The one certain fact about this uncertain business called advertising is that you can’t do without it. Such compulsion does not mean this hit-and-run affair necessarily works. It is difficult to predict when a campaign will be a hit, and when the agency has merely run away to lubricate its salary sheet.
The worst spiel in recent times was surely the advertising of a brief, and eminently forgettable, India-Pakistan cricket encounter last December. The agency was not promoting sport between traditional antagonists; it was announcing the consequences of an existentialist war with all the finesse of the massacre-friendly Nadir Shah on a Delhi weekend in 1739. Conversely, the best campaign I have seen in a long while has been the television advertisements which raised the curtain on the women’s cricket tournament: wry, tongue very much in cheek, and emasculating men with a pleasing insouciance.
There is no mystery about why. Women’s cricket went well because the agency believed in it. It represents something far more than fund raising for an already bloated game.
Women’s cricket has been around for a long while, scratching at the turnstiles, seeking attention and the legitimacy of public support. At long last, it is an idea whose time has come. It now represents the third great revolution in a sport that has long been a mirror of social mores.
The first liberation came when “professionals” in Britain won equal terms with “amateurs”. Professional is a term that carries so much pride now that we quite forget that once it was synonymous with something as “grubby” as earning money for talent in sports. It took a world war, the second of the 20th century, to destroy the stupid pretensions of aristocrats who forced their working class “professionals” to use a separate entrance to a cricket field. The nobles wore silk scarves and gloried in the vanity that they were, literally, a class apart because they did not have to actually do anything for a living. They were lords of the manor, and hence lords of the field. Today, mercifully, merit rules. Commerce bows only before success, and success is not a genetic entitlement.
The fact that Pakistan’s women wear trousers when they go to bat and field will be a huge spur to a society that is still controlled too often by men who have not left the 19th century.
The second revolution matured in India and Pakistan, when merit took cricket away from the confines of the middle class, and into the small towns or city bylanes where a new India and Pakistan was being incubated. The urban middle class shares at least one trait with the white or brown aristocracy; it has many alternative routes to achievement. Cricket was a pleasure, even when exacting, but it was not quite a hunger. The gnawing desperation to beat the odds of life through excellence in a game whose financial value exploded beyond the dreams of avarice created a new base for triumphant upward mobility. If any astrologer had told 10-year-old M.S. Dhoni’s parents that he would one day become as wealthy as he is now, they would have given him a nice cup of tea and told him to go tease someone else. It is the same with many dozens of other achievers; and Dhoni was financially far better off at birth than Yusuf or Irfan Pathan.
Women’s cricket is one of the many reflections of the changing status of women. Women were once taunted by men as the weaker sex only because they could not compete with the brutal violence of males. In truth, you need a much tougher body and spirit for childbirth; men, by comparison, are sissies. They simply have more powerful muscles. Women have a far stronger mind.
But this assertion is only a part of the emerging story. Men have punished women through the ages with segregation, and then attached a false morality to their subjugation. Sport is freedom from segregation. We might not notice this in India, where trousers and jeans have become the preferred wear of women. But the fact that Pakistan’s women wear trousers when they go to bat and field will be a huge spur to a society that is still controlled too often by men who have not left the 19th century. There was a time, during the regime of General Zia ul Huq, when some Pakistani fundamentalists wanted television coverage of cricket banned because women at home would be able to see the alluring Imran Khan rub a red cricket ball down the front of his trousers, and therefore near his crotch. It has been a long journey since then. We should celebrate this journey. Cricket will do a hundred times more for gender equality in Pakistan than a thousand speeches by well-meaning liberals.
There are countries which do not send women to the Olympics for “moral” reasons; or, more accurately, because they believe that the sight of women will encourage immorality. I cannot imagine anything more stupid. To display one’s face and ability is not nudity, neither among men nor women. Why shouldn’t women be allowed to behave as normally as men?
One thing is clear. It is men who are the weaker sex.