My lack of exposure to “American” sports while growing up is never more apparent than when I’m at work. I’m surrounded by hardcore football, baseball, and basketball fans. Now, to be clear, I’m a sports fan. I no longer call it “American football”, and have had my heart broken by the Bears offensive line time and time again. I’ve cheered on the Bulls since I was a kid (D. Rose for MVP!). But my sports of choice have always been, and always will be, soccer and cricket. Not a selection many people are in to around here, especially the latter. (Just so we’re clear, I can’t play either sport, but I am one talented spectator.)
So, you can imagine the disconnect that’s going on right now between me and my coworkers. They’re all about their brackets for March Madness, while I’m streaming the Cricket World Cup on my computer. While I can’t understand why anyone would care this passionately about teams from schools that they didn’t even go to, they don’t get how I could watch anything that lasts eight hours. I admit, cricket is not exactly as “sexy” as basketball. And yes, there are drink breaks, and people used to play in sweater vests. But there’s a whole history there you’re missing out on when these teams meet on the field.
The rivalry between some of these teams hold a heavier political and emotional weight than any regional bracket. For some, they’re playing their former colonizers. For others, it is another part of a long lasting regional rivalry that has resulted in multiple wars. This is a game a nation’s hopes and dreams get pinned on. So, while I was bummed that Pittsburgh’s elimination sent my bracket into a tailspin, I was more looking forward to arguably the most anticipated match in the entire world cup: Pakistan vs. India. It was a semifinal that pitted me against members of my extended family and close friends, and, in case you were wondering, I was looking to Pakistan for the win. And that’s what a sport like this does, it makes you passionate about it because not only is the cup on the line, but so is your national pride.
So, when Pakistan lost on Wednesday, I wasn’t the only one who felt the pain. More than 180 million people were stunned as our boys walked away from the field for the very last time in this tournament. And yet, all of us, still had something to be proud about. Our country, a perpetual loser in the PR war, held its head high because of these young men. Pakistan is known to the world as a dangerous, unstable country ready to go off at any moment. With corruption scandals, political and ethnic violence, the rest of the world does not want to know much more about us. But our team, despite some of those dropped catches, gave us reason to rejoice over a month and a half. And most importantly, gave us reason to rejoice together. These boys made us proud as they played with pride on the fields of our neighbors. They raised the Pakistani flag high across the subcontinent, and we all sang along when our national anthem played at Mohali. We couldn’t have done that without them. They have given every curbside kid and aging grandparent from Karachi to Peshawar a reason to unite. Has your college basketball team ever done that for you?
So for those who still question the validity of cricket as a world sport, just know that whoever lifts that cup on April 2nd can actually call themselves a world champion, unlike anyone who has ever won a “world series”. If you won a world series, you, at most, played a Canadian team. You’re not fooling anyone. At least my tournament is relevant to a billion plus people. So, if you saw me yelling at my computer screen on Wednesday morning and were wondering what the hell was going on, just know that I’m as much of a sports fan as you. The only difference is I like to break for tea.
You think cricket isn’t sexy? The Express Tribunes Blogs version of this article.