When I was a kid, no one in my family cared much for cricket, and certainly none of the males, who might have been expected to teach me about the game. My father preferred hockey to cricket, a sport he used to play growing up. My grandfather, who also lived with us, didn’t really care for any sport. We lived in a joint family, but I was the eldest child there.
All of which meant that on 25th March 1992, when just about everyone in the country was staying in at home to watch Pakistan play their first ever World Cup final, I was dressed in my uniform and dispatched to school.
I studied in a pretty small school, but even by its standards the attendance that day was tiny. Most kids hadn’t shown up, and so the few teachers present (yup, many of them skipped that day too) decided there was no point in trying to teach anything. Instead, we were all rounded up and asked to sit in the library, where the school had a TV set up. They turned it on, and soon enough all the kids and faculty were watching the World Cup final.
I was 8 years old at the time, and for the longest time after that I imagined that the ’92 World Cup was the first time I had properly watched cricket. In later years, I realised that some matches I had memories of (e.g. Aqib taking seven wickets against India at Sharjah) had actually occurred earlier, but for the longest time the 1992 World Cup remained the origin point of all my cricket memories.
It had started quite shockingly - not just in terms of cricket but also in terms of my innocent sensibilities. The first match of the tournament saw the wily Kiwis convincingly defeat the defending champions, Australia. My abiding memory of this match was turning it on before leaving for school in the morning, and seeing - on PTV of all channels - Kiwi fans making out in the crowd. It is difficult, in this day of hyper-media-access, to underscore just how rare it was for a Pakistani child to come across any expression of physical affection onscreen, and I was left astounded. PTV being PTV cut away from that image in seconds, but it was the first of many moments in that tournament that I have never been able to forget.
Back to the final, and there we were sitting in the library, watching the match. Most of that time was spent watching Imran Khan and Javed Miandad put together a rather painstaking partnership after the openers had been dismissed cheaply. Thankfully, most of us were too young to be bored, and instead were enjoying what was a fantastic day of school. Imagine showing up for classes and finding out that there are no studies the whole day and you just have to sit and watch TV.
However, schools - as Foucault noted - share the same approach as prisons and asylums in that they seek to impose certain discipline and order amongst its inmates. And given that most of us were not exactly seasoned cricket watchers, we were all talking really loudly and making a lot of noise. That meant that even though the faculty had decided en masse to not teach and watch the match, they kept getting uneasy about the example they were setting. On one hand, there was history unfolding and on the other they were setting a precedent for rowdiness that could haunt them for a long time.
Several times, they did loud shushes or took someone’s name and when they turned to look gave them a death glare. And every time they did that, we would remember the normal hierarchy and freak out and go quiet. The problem was that every now and then, the two batsmen would go for a big shot or get a rare boundary and everyone, faculty included, would start screaming and that spell of quiet would break.
In that final, Pakistan had crawled to just 70 runs at the 25 over mark, but then scored 153 off the last 20 overs. In other words, there was not a lot to cheer for the first couple of hours we were watching, and then things started heating up. It was around this time that Miandad (or so I recall) hit a boundary and all of us went nuts. I don’t recall what going nuts entailed exactly, but I’d like to think someone broke out in dance.
Anyways by that time, Ms Shehnaz, who also happened to be my class teacher, had had enough.
Now Ms Shehnaz was not the conventional disciplinarian within our faculty. There were several others, Ms Yasmin chiefly amongst them, who possessed both the sternness and decisiveness required for such a role. Ms Shehnaz was prone to giggling a lot, and that too in a high pitched voice, and was easy to get flustered. The choice she made at that moment required a LOT of innate dehshat and a belief that there was nothing greater than the whip of discipline. I'm not sure Ms Shehnaz ever had those attributes.
In any case, what Ms Shehnaz did as we were screaming back then was walk across the room and yell out “Buss, bahut ho gaya!” (Right, that’s enough!) before turning off the TV. Immediately, there was a stunned silence. By that point, the TV had assumed a sacred role and we were all frenzied devotees worshipping it. Turning the TV off sent this unholy chill through the room, and all of us froze.
Ms Shehnaz felt a bit of pride and validation, and perhaps gave a look to those of her colleagues who had previously chided her for being too soft on the kids. With her hand still on the knob (yeah, this story is old and predates technology you might be familiar with) she surveyed the whimpering masses. Most of us were completely hooked to the match, and the inert, cool grey screen was giving us withdrawals. We pleaded with our eyes, as our lips were bound shut. Finally, after what felt like forever, Ms Shehnaz turned the TV on.
The first thing to come on the screen was the sight of Miandad. The camera was a close up shot of him side on. His helmet was off, his head was bowed and his stats were appearing on the screen’s bottom. To put it simply, when Ms Shehnaz had turned the TV off, Miandad had gotten out, and now when she put it on we were watching him walk off the field.
It took a while for most of us to understand what was happening, but the reality hit Ms Shehnaz first, whose jaw was hanging loose and eyes were bulging wide. Within seconds, she broke down in tears. Not silent tears, but loud ones with huge sobs. Several teachers quickly moved towards her, got in a huddle and escorted her to the staff room.
For a few minutes we were all shell shocked but soon enough Inzamam and then Wasim’s fireworks left us distracted. We watched the whole innings, and then left for our homes afterwards where we saw Pakistan win the match.
But that moment of Ms Shehnaz bursting into tears never really went away for me. It was that moment when I realised what cricket really meant in this country.
It wasn’t just a sport, it was something far far more powerful. It was powerful enough to upturn the otherwise impregnable rules of school, where it could cancel classes and let us have fun. It was powerful enough to turn adults into children, abdicating their responsibilities and becoming completely vulnerable. It was powerful enough to not just change how I felt, but change how all of our society felt and behaved.
More than any other match or moment, this act of my class teacher breaking into tears in the midst of an ultimately valiant attempt at disciplining us was the one that influenced me most about cricket. It was the moment that made me realise just how much this sport mattered to us, and how much it could change this country of ours. It was the moment when I realised how it was one of the few things that could cut across any barrier and obstacle. It was the moment that made me understand that there were moments that could change society itself. Eventually, it was the moment that I turned back to most throughout my professional engagements with cricket, to remind myself that cricket can't just be seen by the mere details of who won or lost, but that it carried far more meaning than that.
So thank you Ms Shehnaz - you changed far more than you realised when briefly you turned off that TV.