A Case of Hit and Run

By Tharoor, Shashi | Newsweek International, February 24, 2003 | Go to article overview

A Case of Hit and Run


Tharoor, Shashi, Newsweek International


A Pakistani friend in New York sent me an unusual invitation for the second Sunday of February. It seems that one expatriate or another was hosting a World Cup party at his home on Long Island, marking the start of the six-week World Cup of Cricket in South Africa. There would be food and drink and, thanks to satellite TV, images of the inaugural game, being played thousands of miles away at what has been billed as Africa's biggest sporting event ever. Would I like to come?

Of course. The party would be attended by a raucous collection of Indians and Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Brits, Australians and Zimbabweans. Yet while it was taking place in America, no Americans would be there--not because of any ethnic or national discrimination or Iraq war pique. No, call it willful ignorance. Americans have about as much use for cricket as Eskimos for sun hats.

If ever America gets around to deciding on an official national sport, you can be pretty sure it won't be cricket. Most Americans appear to believe that the term applies to either a noisy insect or a brand of cigarette lighter. So the fact that elsewhere in the civilized world grown men dress up like poor relations of the Great Gatsby and venture hopefully into the drizzle clutching their bats invariably mystifies my American friends. And the notion that anyone would watch a game that could take five days and still not ensure a result provokes widespread disbelief. "You mean people actually pay to watch this?" exclaimed one American I tried to interest in the game. "It's about as exciting as watching paint dry!"

I sighed, much as a chess player might when encountering someone who considers checkers to be the best board game there is. Ever since Abner Doubleday, in the mid-19th century, introduced a simplified version of the elemental sport in which bat contends with ball, Americans have been lost to the more refined challenges--and pleasures--of cricket. Baseball is to cricket as simple addition is to calculus. The basic idea may be the same, but the former is easier, quicker, more straightforward--and requires a much shorter attention span.

In a concession to the pace of life in our increasingly Americanized world, one-day cricket was born in the 1970s. Yet while the World Cup features one-day games rather than five-day "test matches," that hasn't made it any more popular in the United States. To be a cricket fan in America while the World Cup is going on is akin to being a wine enthusiast marooned at a tee-totalers' convention the day the Beaujolais Nouveau is uncorked. …

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