Civility in Sports: Indian Cricket versus American Baseball

On a recent visit to Bombay, Anil Jethmal decided to attend a cricket match. Having lived some of his formative years in India, Anil grew up an avid fan. However, being a resident of New York since then, it had been 40 years since he had last attended a match.

During those 40 years in New York, Anil Jethmal had attended hundreds of baseball games. As his children developed an interest in baseball, Anil was excited to share his passion with them. That is when Anil, perhaps due to a heightened sensory acuity spurred on by his children’s presence at the game, realized how crudely and inappropriately his fellow fans behaved.

As he watched India play South Africa at Bombay’s Wankhede Cricket Stadium, Anil was struck by the wonderful civility of Indian fans towards a surprisingly large contingency of South Africa cricket fans that day. More than that, 33,000 fans rose as one to give a standing ovation to a South African batsman when he hit for a half-century (50 runs) and then again when he reached the century mark (100 runs).

Indians are very passionate about their national cricket team. Anil Jethmal, having been immersed in both Indian and American cultures for extended periods, and thus uniquely qualified to judge, estimates that cricket fans are even more passionate about their team than baseball fans are of theirs. In fact, cricket is five times more popular worldwide than baseball, with 2.5 billion fans globally versus baseball’s 500 million fans. A large factor for the breadth of the fan base and their passion for the sport is that cricket teams compete against other countries, not just against other cities. Oftentimes, those countries have very different political ideologies and religions. Remarkably, with all these potentially inflammatory ingredients, the civility between fans and players in cricket remains remarkably high and consistent.

Recently, Shahid Afridi, star of the Pakistani cricket team, retired after a 21 year playing career. As a farewell gift, India gave him a jersey signed by all the Indian cricketers. The gift was presented by the captain of the Indian cricket team, Virat Kohli. In an uplifting display that captures all that is good and possible among people with vastly different beliefs, the message read “Shahid Bhai (Brother Shahid), best wishes, always a pleasure playing against you....God bless you with everything in life”. To that, Pakistani Shahid Afridi replied “Thank you to you and the entire Indian team for a wonderful farewell gift. Respect superstar, hope to see you soon.”

Anil Jethmal cannot tell you who won or lost the match that day. His enduring memory was the civility that was on display during the typical ten-hour long cricket match.

At 4PM that day, right in the middle of the game, the players abruptly walked off the field to take a break. Anil asked his host what was going on.

“Tea time”, his host exclaimed.

If Anil was not sure before that cricket was a highly civilized sport, he was certain of it now.