The less you know about it, the easier it is to knock cricket. From the outsider's perspective, it can look like the most boring and pointless of sporting pursuits. People standing around for hours in ridiculous white outfits. The briefest flurries of action far away in the distance, and then lengthy pauses of apparent utter inactivity. It's a wonder they call it a sport at all.
Matches interrupted for hours, or canceled altogether, by rain. Players leaving the field for bad light. Games that continue for five full days yet frequently end without a winner. The whiff of a bygone age in a culture of back-slapping bonhomie and breaks for tea.
Such boorish misconceptions evaporate the moment you step onto the field and begin to appreciate the subtleties of what is, to its adherents, the world's greatest sport. It is a battle in which every player's performance is vital to the team, every second's concentration critical, every seemingly marginal shift - in a batsman's stance, a bowler's speed, a fielder's position - potentially game-changing. A sport for the young, thin and athletic, and for the mature and beefy.
It is also, when played as it should be played, a sport of self-discipline, decency and respect - for the opposition and for the umpires who enforce the rules. A gentleman's game, they always called it. A sport whose very name, "cricket," became a synonym for fair play and honest behavior in all walks of life, where doing the wrong thing is "just not cricket."
AS A kid in London, I played every downpour-free day in the months from spring to autumn in the park behind my house. Weeks and months of blissful cricket, with what in retrospect seems a most improbable collection of friends, but at the time were merely my fellow enthusiasts from the nearby neighborhoods.
There was another Jewish semi-regular, now a doctor, who lived down the street from me, and a couple of other white English youngsters. But most of our bunch were of West Indian and Indian and Pakistani origin, the children of immigrants from the far-flung outposts of the former empire - brought up to love the sport their parents had learned from the British rulers, now playing it with gusto as Brits themselves. There was Ronald, a West Indian kid with a radiant toothy smile, a very grumpy Pakistani boy and his more cheerful friend Koshi, easily the best player, and several members of an Indian family whose parents, conforming gloriously to stereotype, ran the sweet-shop across from the local underground station.
Everything about cricket's wider traditions, everything about the particular context in which millions like my colorful mix of childhood friends played it, was targeted and bloodied by the gunmen who on Tuesday attempted to murder the Sri Lankan cricket team that was touring Pakistan.
The men in the terrorists' gunsights were pursuing sporting rivalry in the cause of international harmony. They had come to Lahore fully aware of the risk of terrorism: they had admirably consented to tour after the Indian team, horrified by November's terrorist slaughter in Mumbai - which India believes was hatched by a Lahore-based terror group - had pulled out.
They had come in the spirit of cricket - of fierce competition firmly limited to the field of play, and constrained even there by absolute fealty to a code of good conduct.
And they were targeted by the adherents of a religious strain to whom such qualities are anathema, by terrorists who seek to destroy international harmony, who exploit civilized freedoms and whose cause is fundamentally intolerant.
SOME COMMENTATORS rushed to brand the Lahore terror "Pakistan's Munich," noting that it was the worst such attack on sportspeople since Palestinian terrorists killed Israel's 11 athletes and coaches at the 1972 Olympic Games.
But with fewer than 10 dead and none of the sportsmen themselves killed, the impact on the free world's consciousness is likely to prove relatively muted and brief, devolving down to impotent political handwringing over the growing instability in the nation of the Islamic bomb and a debate in sporting circles about the logistics of removing Pakistan as a venue for future international encounters.
There is certainly no sign that the familiar critics of Israel's battles with Islamic extremism are anywhere nearer to joining up the dots - to internalizing that no, of course not all Muslims are terrorists, but terrorists the world over are overwhelmingly killing in the perverted cause of extremist Islam.
Britain's Independent newspaper, for instance, that battering ram of relentless Israeli delegitimation, apparently sees no irony in lamenting Pakistan's "capitulation to extremism" as a root cause of Tuesday's attack when it so often lambastes Israel for daring to confront the extremists. Its front page on Wednesday carried four pictures of the Lahore attack as it unfolded, above a headline that blared that Pakistan is "at war." Its editorial warned sternly of the dangers posed by Pakistan's "sprawling Islamist insurgency," and castigated the government for failing to progress in the "struggle to defeat militants." It singled out for particular vituperation Islamabad's misplaced appeasement of tribes in the Swat Valley, which have been allowed "to entrench Shari'a law in exchange for a truce."
That same newspaper, just one day earlier, had devoted its only front page story to a protest by some of Israel's leading critics against the prestigious Science Museum, whose sin is this week to be hosting "Israel Day of Science" seminars for non-Jewish schoolchildren in London and Manchester showcasing the work of Israeli universities. In the words of the critics - whose campaign was evidently deemed by the newspaper's editors to be the single most important story on earth it could bring before its readers that day - these educational workshops amount to the intolerable promotion of scientists and universities who are "complicit in the Israeli occupation and in the policies and weaponry recently deployed to such disastrous effect in Gaza."
In this upside down world, the British cricket umpire Chris Broad, who reportedly dived protectively onto a wounded colleague in the Lahore attack, is a hero. But Israel, seeking to thwart attacks on its citizenry by Gaza's Islamists, is a genocidal villain. Or, more simply and absurdly still, the Lahore gunmen are bad terrorists, the Gaza rocketeers good ones.
"Pakistan must not capitulate to destructive extremism," blared the headline on that editorial. Israel, in this warped mindset, presumably should.
Two days earlier, the same paper's Sunday edition had also made Israel its front-page splash. "Israel's death squads: A soldier's story" detailed an unnamed, psychologically scarred former IDF soldier's account of a targeted killing in which he had participated in Gaza. Two "militants" had been killed (one of whom, the newspaper neglected to detail, had served jail time in Israel and was alleged to be organizing terror attacks) - but so too had two Palestinian bystanders (both of whom were later said by Fatah to be part of its "cadre").
Again, this tale - which related to an event that was reported at the time, including in The Jerusalem Post, as a botched assassination; an event that took place eight years ago - was considered by the Independent to constitute the single most essential piece of information on earth for highlighting to the British public on Sunday, March 1.
Such all-too common examples of consistently distorted journalistic priority add up to a concerted campaign by this particular newspaper to achieve the delegitimation, and thus the demise, of Israel. Ignoring or down-playing central factors that are crucial to understanding Israel's choices and challenges as regards territorial compromise, settlement and grappling with terrorism, while hugely overblowing and misrepresenting others, it presents an imbalance that departs far beyond the parameters of legitimate - indeed, necessary - debate about Israeli policies and goals.
Certain other media outlets, in the UK and beyond, are barely less to blame. That other perennial critic of Israeli self-defense policies, the Guardian, also editorialized disapprovingly about Pakistan's failure to safeguard against terrorism: "Analysts are not exaggerating when they say that the attack poses existential questions for the Pakistani state," it sermonized. "If the state can not protect a visiting cricket team from well-aimed and well-prepared terrorism, what can it do?"
This from a newspaper whose thrust is often to pose "existential questions" regarding the Jewish state precisely because we do try to protect ourselves from "well-aimed and well-prepared terrorism."
BUT THE malaise has repercussions far beyond Israel. For all the lip service that the likes of Wednesday's Independent and Guardian may pay to the need for effectively confronting Pakistan's "militants," their coverage more commonly displays an inherent blindness to the true, uncompromising nature of the Islamist forces that threaten not only Israel but the free world. And in the closed-minded denial essential to such misrepresentation, such widely read and influential information channels as these in turn reinforce public misconceptions and help prompt misguided government policies with regard to the entire, multi-tentacled Islamist death-cult.
Wafa Sultan, the California-based, Syrian-born author and psychologist, put it bluntly and remarkably bravely in a much-YouTubed interview on Arabic Al-Jazeera three years ago when she declared: "The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions or a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between two opposites, between two eras. It is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century... between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality... between freedom and oppression, between democracy and oppression. It is a clash between human rights on the one hand and the violation of these rights on the other hand. It is a clash between those who treat women like beasts, and those who treat them like human beings... When the Muslims divided the people into Muslims and non-Muslims, and called to fight the others until they believe in what they themselves believe, they started this clash and began this war."
It is a clash that threatens Israel's survival. It is a clash that, as an Indian acquaintance noted on Tuesday, is "really at our throats now. Lahore is just across the border." It is a clash with an enemy that cannot be appeased.
It is, emphatically, not cricket - in the broadest, most civilized, most humane sense of that word.