SANDHURST: The relationship between sport and empire is well established. In 1892, Sir Henry John Newbolt wrote Vitai Lampada or the The Torch of Life. It described how boys playing cricket in schools like Eton (in fact, Newbolt was referring to a rival school, Clifton College) were taught to prepare for life in imperial service.
As a boy, he plays the game:
There’s a breathless hush in the Close tonight—
Ten to make and the match to win—
A bumping pitch and a blinding light, An hour to play and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat, Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
“Play up! Play up! And play the game!”
And as a man our cricketer transfers what he learnt at the wicket onto the
The sand of the desert is sodden red,—
Red with the wreck of a square that broke;—
The Gatling’s jammed and the Colonel dead, And the regiment blind with dust and
The river of death has brimmed his banks, And England’s far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:
“Play up! Play up! And play the game!”
Those lines inevitably came to mind last weekend at a four-sided cricket contest at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst that, like Newbolt’s game on the Close, lasted well into the warm evening light. Sandhurst was playing host to an event put on by the Afghan Appeals Fund which raises money for various education projects and is currently trying to complete a 2,000-capacity school in Helmand. Surrounded by grand colonnaded buildings, rolling parkland and magnificent, large trees in full leaf, the Sandhurst pitch is within sight of cannons captured at Waterloo. It’s a fine place to play a game of cricket.
The Pakistan High Commission in London played teams from Sandhurst, the London law firm Freshfields and an eleven presided over by Baron Richards of Herstmonceux GCB, CBE, DSO, DL, ADC — otherwise known as Lord Richards and the latest in a long line of British Generals to find Afghanistan a rather more challenging proposition than he might have hoped.
Sandhurst, which trains 700 young men and women every year and fails as many as 15 per cent of them, is full of imperial echoes. Throughout the buildings there are memorial plaques honouring soldiers killed in far-flung corners of the world, many of them in Afghanistan and on India’s north-west frontier. In the Indian Memorial Army Room, located at the heart of Sandhurst, there is even a stained glass window inscribed in red: “Waziristan 1918-20 and 1937-38”.
It is nearly impossible to play cricket at Sandhurst without being reminded of military history. But the struggle on the cricket pitch was harmonious enough. The most sought-after player of the day was Major Ukbar Hadeed Malik, the first Pakistani and first Muslim to train cadets at Sandhurst. If Britain has forgotten what it learnt in Waziristan all those years ago, the Major is on hand to remind them of how to fight there: each term at Sandhurst he is responsible for 36 cadets of whom 10 per cent come from abroad. He has even trained an Indian soldier. A natural pick for the Sandhurst team, he was initially listed as one of Lord Richard’s players but ended up falling back on national loyalties, doing his best for the High Commission.
Alongside him was the High Commission’s outgoing Army and Air Adviser, Colonel Zulfikar Bhatti. H
aving spent the last three years spinning for the Pakistani military in the face of ever fiercer criticism by London’s politicians, journalists and policy analysts, Colonel Bhatti was perfectly prepared for the match. He used his off breaks to clean bowl two Sandhurst cadets in a single over.
Lord Richards was relying on swashbuckling journalist and the author of two books on Pakistani cricket, Peter Oborne. His performance on the field, however, was less sharp than his writing. As he walked off the pitch in defeat, Oborne had to concede that while he had tried to emulate Abdul Qadir’s leg spin, he lacked even an ounce of the great man’s talent.
Made up largely of cadets exhausted by weeks of tough military exertions, the Sandhurst team performed poorly. And despite a valiant 42 from Shahid Maan, the manager of the UBL branch at the High Commission visa office, the High Commission team also disappointed. The final — reduced from 20-20 to 16-16 — pitted Lord Richards’ eleven against Freshfields. For the third year in a row, the lawyers ended up on top. As lawyers always do. All that remains now is to see whether on their tour of the UK, Pakistan’s test team can perform better than its diplomats.
Owen Bennett-Jones, published in Dawn, July 12th, 2016