Wednesday, Nov 30, 2022
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India-Pakistan Cricket: Torn Between History And Politicking

How the 'gentleman’s game' has become a gymnasium of jingoism in India and Pakistan.

Indian and Pakistani supporters at a cricket match
Indian and Pakistani supporters at a cricket match Getty Images

An India-Pakistan standoff on cricketing turf has always been the fiercest of rivalries. The sporting action and the showdown of the teams bring everything to a stand-still, and the results of the match kicks off an action—hearts break in either India or Pakistan, and along with the cricket-frenzied hearts, TV screens are shattered on the streets. The 24-hour news channels, adding fuel to the fire, spin a victory or loss into chest thumping and the whole spectacle paves the way for jingoism. A mere cricket match is portrayed as a tool of political vengeance. A cricketer if not winning his team a game is not patriotic. Frenzied fans hurl stones at their houses. Cricketers’ daughters and wives trend in obscene hashtags across social media platforms. A player who was a hero till recently is crucified and made a traitor.

On our neighbour’s land, nothing is different. Pakistan’s loss sends shockwaves from Lahore to Rawalpindi. TV screens are shattered on the roads, players are abused, and whatnot. Social media floats abuzz with videos of grief-stricken Pakistani fans weeping and wailing—the videos that go viral instantly immortalise into memes.

Cricket in the subcontinent is not merely an emotion, it is a game that is deeply intertwined with politics. In past, the stands of the Indian stadiums, allowing a diplomatic space, have hosted the leaders of the two countries on several occasions. However, it has been a while since Pakistan has had a full tour of India.

In 2005, between March 8 and April 17, the Pakistan cricket team stayed in India and played three Test matches and six One Day Internationals, on Indian soil against their arch-rivals. On April 17, Pakistan’s then president Pervez Musharraf arrived at the historic Feroz Shah Kotla stadium—now rechristened as Arun Jaitley stadium— in New Delhi, to watch the final thriller of the 6-match ODI series.

It was for the first time since 1987 that a Pakistani leader had come to India to watch an international cricket match between the two teams. Zia ul Haq had attended a Test match in Jaipur in 1987, just two years before the armed insurgency took over Jammu and Kashmir sending the bilateral relations of the two nuclear-armed countries into a perpetual abyss. At that time, the wounds the two countries suffered from the Kargil war were still fresh.

The final ODI was a decider— if India won, the series would end in a draw, and if Pakistan clinched the game, they would win the series and take the trophy to Islamabad. India’s then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sat with Musharraf in a VIP box in the stands and watched the thriller that India ultimately lost to the visitors by 159 runs.

Indian supporters felt dejected. Primarily because they had not lost this game to an ordinary opponent; they had lost it to a country against whom they have fought wars— thrice since the Partition. However, nearly 500 miles away from Delhi’s historic stadium, in the serpentine streets of Srinagar’s old city, the mood was different. Hundreds of people had come out in alleyways and lanes, celebrating the results of the game. Pakistan’s flags were unfurled and firecrackers went off everywhere like gunfire.

Every time there is an India-Pakistan match, the spectacle goes beyond the frontiers of the cricket stadiums and raucous television sets. Fraught by the political differences between the two countries, a gentleman’s game has become a gymnasium of jingoism. Fringe elements make sure to run the extra mile in a bid to garner political mileage. Three Kashmiri students— Arsheed Yusuf, Inayat Altaf Sheikh, and Showkat Ahmed Ganai— were detained in Agra days after Pakistan defeated India in a T20 World Cup match on October 24 last year. The arrest was made based on a complaint filed by a Bharatiya Janata Party youth wing leader. Besides other sections, the youth was booked for “cyber terrorism” under Section 66F of the Information Technology Act. These students, who had celebrated Pakistan’s victory against India in a cricket match, were released on bail after at least four months in March.

India versus Pakistan cricketing contests often heat up, and the conflagration engulfs the two countries like a wildfire gone berserk — maybe because of the wounds of the Partition, the wars India and Pakistan fought, or the unending Kashmir saga. Nobody knows how the two nations might, if willing, resolve their political differences. But a little hope is brewing within the cosmos of cricket. The fondling camaraderie and sportsmanship between the contemporary cricketers of India and Pakistan are clearing the air, if not much, for the lovers of the game.  The recent Twitter bonhomie between Kohli and Azam won millions of hearts online, and love traversed through borders, peculiarly uniting the fans. However thrilling and cliffhanging the contest can get, the game must go on.

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