Believe it or not, the word most frequently heard in cricketing circles today is a perfectly normal English word – not chucking, sledging, googly, fine-leg or doosra. Racism has always been lurking around the fringes of the game – when unapologetically segregationist South Africa was kept away from cricket, several (mostly) white players from Australia and England would sneak in to play a game or two, lured by the money; risking lifetime bans. Each quaintly labeled rebel tour would inspire a few articles condemning apartheid, and (predictably enough) British newspapers would write muted articles about why things weren’t really that bad, and why people shouldn’t get their undergarments into intricate knots over a mere game.
Neighboring Zimbabwe had an all-white cricket team as well, but that didn’t raise too many eyebrows because the team hardly won anything, but mostly because they played for a country ruled by a benign black dictator.
But today, things have changed. The benign dictator is not so benign anymore, and of late, he has been maintaining a punishing schedule – creating food shortages in his country by taking away farms from white farmers. But Robert loves playing games, and he is going to make time for cricket, punishing schedule or not. And how well he plays. First, he cleanses his team of all white players – using other people of course, why would a powerful man get his hands dirty? – and then obviously pleased with how clean the team looked, he is now on another cleaning spree – this time to get rid of all the good players, especially the pesky ones that want to get paid for their services.
Several interesting strategies have been employed in this round, including but not limited to robbing players of their money, death threats, divide and conquer. Meanwhile, the standard of cricket has dipped alarmingly in the country, and most games involving them bear a more than passing resemblance to games involving the Atlanta Hawks. But Mugabe doesn’t know that because he has no time for the NBA. Plus now his team is all black, and isn’t that good enough?
Meanwhile, events in Australia are ensuring that things stay balanced on the racism front. Crowds at cricket matches in Australia are always a bit more, um… boisterous than crowds elsewhere, possibly due to a lot of beer and not too many bathrooms on the grounds, but this year they’ve taken their bad behavior to new depths. People have learnt new words, and are not hesitant to try them out on visiting cricket teams.