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Admirers from Afar

The Cricket World Cup inspired nationalism in Indian-Americans, too

By Gautam S. Kumar

I’ve realized that trying to explain the entertainment in watching eight hours of people running 20 meters back and forth is a bit of a lost cause. To differentiate the sport from the noisy insect is even more difficult.

All the same, the International Cricket Council Cricket World Cup dominated much of the former Commonwealth nations over the past few months, with as many as over a billion people watching some matches. Like other international sports, cricket has historically played a diplomatic role in tying together sometimes-warring nations, pushing them to look past historic enmities to engage in friendly rivalry. For instance, Pakistan and India engaged in a series of “Goodwill Games” in 2007 and 2008 to repair severed diplomatic ties between the two nations.

The beauty of the World Cup, however, did not lie in its ability to unite fans across degrees of age and affiliation, though it did this indisputably well. The difference is that it proved that the sport has spawned a generation of ardent fans among those who grew up without even playing cricket. At Harvard, at least, the Currier Fishbowl and many other common viewing areas were packed with screaming undergraduates on the day of the final—many of whom learned to appreciate the game solely by watching their parents’ and grandparents’ undying and near-religious obsession with it.

For many Indian-Americans, cricket was always a bit of a novelty sport: one reserved for Indian television and radio announcers to go wild about, one for our parents to follow cultishly, and one that was relatively removed from our lives. We grew up playing basketball, baseball, football, soccer—but not cricket. In America, the half-day time difference and the lack of an environment that treated each Indian cricket match like a national holiday diminished the excitement and enthusiasm we could have felt.

But the World Cup was something different. Given that India had not won in nearly 30 years, the thirst for victory brought about a sense of nationalistic pride and unity even among those who were born and bred in the United States. The final was something that you had to experience live: setting our alarms for five a.m. to watch the match from start to finish, we could finally echo our families’ keen passion for the game. The fandom was real, and it was ours.

In India, watching cricket often meant having a samosa (or three) in hand with a steady supply of cool lassi to combat the heavy Indian heat. It meant looking for an electronics store showing the match on all its TVs as a crowd of taxi drivers huddled in front of the glass window to see the Indian team fight for the nation. At Harvard, it meant a solid group of early-bird, first-generation Americans waving Indian flags and screaming at a projector screen, possibly cheering louder for the Indian team than for Harvard at The Game.

A few uninitiated undergrads peeked into the Fishbowl to see the crowd that was cheering so loudly that those in the dining hall could palpably roll their eyes every time India even seemed to hit a four. These guys didn’t quite know what was going on—and, lost in the world of mid-offs, square, long stop and other esoteric vernacular, they left. We continued on, pasta falling out of our gaping mouths, as India won its first World Cup in 27 years. The crowd of observers came back—not to be entertained by the crazed Indian fans, outfitted with Indian flags as capes and vuvezelas, but to watch the game itself. And they nestled themselves right in front, amidst the screaming mass. They, too, cheered—and they enjoyed. It was a game for all.

Gautam S. Kumar ’13, a Crimson news writer, is an applied math concentrator in Cabot House.

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