First, a brief recapitulation of the facts: Pakistan lost to India in the now-ended T20 World Cup, sending Indians into paroxysms of ecstasy and Kashmiris into an inversely proportional state of gloom. Which doldrums the West Indies helped much to rescue them from. And that led to fracas between Kashmiris in India as well as at NIT in Srinagar, with Indian students going on a rampage. Cricket, clearly, is simply not just a game.
‘What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?’ asked the wonderful cricket historian and writer from Trinidad, CLR James in his seminal book, ‘Beyond a Boundary’, written in 1963. What he meant by that question is that cricket simply isn’t a sport, nor even a colonial game transposed onto the natives, but also a riposte to the colonialists. That, simply, the game had accrued enough meanings – from race, class, imperialism, issues of agency – to become something that expressed myriad meanings. Cricket, suggested James, was now, while being a remembrance of colonialism, also an instrument of power, political ideology and social transformation. James was, of course, talking about slavery, the Caribbean, and the immense agency the rise of the West Indies against former white colonisers meant. But for us, in our corner of geographical Central Asia, yoked by violence to the southern part, but also immersed in the game, it has its own, though similar, connotations.
In terms of national identity, Kashmiris reject India every time India plays anyone else. That is, in sum, an expression of anti-colonialism as potent as that famous quote of Viv Richards, speaking of the extraordinary run the Windies had roughly between 1980 and 1995: “My bat was my sword.” The famous October 1983 match between the West Indies and India at Srinagar, where much of India, for the first time, seemed to realise that Kashmiris were, well, something else other than tame shikarawallahs and ponywallahs bent on the amusement of Indians in their land of paradisiacal nationhood, was a risible start. A few people who played a part in that also later became militant commanders, expressing opposition through guns rather than hoarse screams every time an Indian wicket fell. Sport, politics and militancy never had a clearer linkage. And it would be foolish to negate that now, or at any other time as long as dispossession and colonial regimes collide. Sure, the better team almost always wins. But do remember: as long as political issues remain unresolved, they will spill over onto, for want of something more, sport.