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News > World

Sportsfield as Battleground: The Hypernationalist Aspect of Cricket

  • Indian cricket team fans before India and Pakistan match in England during the 2019 Cricket World Cup.

    Indian cricket team fans before India and Pakistan match in England during the 2019 Cricket World Cup. | Photo: Reuters

Published 25 June 2019

Cricket has witnessed an increasing hyper-nationalistic jingoism especially during matches between rivals, India and Pakistan.

The 12th edition of Cricket World Cup is underway in the United Kingdom and along with it a parade of hyper-nationalism. 


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Cricket has been historically linked with nationalism, be it Caribbeans using cricket to fight explicit racism against the colonial powers it played, or Indians playing the game to throw off the shackles of British colonialism.

In recent times, however, the sport, for India and Pakistan, has taken on increasing belligerent tones that reflect the growing tensions between the two Asian nations. 

A casual google search on hyper-nationalism in cricket will quickly lead the researcher to a war of words between fans of India and Pakistan. In some occasions, ministers chime into the rhetoric. Losing to each other means national shame, especially after an escalating tension between the two countries in the last few months.  

In February, an attack on Indian armed forces in the Occupied Kashmir region killed more than 40 military personnel, which led to frequent border skirmishes. In one operation, an Indian plane was brought down by the Pakistani military when it encroached on its airspace. Wounded Indian pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman was taken in by Pakistan and later released as a sign of peace. 

During the India vs. Pakistan match June 16, many netizens hailed India’s victory as the victory of Abhinandan. 

During the match, one of India's cricketers also sported an 'Abhinandan' mustache, the style of mustache sported by the downed Indian pilot that became so famous after his detention that a member of India's Parliament called for the particular facial coiffeur to be made a “national mustache.”

“Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman should be awarded and his mustache should be made ‘national mustache,’ ” said Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, leader of the Indian National Congress party Monday.

Similarly, from Pakistan’s side, an advertisement just before the match sporting a Abhinandan look-alike to make fun of the Indian team wasn't well received by Indian audiences.

Veteran Indian player, Mahendra Sign Dhoni, went as far as to sport an army logo during world cup matches, he says are in honor to dead Indian army personnel. His move was criticized by rationalists in the country as well as the International Cricket Council (ICC). 

"The regulations for ICC events do not permit any individual message or logo to be displayed on any items of clothing or equipment," a statement by the ICC read.

Some army officers also reacted against the usage of the army insignia. 

“Such insignias have a very deep meaning and the sentiments of the regiment are connected with it, the battle that they fought, the sacrifices they made to come up to this expectation. So personally I feel that using the army’s insignia in personal attire is not good,” said a retired Indian army colonel. 

After India won the match, the nation's minister of home affairs called the victory a "strike,” making implicit referrence to the "surgical strike" the Indian army made when they bombed Paksitan earlier this year. 

Kamal Akram, a former Pakistani cricketer even urged his country's prime minister, a former cricket player, to take "ruthless" actions against the current team for the June 16 loss.

"I request Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is also a Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) patron, to start ruthless accountability on all those who inflicted huge damages on Pakistan cricket. They must face the music," stated the once-player.

Shireen Mazari, the Minister for Human Rights of Pakistan slammed the team on Twitter calling his team's captain a “yawning captain” for supposedly yawning too much on the playing field June 16.

Pakistani Captain Sarfaraz Ahmed's yawning during the match became an instant favorite for meme makers from both sides of the border. He was also heavily criticized for hanging out at a hookah bar with fellow teammate, Shoaib Malik and his Indian tennis player wife Sania Mirza the night before the game. 

Pakistani fans also started blaming Mirza for their loss as she took the men out and wasn't doing her wifely duty to attend to her husband. Netizens from both India and Pakistan started trolling Mirza online, accusing her of being an Indian agent for allegedly making her husband and his teammates tired before the match. 

The Indian tennis player left her social media accounts after constant trolling. 

This type of aggressive behavior is not new and it goes beyond India-Pakistan rivalry.

In 2018, Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli asked a fan to leave the country and questioned his nationalism because the fan criticized Indian players on Twitter. 

“Over-rated batsman and personally I see nothing special in his batting. I enjoy watching English and Australian batsmen more than these Indians,” the Indian fan tweeted. 

Kohli retorted: “Okay, I don’t think you should live in India then...you should go and live somewhere else no. Why are you living in our country and loving other countries? I don’t mind you not liking me but I don’t think you should live in our country and like other things. Get your priorities right.”

Many have come forward criticizing this approach to the game by fans, ministers, and players alike, but one fears that in these times of rising right-wing nationalistic politics in Indian and many countries, cricket and its team members will not be spared any time soon. Rather, the war-like rhetoric is increasingly embedded in the game.

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