Cricket as a mirror of life

Posted on November 9, 2010 by

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Herschelle Gibbs at a training session at the ...

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At the time of writing, two stories, about two very different men, are dominating the international cricket media: Herschelle Gibbs autobiography and Zulqarnain Haider’s application for asylum in the UK. They are nicely summarised in the ever-excellent Andy Bull’s The Spin column of November 9. The common element between these two stories are that they are rooted in some of humanity’s deepest desires and reveal how such desires play out in the context of 21st century global culture.

Gibbs’ tale, insofar as pre-publication publicity directs us, centres on his appetite for women and, lest we forget, women’s appetite for him. One might analyse Gibbs’s behaviour as perfectly understandable – after all, young men with money and time on their hands have, whether married or not, often sought the company of women willing to indulge them in their desires. And, since the women of whom Gibbs write are of the age of consent and appear not to have been coerced nor pimped out, what’s the problem? Hasn’t one element of the long march of feminism been about a woman’s right to be sexual, however, and with whomever, they choose? As Gibbs writes, “Australian women, I can tell you, are not afraid to speak their minds and make it crystal-clear what they’re after, especially, as we found out, if you’re an international sportsman. There’s none of this, ‘Am I reading the signals correctly here?’ crap. Nope, the message is hand-delivered to you in capital letters.”

But one doesn’t need to be a prude to find Gibbs a distasteful character. Another element  of feminism has been about a woman’s right to be free of objectification, a person rather than a playground. Gibbs, without irony, refers to women as “chicks” and seems oblivious to the difference in power relations between young women and international sportsmen. He writes, “These girls were really up for it and, to be honest, I don’t know if they knew what was going on or not, but no one seemed to mind. You picked a girl up, took her upstairs to your room, and afterwards both of you would go back downstairs and you’d go and chat to someone else. It was a phenomenal night.” It might have been an idea to find out if the girls did or did not know what was going on, but that would take the thought and time that empathy demands – and all the evidence is that Herschelle doesn’t do empathy.

Gibbs probably did little beyond what many young men (and women) get up to at university or on a Club 18-30 type holiday or on a, yes, sports club tour, but in the age of 24 hour media, sporting role models and “Be like Mike” sponsorship deals, should he be held to higher standards? On duty, sure, but off duty? I’m not convinced I have the right to judge, but I know I shan’t be buying his book, nor would I look forward to a drink with Mr Gibbs.

Zulqarnain Haider’s tale revolves around man’s desire for money and power, though he is not the man lusting after those two false gods. At the time of writing, little is known for sure beyond his arrival in London and intention to seek asylum. Like Brutus in Julius Ceasar, he appears to be an honourable man ineluctably drawn into a web of conspiracy. Haider  joined a dressing room – indeed an entire cricket culture – too closely linked to dangerous men with power over cricketers and the will to use it. Whether the threats of which Haider has spoken are substantive, or even real, is not the point – threats would come sooner or later as the corrupters can always find a man’s weakness and they are ruthless enough to exploit every one of them. When the dangerous men came for him, Haider chose to run away. As in the case of Gibbs, I’m not sure that I have the right to judge him, but in contrast to the egotistical South African, I would look forward to a drink – a soft drink – with this brave man of Pakistan.

What do these morality tales tell us about cricket? Merely what its fans know – that cricket is a mirror held up to life, showing how men behave at their best and at their worst and all points in between. It shares that quality with great art which can delight us and depress us sometimes, as does the cricketing brilliance of flawed characters like Herschelle Gibbs and Mohammad Asif.

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Article by Gary Naylor