Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The erratic geniuses.

In a brilliant article, Osman Samiuddin tries to provide an explanation for Pakistani cricketers’ propensity to pull off amazing victories from the brink of defeat. The match would be slowly slipping away from their hands…till something magical happens.

What we know about what happens, roughly, is this. Pakistan are in the field (almost exclusively so), drifting, amiably and contentedly, to defeat over five days, or one. They are comatose flat. Bowlers, uninspired, are on autopilot, the fielders heavy and ponderous. If there is a target, it’s down to, say, 45 off the last 10 with seven wickets in hand. If it’s a Test, the target being chased is a small one, under 200, or if it is the first innings, the opposition are 200 for 2. Coasting.

Sometimes, but not always, it takes an unusual dismissal to turn on the light – a run-out, an electric catch, a part-timer taking a wicket. And then there is total frenzy, so overwhelming and real you can almost hold it in your hands. Such is its force that it can be deeply moving even through the sensory dilution and sanitisation of TV, even on ball-by-ball commentary online. But to let it get right inside your head and start rearranging your brain – like acid but a lighter, less paranoid burn – you have to be there as it happens.

There is music, not heard but felt, a beat somewhere in the background, rising, unrelenting. Up front is the dissonance of a reality that is proceeding swiftly but with an impact that is unveiled languorously. Wickets begin to fall in heaps, twice, thrice in an over and each one seems the only logical conclusion to that particular spell of play. There is an appeal almost every ball, most justifiable. Fielders start hitting the stumps and taking catches which, in other situations, we can easily imagine them dropping.
How do the Pakistani cricketers manage to transform themselves from an erratic and listless lot to an inspired team, seemingly in one magical moment?

It’s a combination of three major national characteristics – laziness, impatience, and latent brilliance. Since we’re lazy, we don’t get engaged until we sense an opportunity. But once we do get engaged, our impatience drives us to get the job done quickly, and our latent capacity for brilliance makes it all happen. Seen another way, we are an enormously gifted team that’s too lazy to apply itself. But when the circumstances are right and an opening appears, our natural gifts take over, with our innate impatience ensuring a speedy resolution
Osman offers an interesting metaphor. The Qawwali. And the state of ‘haal’ it tries to achieve.

To the uninitiated, a Qawwali can sometimes feel like a living, breathing but random collection of voice and sound until, suddenly at one moment, it surges together. And then transformed, it becomes momentarily a single, powerful force. Take also, the alaap, that sudden vocal burst in a Qawwali. Is that not exactly like a riff of wickets by one bowler from out of nowhere, at odds with everything that has gone before?)

The literal meaning of haal is state, as in a state of being, and it can refer to a number of different states. But it has come to be interpreted, more often than not, as one ultimate state of ecstasy, much sought after but rarely achieved, in man’s journey to get closer to God. “In the ecstatic state,” explains Idries Shah in his book Oriental Magic, “Sufis are believed to be able to overcome all barriers of time, space and thought. They are able to cause apparently impossible things to happen merely because they are no longer confined by the barriers which exist for more ordinary people.”

One of the primary objectives of Qawwali is to attempt to bring the performer as well as the listener to haal.
Is it similar to the ‘zone’ that sports psychologists talk about, as when a player is said  to "enter  the zone”?

Where haal deviates from the zone is in the idea that the latter can be sought, that through a series of steps or rigorous preparation and practice it can be achieved. Many sports psychologists – but not all – believe that using different techniques of visualisation, goal-setting and self-motivation can help athletes to achieve and stay in the zone. Pakistan employs no such techniques and never has done. Just as Abu Mohammad says that Qawwali rehearsed and recorded in a studio is the imprisonment of the form, so it is with Pakistan. Net practice and training – the rehearsed recordings of sport – are generally imprisonment for Pakistani players. That is not where they shine. For them, as with Qawwali, it happens live and it happens unprepared. 
Enlightenment, goes one saying of Zen, is an accident, as it could be in haal and as it is in Pakistan cricket.
Do read the full article.

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