Cricket is said to be a gentleman’s game. When you win, you are supposed to applaud the loser—despite our distortion these days of the “hurrah” moment. But our media behaved badly during the latest defeat of the Pakistan Twenty20 World Cup squad by India on March 19.
We thought Shahid Afridi was the best man to lead our side. We turned on him when our team was routed by Bangladesh in the Asia Cup that preceded the World Cup in India. But when the team rallied in the World Cup by posting a big total and defeating Bangladesh, Afridi, who performed as an all-rounder, was back in favor. Alas, that moment was brief. His team “dishonored” his not-so-steadfast fans by getting defeated by India again.
A TV anchor was however harsh beyond decency. During his “opinion” windup, he scolded Afridi for praising his Indian counterpart, M. S. Dhoni; and, more unforgivably, for putting his hand affectionately on Dhoni’s shoulder. A sportsman’s chivalry of acknowledging the skill of his opponent was sacrificed at the altar of nationalism.
The day following the defeat at Eden Gardens, Kolkata, the floodgates of thinly veiled invective opened against the defeated skipper. Instead of advising the media against extremist reaction, the Pakistan Cricket Board announced that Afridi would no longer be captain after the World Cup. No one realized that the World Cup was still on and Pakistan had still two matches to go before slouching out of the contest.
More forgivably, Imran Khan—who was invited to Kolkata to receive a bouquet from the chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, along with some other cricket greats from the subcontinent—should have said, “May the best team win” in the one token sentence allowed him; but he ended up saying something that meant, “May Pakistan win.” No one from the Indian greats said “May India win.”
As the two teams lined up for action, as if in retribution, nature made our visibly shaken singer Shafqat Amanat Ali fluff the lines of our national anthem, contrasting Amitabh Bachchan’s perfect rendition of “Jana Gana Mana.” Becoming extreme in victory is pardonable but becoming extreme in defeat is masochism.