Illustration by Radia Durrani
Illustration by Radia Durrani

As in the West Indies, the game came to the sub-continent along with colonial rule, spread via soldiers and sailors. The first Indians to take to the game were the Parsis of Bombay. Descended from Persian Zorastrians, the Parsis — so often the bridge between colonials and the natives — were a small, educated, prosperous, and Westernised community which took enthusiastically to the game.

[Historian Prashant] Kidambi points out [in Cricket Country: An Indian Odyssey in the Age of Empire] that the passion for cricket among the Parsis was part of a significant transformation within the community in the late 19th century. At the heart of this transition was a distinctive project of self-fashioning on the part of the Parsi community, particularly in Bombay, that saw them express their ‘Britishness’ in a range of everyday practices.

Similarly, the Parsis had also been the pioneers of South Asian theatre and cinema. [Historian Ramachandra] Guha reports that at least thirty Parsi clubs were formed in the 1850s and 1860s. The Hindus started playing cricket “in a spirit of competitive communalism, for in Bombay they had longstanding social and business rivalry with the Parsis” and by 1866 ‘Bombay Union’, the first Hindu club, was established. Muslim suspicions over British influences, most notably highlighted in their refusal to adopt western education, meant that it would take another 20 years for a Muslim cricket club to be established in 1883.

This spread of cricket from the British to the wider Indian society comprising ethno-religious communities was, according to [sociologists Jason] Kaufmann and [Orlando] Patterson, the reason for its subsequent popularity and later mass appeal. They identify three mechanisms for the success of cricket in the Subcontinent.

It is often said that cricket unites Pakistan like nothing else does. But could the changing contours of the way the sport is played also reflect the divisions in and changing trends of Pakistani society — in politics, culture, demographics, religiosity and international relations? On the occasion of Pakistan’s Independence Day, Eos exclusively presents excerpts from OUP’s recently published Cricket in Pakistan: Nation, Identity and Politics

Firstly, the colonial elites encouraged their indigenous elite subjects to play the game as a way of “civilising the native” in their own image and strengthening the empire. As [anthropologist Arjun] Appadurai states: “On the whole, from about 1870 to 1930, in the high period of the Raj, there is no doubt that for Indians to play cricket was to experiment with the mysteries of the English upper class life.”

Secondly, the indigenous elites who took on the game and patronised it, emulated their colonial masters by also gradually involving their own upper-middle and lower middle rungs of society in the game. The very rigid social hierarchy in the Subcontinent, according to Kaufmann and Patterson, helped in popularising the game amongst the locals. This stands in contrast to the social environment in Canada and the United States, where the vision of a more egalitarian society saw the elite separate themselves (and cricket) from the wider society.

Finally, the rigidity of the social system in the Subcontinent, with opportunities for upward mobility so constrained, meant that cricket [in the words of sociologist Domonic Malcolm] “provided those of the lower castes some means of symbolic competence — that is, by competing against those of other castes, races and classes, low caste cricketers could assert themselves in ways not permitted in ordinary society.”

Initial matches against the ‘Europeans’ — as they were known — were so one-sided that they were billed ‘Natives with Bats versus Officers with Umbrellas.’ But by 1912, a quadrangular involving Europeans, Hindus, Parsis, and Muslims had been established and crowds upward of tens of thousands would congregate to support their teams in Bombay.

Changing mores: Sadiq Muhammed and skipper Mushtaq Muhammed celebrate Pakistan’s series-levelling victory against Australia in 1976 with half-pints of beer | Dawn file photo
Changing mores: Sadiq Muhammed and skipper Mushtaq Muhammed celebrate Pakistan’s series-levelling victory against Australia in 1976 with half-pints of beer | Dawn file photo

In 1937, a fifth team amalgamating the myriad other communities in the Subcontinent was added under the rubric ‘The Rest’ to put in place the ‘Pentangular.’ The tournament ran until 1946 and played an important role in the early development of cricket in the Subcontinent.

Guha talks of deserted streets during the Pentangular, tickets selling in black with every inch of space being occupied in the stadium. There was a “frenzy of activity” as the city came to a standstill. Success spawned further success as similar tournaments sprung up in Karachi in 1916, in Delhi in 1937, and in Lahore, where the large Sikh population saw them field a team against Hindus and Muslims.

... [T]he indigenous elites who took on the game and patronised it, emulated their colonial masters by also gradually involving their own upper-middle and lower middle rungs of society in the game.

The fact that the Parsi community had taken to cricket so enthusiastically also meant that Karachi, like Bombay — which is another port city with a sizeable Parsi community — had a well-established cricketing set-up leading up to Partition. The quadrangular tournament in Karachi involving Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, and Europeans was particularly well-organised, producing both players and administrators.

Moreover, the presence of wealthy Parsi, Hindu, and Bohra merchants also meant that there was ample patronage for the game in the city. Lahore, in contrast, while an important centre for cricket in Northern India, saw its importance grow more significantly post-Partition. The early importance of Lahore and Karachi prior to 1947 meant that after Partition, cricket was initially confined in its outreach.

As pointed out [by Charles Little and Chris Valiotis in ‘Cricket in Pakistan’, in Sports Around the World: History, Culture, and Practice], in the immediate post-Partition period there was little opportunity for dissemination of cricket in Pakistan:

“The game was largely the preserve of the wealthy elite, belonging to the network of college alumni steeped in the traditions of British education, language, and culture. Cricket in the 1950s has been described as a ‘social outing’ for the college and university alumni of both Lahore and Karachi, who often attended matches ‘to be seen’ and to mix with each other. Few players from lower to lower-middle class backgrounds had the opportunity to play first class cricket, and the sport only had limited popular following.”

In its formative years in Pakistan, cricket was almost exclusively a middle class sport. Even in the major urban centres of Lahore and Karachi, cricket was played by the middle classes and had not spread to the urban poor. It was unknown amongst the rural peasantry, nor (with a handful of exceptions) was it taken up by the aristocracy and the land-owning class.

In fact, unlike the original game whose roots are found in rural England, the South Asian variant was initially a firmly urban phenomenon. Part of this also reflects the early importance of schools, universities and clubs in the absence of a first class set-up for cricket, which was not established until 1953 — a year after Pakistan played its first official international match. In fact, Lahore’s growing importance as a centre for cricket was built upon the contribution of two publicly funded universities in particular: Government College and Islamia College — and, to a lesser extent, Aitchison College.

[As Chris Valiotis writes in ‘Cricket in a ‘nation imperfectly imagined’: identity and tradition in postcolonial Pakistan’, in Cricket and National Identity in the Post Colonial Age:]

“Lahore had a vigorous collegiate system, modelled on the educational institutions of Britain. Three of its colleges, Aitchison, Government and Islamia, promoted the disciplinarian approach to cricket and other sports inherited from British muscular Christian educators.”

“Cricket in the 1950s has been described as a ‘social outing’ for the college and university alumni of both Lahore and Karachi, who often attended matches ‘to be seen’ and to mix with each other. Few players from lower to lower-middle class backgrounds had the opportunity to play first class cricket, and the sport only had limited popular following.”

The rivalry between Government and Islamia was instrumental in moulding some of the greatest players of the early years of Pakistan cricket. Lahore’s open spaces and parks — especially the areas of Minto and Zaman Parks — were also more conducive to the growth of clubs in the city and both club cricket and the collegiate variety would attract intense rivalries and large crowds.

When Pakistan won its first Test match against England in 1954, 10 of the 18 players in the squad were from either Government College or Islamia College [points out cricket writer Osman Samiuddin in The Unquiet Ones: A History of Pakistan Cricket].

Karachi, in contrast, with an absence of grounds and a massive influx of refugees from India, struggled to maintain its early cricketing ascendancy. Regardless, Karachi fell back on a highly competitive school tournament, a legacy from its pre-Partition days. Samiuddin quotes the Pakistani cricket journalist Qamar Ahmed as saying: “When Pakistan went to India on their first tour and won a Test Match so soon, it was because of the breeding ground of schools, universities and clubs.”

With television displacing radio as the medium for coverage in the 1970s, cricketers gained celebrity. 
The Pakistan cricket team in Karachi for the 1976 Test against New Zealand comprised of global superstars. From left: Majid Khan, Zaheer Abbas, Mushtaq Mohammed, Asif Iqbal and Intikhab Alam; Standing from left: Haroon Rashid, Shahid Israr, Imran Khan, Sarfraz Nawaz, Sikandar Bakht, Javed Miandad, Mohsin Khan and Sadiq Mohammed | Twitter
With television displacing radio as the medium for coverage in the 1970s, cricketers gained celebrity. The Pakistan cricket team in Karachi for the 1976 Test against New Zealand comprised of global superstars. From left: Majid Khan, Zaheer Abbas, Mushtaq Mohammed, Asif Iqbal and Intikhab Alam; Standing from left: Haroon Rashid, Shahid Israr, Imran Khan, Sarfraz Nawaz, Sikandar Bakht, Javed Miandad, Mohsin Khan and Sadiq Mohammed | Twitter

The First Expansion

The nascent domestic system that had been in place since 1953 saw a significant change in late 1958. This modification had a significant impact on initiating the spread of the game beyond the middle class pool of the urban centres of Lahore and Karachi. The impetus though, was political.

At Partition, the eastern wing of Pakistan was not only more populous than the western wing, it was also more linguistically and culturally homogenous. In order to “safeguard the centre from a populist Bengali challenge” [in the words of historian Ian Talbott], Operation One Unit was enforced in October 1955, leading to the amalgamation of the four diverse provinces of West Pakistan into one unit. Now West Pakistan would be one, not four, disparities, to combat one East Pakistan.

In cricketing terms, the dissolution of the provinces saw cities and divisions stepping in so that, by the early 1960s, teams from smaller centres such as Hyderabad, Sargodha, Multan, Khairpur, Peshawar and Quetta were playing first class cricket. The structural change would not have an immediate effect, as the smaller centres struggled to catch up with the established cricketing nurseries of Lahore and Karachi.

For the next two decades, the middle classes from Lahore and Karachi continued to dominate the national team and in as late as the 1976–77 tour of Australia and the West Indies, the Pakistan squad of 19 was made up of 11 players from Karachi and 8 players from Lahore.

[As Samiuddin writes:] “Of Pakistan’s 79 Test Cricketers until the start of the series against India (in 1978), 38 were born either in Lahore or Karachi (27 in Lahore, 11 in Karachi). Another 30 of the 79 were born in Pre-Partition India but moved to either of the two cities so that together the two produced 80% of the country’s Test cricketers till then.”

But the decentralisation that began with the One Unit policy meant that the seeds had been planted more widely and, by the 1980s, they began to produce a much more diverse pool of players.

However, political changes were not the only factor driving the spread of the game. By the late 1970s, the cricket team itself was beginning to meet with substantial success and several players achieved international repute. There were significant series-levelling victories against Australia in 1976–77 and, then, a watershed defeat of archrivals India in 1978–79. Pakistan reached the semi-finals of the Cricket World Cup in 1979, 1983 and 1987, before defeating England in the final of the 1992 competition.

Significantly, both the 1977 win in Australia and the subsequent series win against India in 1978–79 were relayed live on Pakistan Television (PTV). The initial popularisation of cricket via the media had, in fact, come primarily through radio coverage. Newspaper circulation was limited and, in a country that at the time had a literacy rate of 15 percent, the reach of the print media was severely reduced.

But from the mid 1950s, the spread of cheap transistor radios and radio broadcasts to both urban and rural markets was a significant step forward. And for Radio Pakistan, cricket was on the agenda early as it was seen as an instrument both of entertainment and nation building.

Interestingly, the perception of cricket being an ‘elite’ sport saw live TV and radio commentary confined to English, with only short summaries in Urdu. Despite this, the familiarity of the population with cricket did increase as more and more people became acquainted with the sport and its vocabulary. Urdu commentary, in fact, did not come to share the stage until 1978 when General Zia, recognising the populist appeal of the decision, insisted that 30 minutes of English commentary be followed by 30 minutes of Urdu.

It was, however, the advent of television — a medium that did not require proficiency in English or Urdu — that opened the floodgates and audiences “began to identify with the nation’s players irrespective of their ethnic and political affiliations” [in the words of Valiotis].

PTV began cricket broadcasting in the late 1960s and its initial attempts were limited and cautious. This was transformed in the 1970s under the vision of two brothers, Akhtar and Athar Viqar Azeem who joined PTV and revolutionised cricket coverage at a time when the team itself was becoming increasingly popular as well.

From Australia, the live transmission in 1977 was a first ever for PTV, which went on to relay the entire India series that followed. Television began to displace radio as the medium for coverage. Millions began tuning in — usually crowds of eight to 10 around a single screen, making it a deeply communal event. Cricketers such as Imran Khan, Majid Khan, Asif Iqbal, and Zaheer Abbas became superstars and money poured into the game. By 1986, a TV audience of one billion saw Javed Miandad hit a last ball six to defeat India in Sharjah.

Venues for watching live international cricket also expanded. During the 1978-79 tour by India, a first Test match was played in the industrial hub of Faisalabad. In the same year, a formidable West Indies team, World Champions at the time and brimming with superstars, toured Pakistan and played in the cricketing outposts of Sukkur, Sahiwal and Bahawalpur.

By 1987, Pakistan co-hosted a World Cup with India, with matches being played throughout Pakistan, including in Hyderabad, Gujranwala and Peshawar. Domestic matches were played at new venues in Multan, Sialkot and Sargodha. The game was spreading beyond the major cities and, within a decade, players began to emerge from these new grassroots.

The popularisation of cricket was clearly stimulated by the success of the national team and the developments in media and communication that coincided with that success. The rural and lower class urban communities, previously lacking exposure to the game, grew more in touch with cricket rules and customs once networks of communication expanded to include them.

Radio and television broadcasts of cricket into traditional community and market spaces were crucial factors behind the game’s dissemination. Cricket spread to areas in which it had never previously existed, where it discovered the ability to attract and unify people of all classes, ethnicities and religions.

In England, cricket’s popularity narrowed, particularly after the Second World War, as the working class turned increasingly to football. Cricket was displaced as the dominant national sport, receding in the national consciousness and losing recognition among the masses, its appeal concentrating in a narrow middle-class base.

In contrast, and as elsewhere on the Subcontinent, the three decades since 1980 witnessed an incredible expansion in the game, both socially and geographically. Suddenly the game was followed with a fervour and zeal that is commonly associated with the way Brazilians follow their football. Such was the level of cricket’s adoption in the subcontinent that it prompted [social theorist] Ashis Nandy to call cricket “an Indian game that was accidentally discovered by the British.”

The cricketers of the 1970s were a transformative generation, bringing about the success that the growth in the media and the geographical spread of the game was able to capitalise on. They were also products of specific political and social factors of that time period, which need to be taken account of if we are to understand the nature of the cricket team and the way they played the sport.

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The Culturally Liberal 1960s and 1970s

The 1960s and 1970s were socially and culturally ‘liberal’ decades. During this period, Pakistani cinema, for example, developed an urban focussed and modern narrative, which continued to flourish into the 1970s, when cinema reached its most prolific period.

Under a liberal censor regime during the Ayub Khan years (1958-1969), Pakistan made some of its most avant-garde films. Under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s first-ever elected civilian government, the censors were still more generous and, by 1974, Pakistan was making more than 100 films annually. Folk culture, poetry, singers, intellectuals and music were celebrated and a more pluralistic vision of Islam was emphasised.

Pakistan was an open and welcoming destination, attracting tourists and other distinguished western celebrities including Dizzy Gillespie (1956), Che Guevara (1959), Queen Elizabeth (1961), Jackie Kennedy (1962), and Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong (1970). The country even became an intermediate destination on the ‘Hippie Trail’ that stretched from Turkey, through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and into India. In Pakistan, the Sufi shrines were a popular destination for the traveling hippies as well as for middle class Pakistani youth who had begun to frequent them as well.

Tourism boomed, with Karachi airport becoming amongst the busiest in the region. Alcohol was widely available in urban centres and Karachi’s nightclubs openly advertised their latest “Dinner, Dance and Cabaret” promotions. Advertisements for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and various tobacco companies often highlighted women as independent and self-assured. Glamorous films stars’ posters adorned the streets of Lahore. Pakistan was a youthful, confident and optimistic nation. This middle-class, urban youth-driven liberal culture continued into the 1970s.

[In the words of writer Nadeem Farooq Paracha in Dawn,] “By the early 1970s, young men’s hair that had remained somewhat short till even the late 1960s, started to grow longer (along with thick side burns); and women’s kameez (shirts), grew shorter in length — all inspired by Hollywood films of the time, and Pakistani film artists such as Waheed Murad and Shabnam; and also by some famous Indian film stars (particularly Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz) whose films young Pakistanis watched by driving into Kabul (from North Pakistan).”

By the time it became an international force in the 1970s, the cricket team was dominated by glamorous and charismatic characters, many of whom spent their summers playing in England, where they were introduced to a westernised lifestyle, which several took a particular liking to.

Stories of late nights, nightclubs and alcohol regularly made the rounds and, yet, aided by the success of the team, these reports simply added to the allure of the players. More low-key members became greatly respected players for their English county teams. Pakistani cricketers were very much part of an international community of players and they regarded themselves as part of a professional international cadre. [Journalists Richard] Heller and [Peter] Oborne note [in White on Green]:

“It is worth adding that by joining English county cricket, Pakistan’s cricketers became part of a very strong community with a distinctive social life. They were never expected to violate their religious principles, but they were expected to ‘do their turn’ at the bar, and to accept drinkers, gamblers and womanisers as friends and colleagues.”

Unsurprisingly, at this point, the cricket team reflected the time — made up of young men from the major metropolitan centres of Lahore and Karachi, they exuded an educated, urbane and glamorous vibe on and off the field. It is therefore unsurprising that, for example, a celebratory photograph taken in 1976 shows a relaxed captain, Mushtaq Muhammed, enjoying a beer after winning a match in Karachi.

Another series of photographs, taken during the 1977 tour to the West Indies, shows three Pakistani cricketers in cowboy hats at a karaoke session. The headline, ‘Check de Pakistani Face-Man Dem’; and below, the colourful photographs with the question, “Are these movie stars? No … they are touring Pakistani cricketers.” Yet another has players dancing at a nightclub after a famous victory in the same series in 1977. This scenario would soon be unthinkable.

But in the 1970s, Pakistan had a team of superstars whose global reach, through their involvement in the English county circuit and the breakaway Australian World Series league, only increased their status. In fact, at this point, it was Pakistan and not India that had the ‘global’ cricketers. Fewer Indians played county cricket in England and none joined the World Series Cricket league.

This batch of cricketers was the first to fully represent this new country. Its predecessors were largely products of pre-Partition India. It was these superstars from the 1970s who were transformative in the way they changed the nature of Pakistan cricket.

Up until the late 1970s, South Asian teams had tended to avoid friction and confrontation with opponents, particularly England and Australia. Avoiding defeat was considered the achievement to be aspired to. Many of the cricketers of the 1950s and 1960s had been passive and were treated with disdain by their opponents. However, the cricketers of the 1970s were a different breed.

More regular international cricket, playing in the English county league, and being part of the breakaway Australian World Series Cricket league had given them international exposure and broken the sense of inferiority that stalked previous players. Driven by a group of liberated, strong-minded senior players, the Pakistan team was cocky and confident, willing to give as much as they got on the field.

This demand for equality irked the traditional powers in the game, particularly England and Australia, who found it difficult to accept that they were being challenged by a team of upstarts. These traits — aggressive, cocky, swaggering and brash — would characterise Pakistan cricket for decades to come and would set them apart from their South Asian counterparts of the time.

Like the cricketers, Pakistan at this time was a confident, youthful, hopeful and energetic country. It would remain so even though earlier changes (geographical spread of cricket) began to have an impact alongside current major social and political upheavals. The cumulative effect would bring a transformation in the nature of the team and the way they played cricket.

Excerpted with permission from Cricket in Pakistan:
Nation, Identity and Politics, published this year by Oxford University Press

The author is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Dean of the Mushtaq Ahmad Gurman School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences

Published in Dawn, EOS, August 14th, 2022

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