I know you see “Freedom Series” and want to groan. But this isn’t about us. (More)

“In the spirit of these two great men”

If a Freedom Series were played in the U.S., it would be All About Us. The field or court would be painted with our flag. There would be salutes to our military, not just before the National Anthem but also during timeouts. And during those timeouts, as the jets flew over or the tanks rolled by or the troops performed silent drill routines, the announcer would tell the crowd to stand and join some celebrity in singing “God Bless America.” Because freedom, dammit.

So I understand why you groaned when you saw the title. But this Freedom Series isn’t about us. It’s about India and South Africa:

All future bilateral series between India and South Africa, including South Africa’s forthcoming tour of India, will be called the Mahatma Gandhi-Nelson Mandela series, the two boards have announced. The Test series, the BCCI and Cricket South Africa said, will be played for the Freedom Trophy.

“BCCI, on behalf of every citizen of our country, is able to pay tribute to these great leaders by naming the series after them, and appeals to each and every citizen of our country to imbibe their ideals and follow the path advised by them,” BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur said in a statement.

CSA chief executive, Haroon Lorgat, said that naming the series after Gandhi and Mandela was “eternal news for our people and cricketers”. “For the people of both our countries there is no greater duty than to uphold the ideals of both Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela,” he said. “As cricket-loving people we must fight hard to win on the field of play but never forget to do battle in the spirit of these two great men.”

“To be open to other cultures, other races, and other points of view”

My red squirrel ancestors invented cricket back in Britain, with some help from actual crickets. We were kind enough to name the game for them, so of course we got left out of the history … again. But I digress.

The point is, the mail room clerk likes cricket so she recorded yesterday’s opening match. It was a T20, the shortest international form of cricket where each side gets 20 overs – 120 balls – to score as many runs as they can. A T20 match usually lasts about three hours, but yesterday’s match was longer because of the opening ceremony.

Yesterday was Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, and the announcers asked the players to describe what the word “freedom” means to them. The response by South African superstar A.B. DeVilliers really touched me:

To me, freedom starts with feeling good about yourself. That gives you the confidence to be open to other cultures, other races, and other points of view.

That’s not an exact transcript, because my Blewberry was recharging and I wasn’t taking notes. But that’s the gist of what he said.

Other players talked about Gandhi’s and Mandela’s common legacy of working for freedom through peaceful resistance. They described their two nations’ intertwined histories. Indeed Gandhi developed and announced his doctrine of Satyagraha, nonviolent resistance, while working to secure civil rights for Indians living in South Africa.

As I listened to the Indian and South African players talk about “freedom,” I realized just how perverted that word has become in the U.S. Here, too often, “freedom” is about a ‘right’ to impose your beliefs on others. Or not having to pay taxes. Or being able to buy soda in half-gallon cups.

Maybe too few of us have the confidence that DeVilliers described: feeling good enough about ourselves to be open to other cultures, other races, and other points of view. I like that idea of “freedom.”

As for that coin in today’s logo … it was specially minted for this series:

Commemorating Mahatma Gandhi’s 146th birth anniversary, the BCCI will launch a specially-minted toss coin with the images of the Father of the Nation and Nelson Mandela for the India-South Africa cricket series starting Friday.

“The toss coin in gold features an impression of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela as ‘Heads’ and the Freedom Series as ‘Tails’,” the BCCI said in a statement.

Yesterday I watched two other nations celebrate freedom. We could learn from them.

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Photo Credit: Board of Control for Cricket in India

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Good day and good nuts