By Asha'ar Rehman
Perhaps you have also been not lucky enough to miss that ugly altercation between two famous cricket stars of ours, both former Test captains in fact. The argument took place during a television programme, where most of our severest conflicts take place these days, with few if any signs of resolution. In the way we have been trained to view it, these two men appear to represent two very different courses of reaching the high pedestal of fame.
This can be considered a very relevant example since very few can come close to matching the popularity the cricketers here enjoy. They are the perfect stereotypes to carry this story forward.
One party to the live televised show is the modern protagonist. He is the well-educated and well-heeled gentleman who went to better schools in Lahore. He then followed his ‘sufi’ and much-loved and truly enigmatic — bearded in a different sort of way — brother into the national side. He was destined, so to speak, to captain the under-19 team and modelled himself initially on the upright and infallible Majid Khan. After a career as a national cricketer, a selector and a senior cricket board official, he is now one of the few Pakistanis who are on the panel commentators, and regularly covers games all over the world.
Who was the better player of the two? The underdog or the more privileged gent?
His competitor in the shouting match comes from a totally different background. He was born in a far less affluent Lahore, and as a member of a minority faith, stumbled along until he was reportedly noticed by the great Zaheer Abbas. The young man was picked up and went on to be recognised as one of the batting artists this country has produced along with his mentor, Zaheer.
He was in time exposed to the religious sentiment in the dressing room courtesy the Tableeghi Jamaat. Converting to Islam later, he gradually emerged as one of the few prominent members of the group of cricketers born again as social reformers. The members of this group placed their faith in a most rigorous promotion of religious practices as a solution to the materialism they found the world afflicted with.
Thus it is something like this: there is one Pakistani who travels around the globe and who must have been subjected to all the criticism and quite frequently condemnation of his countrymen who do not by any stretch enjoy an impeccable reputation internationally. Facing him is a Pakistani confident that his is the best system over all others.
On this particular occasion, these two sides representing — or seeking to represent — two very different sets of Pakistanis came face to face over Muhammad Amir: should the still young and promising fast bowler be allowed to be back in the national squad after serving a five-year sentence for spot-fixing?
The issue had been complicated by the refusal of two other captains of the national side, both current players, to play alongside Amir. These two had tried to occupy the high moral ground of the well-educated and well-groomed against the more lenient view which the tableeghi cricketer now sat down to defend.
He drew desperate attempts from his ‘rival’. This was a rival who, typically, could have perhaps been saved the embarrassment with some presence of mind upfront and who was now being subjected to the strongest of attacks on his cricketing contribution even prowess.
This was a good enough opportunity to engage genuine cricket connoisseurs of whom this country really has a constant supply. Who was the better player of the two? The underdog or the more privileged gent who had his elder brother illuminating the path for him? If the underdog seemed to at least be a better entertainer, how then were we to overcome our own reservations about the flaunting and mixing of religion and sport?
It is indeed a revealing case for those whose beliefs leave them with no other options but to hope for reconciliation between the two strands displayed so efficiently in this television clip by these two players. This belief is sustained by the original idea that neither of the two images can be annihilated to the permanent supremacy of one over the other. There may be moments where one of these, for whatever criticism it may draw from you and me, will appear to have got the better of the other but this other will surely return to resume the battle, leaving the bystanders bemused, baffled or frightened depending on an individual’s understanding of the situation.
It was quite apt that the televised duel at one place has a participant mentioning Wasim Akram’s name as the final arbiter to clinch the argument in his own favour. Wasim is one person who is thought to have seen both these worlds during and even before his cricketing years. He has courted controversy, has been accused of cheating and has been able to find his way to settlement and rehabilitation each time he was in trouble. He did it with a smile and without any visible, public resort to morals. It’s been said many times that he may be one survivor of the pulls from various sides wanting to make a better person of everyone around.
The experiment, in the meanwhile, must continue for other acceptable versions born of the fusion. There must be others that can truly be described as having resulted from the various influences out there, instead of one having been created in isolation of the other. One thing is for sure that an interaction between the two is necessary to enable the debate which is for now caught by and large in an unending and vicious web of name calling and ridiculing of the other by each of us.
Enabling interaction between the two disparate Pakistanis can be as big a resolution for the year 2016 as any.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
Dawn, January 1, 2016