Believe it or not! Ganga Zoiza ‘won’ a cricket Test series for Sri Lanka in the UAE this October.
Zoiza who? No, she isn’t a cricketer; Zoiza is a sorcerer.
In a Facebook post after Sri Lanka completed their rout of the Pakistanis — seemingly unbeatable in their adopted home of the UAE – Zoiza said that the victory was possible only because she had cast a spell on the opposition.
What was more astounding was the fact that the Sri Lankan skipper, Dinesh Chandimal had backed her claim.
Zoiza — like Cheteshwar Pujara — perhaps specialises in Tests. How else could she explain Sri Lanka’s subsequent thrashing in the ODI and T20 matches? Maybe it is time she upgraded her shamanistic skills to include the limited overs versions in her magic potion.
Sorcery or witchcraft isn’t something new to sport. Top class athletes are famous for their superstitions. Lucky clothing, good-luck charms and amulets, magic meals, routines, rituals etc. are all part of ‘winning formulae’ at the international level.
It is said that in some African countries, even voodoo, hoodoo and juju are part of an athlete’s day-to-day training.
In South Africa, priests and ‘sangomas’ smear ‘muti’ (magic potion) on the walls of dressing rooms, make players urinate on bags of dirt brought from home fields to away games and even bury body parts of sacrificed animals in the field.
Do these rituals and magic spells really work?
Portuguese giants, Benfica were accused last season of using witchcraft to win the Primeira Liga. Porto officials claimed that they had access to information which confirmed that 136,000 euros were spent by Benfica over the last few seasons to employ a ‘witch doctor' from Bissau Guinea to help them win.
The question European football fans are now asking is whether hiring of witch-doctors by football clubs would amount to ‘corruption’ as defined under the FIFA rules?
Ghanaian club Black Stars’ former coach Goran Stevanovic said in 2012 that some of his players used black magic to gain fame and prominence, and even used witchcraft against their own teammates. Ghana’s football legend, Abedi Pele too admits to ‘juju’ being a normal ritual in the Black Stars team. “They used to bring us things to wash, things to drink and bathe with,” he revealed to the media a few years ago.
The most curious — and tragic — claim of witchcraft was when an entire visiting football team was killed by lightning in an inter-club fixture in Congo. The home team went unscathed!
England had won the football World Cup in 1966 under Alf Ramsey. When his team was about to embark for Mexico to defend the Jules Rimet Trophy in 1970, Ramsey received a letter from one Shariff Abubaker Omar, a witch doctor from Africa. He wrote, “I have international repute in football and other matters and have helped Kenya and Uganda win trophies in the past. I am now offering my help to the English national team.” Ramsey refused the proposal.
England went on to lose to West Germany in the quarter-finals of the 1970 World Cup. Mercifully, Shariff Abubaker Omar did not claim responsibility for the defeat!
Cricket has had its own tales of superstition and shamanistic rituals over the years. Chandimal’s surely won’t be the first and most probably, not the last.
England’s skipper, Peter May was in tremendous form when his team toured South Africa in 1956-57. In the warm up games before the Test matches, he scored four hundreds in as many innings. Then at a reception in Salisbury, the Mayor presented May with a live duck, amidst laughter, saying that it was his contribution to South African cricket.
In the next side game against Transvaal, May got out for a first ball ‘duck’. More importantly, he didn’t make too many runs in the Tests that followed.
The Mayor of Salisbury had probably played his hand in helping the home side draw the series 2-2.
Cricket writer, Kersi Meher-Homji mentions in Fredun De Vitre’s Willow Tales of a man nicknamed ‘Teetoree Pav’, who supposedly ‘won’ a 1964 Test match at the Brabourne Stadium for India.
‘Teetoree Pav’ — whose favourite haunt was CCI — it is believed, brought misfortune upon anyone whom he wished ‘good luck’. For cricketers, it meant scoring a duck, dropping a sitter or even breaking a leg. Meher-Homji says that one enterprising CCI member let the Bobby Simpson-led Australians have a good look at him in the ’64 Test match. Soon, Norman O’Neill took ill and was out of the Test match.
O’Neill’s absence, it is believed, helped India win the Test by two wickets!
At a felicitation function recently, Sunil Gavaskar reminisced about how the 1971 series was won in the West Indies.
Garfield Sobers, normally a brilliant close-in fielder, had dropped the diminutive opener in his debut Test on a couple of occasions and was convinced that he was a ‘lucky’ man. The legendary all-rounder therefore would look for Gavaskar and shake hands with him before commencing his own innings. Invariably, he scored big.
Going into the final Test at Port of Spain, India was one up in the series; 260-odd runs in the second innings of that match were required to be defended to win the coveted rubber. Skipper Ajit Wadekar knew that Sobers would have to be dismissed early if India had to draw or win that Test match. Knowing fully well why the legend shook hands with Gavaskar before every inning, he locked up the ‘Little Master’ in the toilet during a break.
When Sobers came looking for his ‘lucky charm’, he could not find him. He therefore went in to bat, without the customary handshake, and was out for a duck; bowled by a snorter from Abid Ali. That was how the historic series in the Caribbean Islands was won!
Tennis too has its rituals. Bjorn Borg would stop shaving four days before the Wimbledon Championships commenced. Roger Federer is obsessed with the number eight, while Rafael Nadal — among his many quirks — makes sure that the labels of his water bottles face the court.
Borg’s mother, Margarethe, would suck a boiled sweet while watching his final set. In 1979, after Borg was on triple match point and Tanner had rallied to deuce, Margarethe spat her sweet on the floor. She then picked it up and put it in her mouth, and Borg won!
In 1999, Andre Agassi forgot his underwear for his first round match at Roland Garros. After he won that match, he opted not to wear underwear for that event, and for the rest of his career.
Legendary golfer Lee Trevino survived a lightning strike while playing golf in 1976; Trevino still has a backache from that strike. When asked later how a golfer could avoid lightning, he said, tongue firmly in cheek: “Hold up a one-iron and walk. Even God can’t hit a one-iron!”
Sport is fun. It is the excitement and uncertainty of sport that sells. It is only hoped therefore that, in a world obsessed with winners, contests in future don’t boil down to deciding whose witch doctor is stronger.
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler, he is now a mental toughness trainer.