other sports, which should have received more backing. Notably, Pakistan boasts a proud history in hockey and squash, yet the lack of attention towards these sports is a disservice to those who brought honour to the nation through their achievements in these realms. Despite cricket’s immense popularity, the sporting landscape of Pakistan demands substantial support beyond just cricket.

Pakistan – A Black Spot

The tragic event involving the attack on the Sri Lankan team isolated Pakistan within the cricketing circuit. It has been a feat rising above and beyond. Transcending that black spot to change the narrative tied to Pakistan’s security concerns has not been easy. It is heartening to know that the first team to return to Pakistan for a test match tour was Sri Lanka in 2019. The revival of cricket can be attributed to the collaborative endeavours of various institutions spanning a long duration. The Pakistan Cricket Board, multiple governments, the armed forces tasked with security, and undoubtedly, the ardent fans have all played a role in demonstrating Pakistan as a cricket-loving nation.

The Endless War – Pakistan vs India

Matches against India transcend mere sport; they represent a rivalry that encompasses leaders, nations, individuals, and much more. This rivalry generates a unique atmosphere that captivates everyone’s attention, drawing them into the spectacle of the game.

One wonders if there are any prospects for rekindling this elevated sense of enthusiasm and excitement. It stands as one of the most riveting sporting rivalries, but regrettably, the complex political situation between the two nations has deprived cricket enthusiasts on both sides of the border, as well as globally, of experiencing this distinctive encounter. The absence of matches on the field and the prevailing political discord have also started to reshape people’s perceptions, gradually shifting them from considering each other as fierce competitors to adversaries. This shift in mindset has the potential to impede the progress of the South Asian region and hinder the realization of its substantial potential, which is undoubtedly tragic.

Historically, we have witnessed extended interruptions in bilateral cricketing interactions, with the present hiatus being one of the lengthiest. However, these relationships have managed to rekindle in the past, proving their resilience. Let’s hope that both India and Pakistan can embark on a gradual path towards recalibrating their relations, yielding mutual benefits for both nations. A potential starting point could be organizing matches between the winners of the PSL and IPL tournaments. By taking small steps and committing to peace, prosperity, and our distinctive historical and cricketing bond, a foundation for positive change can be laid.

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Sara Danial is a content lead at an agency. A Pakistani writer/editor, born, raised, and survived in Karachi, she can usually be found musing about over a cup of coffee, or occasionally ranting.