Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Bloody Great Game

To the long-suffering everywhere I apologise. To the lovers of good blogging and good poetry everywhere I apologise, but this is entirely another order of business (as Petain whispered about Verdun). Either I am getting old or I was previously too young, but with each infraction of common human decency I find myself first of all breathless at the fact that I could be so rendered, and secondly that there was any decency left to infract.

A common bind, I'm sure, even if you don't love cricket quite as hopelessly, as unconditionally, as tragically as I do.

Not that all the 1.5 billion residents of the subcontinent love cricket quite my way. Indeed, many village elders in MS Dhoni's own home state seem to regard cricket much as we Aussies regard internet porn in its deleterious effects upon their young. But, well, show me someone who hates the game, by which I mean the spirit of the game, and I'll be avoiding the gaze of a sociopath.

Hundreds of millions of people in the most unlikely corners of the world lavish as much devotion on the noble game as once was lavished on Gothic cathedrals. The ladders this time are purely spiritual, and yet all of a sudden it seems pitifully vain and naive that our sport would be regarded as somehow immune from the wall-eyed and caulked of spirit in our midst. As though the noble old game (unarguably old and noble though it is) could possibly be any more oft-regarded or noble than the ancient Olympian sports so preyed on at Munich 37 long years ago.

There are some surface commonalities between the attacks on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic games and last week's attack on a Sri Lankan cricket team on what amounted to a good-will two-Test tour (that's the kind of guys the Sri Lankan Test players are and always have been), however commentators who draw any parallels between the two events are either desperate for a bite or straining at the Fox's leash.

At Munich there were hostages, dialogue, something hard and fast to barter with (ie Palestianian "hostages", thousands of them, rotting in Israeli prisons, the sheer numbers suggesting perhaps they should have been treated as prisoners of war). Since the attack on the USS Cole, 9/11, etc there have been a few isolated cases of hostage-taking (with mostly horrific outcomes for the hapless), but none owned by any major terrorist group. They regard such tactics as passe, a waste of breath. Their war is global and their message universal (or so they believe), and a grudge older than Messina. Cricket and the billions who love her waft and wane, her humanity and theatre, is, much like the insect that bears her name, either a beautiful song or a maddening din depending on whether or not you are or ever have been truly in love.

No points for guessing who wore the balaclavas and pointed the guns in that Munich Olympic village. They hailed from dense urban environments where identity was not so easily concealed. They jeered their captors as only those who share a common heritage can. They were educated and tactically alert (as opposed to their German besiegers who displayed an ineptitude almost Wagnerian in the existential mud it brought to the surface). The gunmen who blasted away at the Sri Lankan cricket team this week also wore balaclavas, but as far as I can tell they had every opportunity to board the two buses but preferred to keep their distance and keep blasting. That they killed eight people is hardly surprising considering they blasted away for 25 minutes. No army in the world would pass such marksmanship, which is perhaps why they felt the need to form their own.

According to the Australian coach of the Sri Lankan team, Trevor Bayliss, the team proved their mettle as the bullets ripped their mini bus to shreds and all armed assistance seemed to melt away. It did not read either as one of those laconic quips Aussies tend to pass in moments of crisis, nor a needle thrust at the cold eye of global terror, rather a simple statement of fact.

For we who love the game know that it stands for dignity, poise, courage and respect. That, like life, it is not a game of two speeds, and that those who brand it, like life, boring are not so far from those terrorists who brand their own and our terrestrial stays the lesser of some undefined duality.