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Cricket in the USA: watching and being watched

In the strangest and most distressing cricket story of the summer, it appears that New York police have compiled lists of the city’s cricket grounds, along with cafes and restaurants where people gather to watch international cricket on TV, in order to facilitate surveillance of the Muslim population.

Some years back I was passing through the border from India to Pakistan and was questioned about the purpose of my visit by a Pakistani official. He was very forthright: “Is it drugs? Is it terrorism?” I said no, it was cricket, to which he replied, “Ah, that is the opposite. You are welcome to Pakistan!”

That cricket is or ever was a “gentlemen’s game” is a myth, but this must be the first time it’s been designated as a “terrorist’s game”.

The unstated background to the NYPD document is the recent evolution of cricket in the USA. After a long spell as an Anglophile eccentricity, the gmae has been revived in recent years by the expanding south Asian diaspora. This has led cricket magnates, especially in India, to fantasise about carving out a niche for the game in the crowded US sports market. This is less about profits than prestige. It’s as if they fear that cricket’s “globalised” credentials will always be in doubt in the absence of a North American franchise. It’s not hard to imagine their dismay at finding the game stigmatised by US officialdom.

I’m sure there will be no shortage of voices in the Indian media blaming it all on Pakistan. They should bear in mind that what they take to be a vital distinction (between Indians and Pakistanis and for some between Hindus and Muslims) is invisible to the NYPD.