The Civilized Game of Cricket. Why does the Taliban play it, yet the States doesn’t?

Timeri N. Murari’s new novel The Taliban Cricket Club has been described by one critic as “a sweeping story of love, family, resilience, and survival, featuring an unforgettable heroine determined to help her loved ones win their freedom with a bat and a ball.” In the story, a young female journalist from Afghanistan is shocked to find out that the Taliban intend to win diplomatic respect by establishing their own cricket team, but she’s also tempted to partake illegally in a bid to win her freedom. Far-fetched it may sound, yet Murari’s book is based in much truth. But if cricket is indeed the great civilized sport of the world, shouldn’t the States be making more of an effort?

It’s not as if cricket has been altogether ignored by the USA. In 1844 the first international match between the United States and Canada (full name: The British Empire's Canadian Province) took place. This was even before the international rivalry between England and Australia had begun in earnest. The turnout wasn’t bad (between 10,000 and 20,000 spectators showed up), yet it hardly kick-started a Stateside revolution in the game. And anyway, by this time, the USA were way behind their cricketing counterparts; the origins of cricket can be traced back at least to Tudor England in the 16th century, though some claim that Prince Edward was playing something similar over 200 years prior to this, in the game of “creag.” By the 1760s, England’s first cricket club was formed in Hambledon, Hampshire; by the first half of the 18th century the game was beginning to infiltrate India, due to the effect of the British Empire; and come 1792 the famous Calcutta Cricket and Football Club had been established.

You can imagine the sweeping influence of such a game, especially taking into account its powerful patrons and the fact that in such humid climbs as India, it doesn’t require the strenuous activity of other sports. But even centuries on since its birth, the status of cricket continues to grow. Expert Martin Rogers recently reported on the 2012 T20 Cricket World Cup picking up an audience of 1.5 billion, going on to write “the tournament will captivate the top 12 nations in cricket, of which the United States is not one.” The reasons for this US no-show are many and historical, but as Jon Gemmell has it, the 1776 declaration of Independence did much to enforce the end of interest in cricket (playing it was seen as an unofficial alliance with Britain, not to mention ‘un-puritanical’), while during the Civil War, baseball simply proved more practical for peripatetic soldiers to play than its English cousin.

Afghanistan, on the other hand, is one of the teams playing in the T20 Cricket World Cup. And this is where The Taliban Cricket Club comes in. An interview with Timeri N. Murari in the Economist explains how 12 years ago, the Taliban reasoned that their countrymen could pick up a bat and ball, in order to show to the rest of the world what wonderful sports they were. As Murari explains, the game of cricket was the perfect choice on more than level; not only is it appreciated on the world stage, but the clothing also means that the body is covered.

So is the USA letting itself down by not representing itself at the World Cup; by excluding itself from the one sport above all others that is known for its democracy? Ultimately impressions are less important than the morals behind them, and although the Taliban might seem to be playing ball, the truth is very different. As Murari puts it, the situation is: “as strange as you can get, because [the Taliban] virtually banned everything, including kite flying, chess, music, dancing, even clapping in the country. I thought: it’s such an oxymoron.” In the end, it is democracy and free choice that has led to the USA concluding there are other games (baseball would seem to be the substitute in this case) they would rather get excited about. Whereas in Afghanistan, it’s coldly announced to the people what the national game will be. And that just isn’t cricket.

Will Noble is a literary contributor for iDreamBooks.