Cricket is probably the only sport in the world that doesn’t fully understand celebrations.
Less than a month ago, at Euro 2016, Iceland made a deep impression on the world with their Viking chant—a cross between the New Zealand rugby team’s Haka and the rock band Queen performing Radio Ga Ga at Wembley, London, in 1985. The celebration was so powerful (and intimidating) that it’ll be a big surprise if it does not become the equivalent of the Mexican Wave over the next few years. We all loved it.
Which is why it’s odd that when the Pakistan cricket team launched into a set of (sort of) synchronized push-ups at Lord’s earlier this week, it was met with mixed reactions.
For those who missed it, minutes after Mohammad Amir took the last England wicket to seal a 75-run victory in the first Test on 18 July, Younis Khan ushered the team into formation. The team snapped to the attention position, saluted sharply, and did 10 push-ups each. On the first day of the Test match, Pakistan’s captain Misbah-ul-Haq had done the same thing on scoring a century. The background to the push-ups: Ahead of their tour of England, the team had spent time at a boot camp with the Pakistan army in Kakul in May. This was their tribute to the army men who put them through a gruelling training routine.
Cricket—the gentleman’s game—doesn’t like over-the-top celebrations, though. It also finds it hard to articulate why it doesn’t like such celebrations.
“I didn’t take offence,” England Test captain Alastair Cook was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail. However, the rest of his statement suggested that he did, indeed, take offence: “Certainly, at that moment in time, it’s not pleasant for the first 20 minutes when you’ve just lost a game of cricket. They’re entitled to do what they want.... But the cricketing gods….” Cook just let those words hang there, presumably to send shivers down the spine of Team Pakistan.
Just before that, former England fast bowler Tim Bresnan had tweeted: “That might bite you, boys. Carma (sic) catches up with you eventually. It did with the Sprinkler.” The Sprinkler is a reference to the England team’s celebratory dance moves during the 2010 Ashes. How did that go down? Predictably, not very well. “…even as the dance became an Internet sensation, it raised the question of whether our appreciation of sport is helped by the growing vogue for schmaltz and showiness,” William Langley wrote in The Telegraph at the time.
During this year’s World Twenty20, the West Indies team made Dwayne Bravo’s Champion their anthem, the song to which they would groove after every 50, every wicket, every win. There were several reports that suggested that the men from the Caribbean were disrespecting the opposition.
We cringed when S. Sreesanth launched a series of pelvic thrusts at South African fast bowler Andre Nel. And we cringe when Virat Kohli celebrates centuries by mouthing words that rhyme with “pain shots” and “mutter shots”. Come to think of it, what would social media have made of Javed Miandad’s frog jumps in the India-Pakistan clash at the 1992 cricket World Cup?
Let’s compare this to football. Roger Milla’s corner-flag dance, Bebeto and the Brazil team celebrating the birth of his baby, Jürgen Klinsmann’s ironic dive, Wayne Rooney and the fake knock-out punch, Francesco Totti’s selfie, Alberto Gilardino’s violin, Peter Crouch’s robot dance, that thing which Daniel Sturridge does…. Let’s be honest: If we saw any of those on the cricket field, the player/s in question would be branded arrogant.
Of course, football has its own list of unwritten rules around celebrations—looking too happy on scoring against a former club is frowned upon, for example. But this has more to do with not messing with the fans who once sang your name than disrespecting opponents.
Sport is as much about self-expression as it is about speed, skill and strength. Athletes, across disciplines, are driven by a passion so fierce that it would burn normal people up. In those few moments when self-expression meets pure, unadulterated joy—taking a wicket, scoring a century, winning a match—we expect players to display restraint.
This obviously isn’t to say that cricketers should stop respecting their opponents. While we love the fact that cricket has this ability to teleport fans to older, gentler times, it might be time to rewrite some parts of its occasionally warped moral code.
If there was one complaint against Pakistan’s celebration, it was its tackiness: It’s difficult to describe just how uncoordinated the coordinated push-ups were! The boys need a boot camp to practise their celebrations.
Deepak Narayanan has been a journalist for nearly 20 years and has worked in publications across Mumbai and Delhi before relocating to Goa, where he is researching the side effects of binge-eating fish thalis. He tweets at @deepakyen.