New Internationalist

Down… but not out

cricket wicket

Photo by Chris Schmich under a CC Licence.

I enjoy cricket a lot and have been following the ongoing cricket World Cup with keen interest. I have, however, noticed something interesting: the democracy in cricket is amazing. If you were to compare it with other sports like soccer, you might be forgiven for likening soccer to rogue states such as Zimbabwe and Libya. I am beginning to develop an interesting theory: cricket can be used as the barometer of a country’s democratic principles. It is a pity that more nations do not partake in ‘the gentleman’s game’.

One has to wonder at the extent to which democracy is pushed in cricket. To begin with, the bowling team screams loudly if they want a decision to go their way; in a number of cases I have witnessed the umpire being influenced by these screams. And when the umpire has made a decision, the batsmen can dispute it and ask for a review by the TV umpire. I’ve seen the umpire’s call being overturned in a number of leg before wicket decisions. Now, that’s what I call democracy! Some of us, in countries like Zimbabwe, have learnt not to question what we are told. My friends think I am troublesome merely because I refuse to leave my bag at a parcel counter that has a big sign that boldly reads – PARCELS LEFT AT OWNER’S RISK!

Is it reasonable to claim that the way a country plays its cricket reflects the democratic principles of that country? The leading cricket-playing nations (Australia, South Africa, India, Sri Lanka) have for the main fairly good democracies – though some might question if Sri Lanka is really democratic. Some might also question South Africa: certainly there is rampant crime and corruption in South Africa, but these crimes are committed by individuals and the government is fighting hard to stop it.

The general decline of cricket always follows the general decline of the country’s politics and economy. Whilst this is specially so for cricket, it also applies to other team sports. So sport can effectively be used to measure a country’s democratic principles. I have a friend who is of the opinion that sport should be used as the modern-day method of war instead of using guns, bombs and supersonic aeroplanes.

The collapse of cricket in Zimbabwe was an indication of bigger problems. The country became the world’s fastest-declining economy. More than a million of its citizens are currently scattered around the world, having fled economic decline and human rights abuses. Some 5,000, mostly white-owned, commercial farms were confiscated and given to loyalist supporters of President Robert Mugabe in government, the judiciary and armed forces.

The crisis surfaced during the 2003 World Cup. Henry Olonga, Zimbabwe’s first black cricketer, and his white colleague Andy Flower, the country’s best ever batsman who is now the coach of the English national cricket team, took to the field in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, wearing black armbands to ‘to mourn the death of democracy in our beloved country’.

A board member of Zimbabwe Cricket asked why President Mugabe was Zimbabwe Cricket’s patron. He was told that if he knew what was good for his health, he would desist from asking such questions.

Cricket has got so much innate democracy: there is a bowling coach, a batting coach and team selection committee, which leaves you wondering what the coach actually does.

Our own country has got a president with a very long title: Head of State and Government and Commander in Chief of the Defence Forces. The late Politburo member of ZanuPF, Edison Zvobgo, as quoted in Judith Todd’s Through the Darkness: A life in Zimbabwe, sums it up well:

President Mugabe kept shifting Zvobgo from ministry to ministry in a seemingly vain attempt to dim his brilliance. At that time, Zvobgo was at the helm of a rapidly expanding Ministry of Political Affairs.

‘Ah, yes,’ said the minister, and began addressing the startled high commissioner (Pakistan’s Rafat Mahdi) and me on the subject of President Mugabe – whom he never mentioned by name – as if we were a crowd at a political rally. As his voice increased in volume and rose in pitch, so a lot of people suspended their eating and turned to our table to enjoy Zvobgo’s declamation.

‘You think, Judy, that there must be rules and regulations to do with creating and financing ministries. But he doesn’t agree with you. In fact, if he wants to, he has the power to create any ministry he jolly well feels like, even… even…’ Zvobgo paused while he obviously tried to think of something totally absurd, then finished, ‘...even the ministry of astronauts in outer space! So there!’

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