THE BIG FIGHT

Pak­istan have never beaten In­dia in a World Cup game. In­dia are smart­ing from a woe­ful sum­mer in Australia. Which one of the archri­vals will emerge on top at the ICC World Cup 2015?

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Front Page - by Pradeep Mag­a­zine

What makes th­ese crick­et­ing en­coun­ters a study in con­trast is also the am­biva­lent na­ture of the peo­ple who are keen to watch the two na­tions play, yet mor­tally fear­ful of their team los­ing

The ex­pres­sion on the faces of a mot­ley gath­er­ing of young and old at Delhi’s Ambed­kar sta­dium bus stand had a story to tell. The faces were taut, a mix of ten­sion and ex­pectancy with a far­away look in the eyes that re­flected they were not sure what to ex­pect from the adventure they were em­bark­ing upon. They were all board­ing the Friend­ship Bus to La­hore on a warm al­beit pleas­ant April morn­ing of 2004. Their visit to Pak­istan was fa­cil­i­tated by the re­sump­tion of crick­et­ing ties af­ter a decade or so, thanks to then Prime Min­is­ter Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee’s ini­tia­tive to rebuild bridges with a neigh­bour with whom In­dia was torn asun­der in 1947. That tragic par­ti­tion which led to around 14 mil­lion peo­ple be­ing up­rooted and half a mil­lion be­ing butchered in what can only be de­scribed as frat­ri­ci­dal war, the con­se­quences of which both the na­tions are still suf­fer­ing from.

The two na­tions have fought two wars, a near third one in Kargil in 1999, even when the two na­tions were bat­tling it out on a cricket field dur­ing a World Cup match in Eng­land. And they have gen­er­ally been at each other’s throats through­out their 68-year his­tory so far.

As the en­gine of the bus roared into life, so did a num­ber of the pas­sen­gers with a chant “jaykara

mata Sher­awali da.” It was not a war cry but a Hindu re­li­gious in­vo­ca­tion for a safe jour­ney. On the bus were old peo­ple who still re­mem­bered their houses in La­hore where they had once lived, the young who had heard sto­ries of their lost home­land from their grand­par­ents, and also those who were pure cricket en­thu­si­asts keen to watch an In­dia-Pak­istan match.

As I re­mem­ber that jour­ney and what it must have meant to those head­ing to­wards La­hore, I am flooded with mem­o­ries. Sweet, bit­ter mem­o­ries of many In­dia-Pak­istan en­coun­ters, the love and warmth of the peo­ple in Pak­istan to­wards us, the In­di­ans, and the cat­a­clysmic and even cathar­tic ex­pe­ri­ences which the fans across the divide go through while cheer­ing their teams.

It’s prob­a­bly one of the most baf­fling and even in­ex­pli­ca­ble mys­ter­ies of hu­man be­hav­iour that the two na­tions, at war with each other, love to have a sport­ing, friendly battle on the cricket field. A de­feat does at times lead to bit­ter con­se­quences, but is soon forgotten in the hope that the next en­counter would pro­duce bet­ter re­sults. It is, to use the Or­wellian term, “War mi­nus the shoot­ing” where you want to win by not killing but prov­ing your su­pe­ri­or­ity on the strength of your sport­ing skills.

This “war mi­nus the shoot­ing” means dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple. When I was grow­ing up and not strong enough to bear the im­pact of the leather ball on my ten­der palms, a Pak­istan team was vis­it­ing In­dia. My aunt would un­der­line the de­vi­ous­ness of the Pak­istan team with the story that the Pak­istani cap­tain had hid­den pins in his fin­gers to hurt his In­dian coun­ter­part while shak­ing hands with him be­fore the toss. Need­less to say, I dis­cov­ered much later, this was not true.

In 1997, when I first vis­ited Pak­istan to re­port on a one-day se­ries, I saw a boy not even in his teens cry­ing bit­terly out­side the Karachi sta­dium af­ter In­dia had won the match. On ask­ing him the rea­son for his trauma, the boy replied: “I have been told we should never lose to them.”

This en­emy “them” on a cricket field has led to many an epic en­counter, where fans have died a thou­sand deaths, chok­ing in their own anx­i­eties and fear of loss, while the play­ers have sur­mounted ex­treme pres­sure to script heroic per­for­mances.

A cur­sory look at the over­all win-loss record in the Tests and the one-day­ers would leave an Indi-

Think of an In­dia-Pak­istan en­counter and the im­age that still stands out is the last-ball six that Javed Miandad struck at Shar­jah against Chetan Sharma

an fan sur­prised and dis­ap­pointed. In­dia lag far be­hind in one-day­ers as well as Test matches, though not when it mat­ters the most. As mil­lions in In­dia and around the globe dot­ted with the In­dian di­as­pora, sit glued to­day (Fe­bru­ary 15) to their TV sets, they can take com­fort in one sta­tis­ti­cal fact: In­dia has never lost to Pak­istan in any World Cup en­counter, win­ning five out of five, and that too with rel­a­tive ease.

This is as much a re­flec­tion of In­dia’s su­pe­ri­or­ity in the shorter for­mat of late, as it is of their bet­ter re­solve and strength to with­stand pres­sure. But it was not so in the Sev­en­ties and Eight­ies. Think of an In­dia-Pak­istan en­counter and the im­age that still stands out is the last-ball six that Javed Miandad, that doughty fighter if ever there was one, struck at Shar­jah against Chetan Sharma, to help Pak­istan win a match which they till then had al­most lost. That was one blow, which for a long time was deeply em­bed­ded in the In­dian psy­che, like a lac­er­at­ing wound which would never heal. The cus­toms of­fi­cials at the Delhi air­port sig­nalled Chetan for spe­cial at­ten­tion, strip­ping him and his bag­gage to the bone. This was their re­venge on a man whose spell had led to the In­dian hu­mil­i­a­tion.

To­day, Chetan re­calls those in­ci­dents of be­ing treated as a vil­lain with hu­mour and mirth, and as a sign of how times have changed. He also tells you that he has earned more money in sell­ing the story of that last-ball six to the me­dia than he has earned while play­ing for In­dia.

There is this strange chem­istry be­tween the In­dian and Pak­istani fan that unites and divides them while a cricket match is on. A de­feat is un­ac­cept­able, yet there is al­ways great ap­pre­ci­a­tion and ad­mi­ra­tion, even if grudg­ingly so, of the ri­val play­ers’ out­stand­ing per­for­mance.

Who can for­get the stand­ing ova­tion Wasim Akram and his men got when they took a victory lap at the MA Chi­dambaram Sta­dium in Chen­nai in 1997. If that was un­be­liev­able, so was the warmth and re­cep­tion the In­di­ans got in Pak­istan on that 2003-2004 tour.

I too have been treated like a star once in my life and have even been forced to sign an au­to­graph. This was at La­hore 2004, af­ter In­dia had beaten Pak­istan. The crowd in the stands were mob­bing who­ever had come from In­dia, con­grat­u­lat­ing them and get­ting their au­to­graph.

There are many who de­ride cricket be­ing used as a ve­hi­cle to reach out to each other, but for peo­ple of both the na­tions, es­pe­cially those of us who visit Pak­istan thanks to sport­ing diplo­macy, it has helped to re­alise that if you scratch the prej­u­dices of a nasty past, the skin that emerges is no dif­fer­ent from each other.

What makes th­ese crick­et­ing en­coun­ters a study in con­trast is also the am­biva­lent na­ture of the peo­ple who are keen to watch the two na­tions play, yet mor­tally fear­ful of their team los­ing.

In the Sev­en­ties and Eight­ies, when In­dia and Pak­istan had stopped play­ing in each other’s ter­ri­to­ries, Shar­jah had be­come the neu­tral venue for spon­sors and TV chan­nels to milk the fi­nan­cial gains to be had due to the phe­nom­e­nal in­ter­est of fans. The jin­go­ism and full-throated abuse hurled at each other by the ex­pats of the two coun­tries living in the UAE were a dis­turb­ing re­minder of the bit­ter re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two na­tions. This was much in con­trast to when the two na­tions started play­ing at home against each other in the lat­ter years, in the 2000s.

The first of the two World Cup matches which the two coun­tries played against each other in In­dia was in 1996 in Ban­ga­lore. The city had be­come a fortress with lev­els of se­cu­rity un­heard of in a cricket match in In­dia then. The match, which In­dia won com­fort­ably in the end, had its mo­ments of ex­treme ten­sion, with se­cu­rity forces on the edge and the fans ready to ex­plode. The ver­bal skir­mish be­tween Venkatesh Prasad and Aamir So­hail could have eas­ily boiled over and in­fu­ri­ated the crowds. But in the end, it all passed off peace­fully and Javed Miandad, that scourge of In­dian bowlers, was given a fit­ting farewell by the crowd who knew this was the last in­ter­na­tional match of his ca­reer.

There could not have been a worse back­drop to a World Cup match be­tween the two coun­tries in 1999 at Manch­ester in Eng­land. The Kargil war had started and no one in Eng­land could an­tic­i­pate the re­ac­tion of the di­as­pora of the two coun­tries living in Eng­land. There was even a vo­cal ma­jor­ity in the two coun­tries which wanted the match to be called off, the re­frain be­ing, how could the two meet on a cricket field while the two armies were killing one an­other?

The pre-match days were fraught with ten­sion and a few of us, who had made friends with a cou­ple of Pak­istani fans and had de­cided to see the match to­gether, were show­ing signs of un­ease and feel­ing dis­turbed. As a way to treat the match as a sport­ing event and not let the war at home in­ter­fere, we, like many oth­ers, en­tered the ground hold­ing the flags of both the na­tions to­gether in a ges­ture that sig­ni­fied to­geth­er­ness and peace.

Though there were mi­nor in­ci­dents of dis­tur­bance in the crowd, the match, which In­dia won with a lot to spare, passed off peace­fully and once again, cricket fans across the po­lit­i­cal divide showed the way and were a credit to them­selves and their coun­tries.

Four years later, at the Cen­tu­rion in South Africa, the mood was much dif­fer­ent though there was no dearth of ac­ri­mony and ten­sion on and off the field. The match was played in a sea of flags and myr­iad colours. Frayed In­dian nerves were set to rest by an innings of supreme con­trol and ag­gres­sion by the one and only Sachin Ten­dulkar and the preda­tory Viren­der Se­hwag. As the match ended in an In­dian victory, the ground was im­mersed in a sea of In­dian flags. In the press box, I could hear my Pak­istani friend and jour­nal­ist Shahid Hashmi telling his mother on the phone: “Ammi koi baat nahin hai haar gaye hain. Al­lah ki yahi mar­jee thi. Khel mein haar­jeet to hoti rahti hai (Mother, never mind if we have lost. This is God’s will. In sports one team wins and one loses).” Th­ese con­sol­ing words could well have come from an In­dian jour­nal­ist, had the re­sult that day been dif­fer­ent.

Our most re­cent World Cup con­fronta­tion on home soil at Mohali in 2011 had the Prime Min­is­ters of the two coun­tries watch the tus­sle from the ground

it­self. Man­mo­han Singh took this op­por­tu­nity to in­vite Pak­istan PM Yousuf Gi­lani to visit In­dia and watch the match with him. Cricket diplo­macy was once again used to thaw the ice be­tween the two na­tions. This in­vested the match with a mean­ing far be­yond the bound­ary line, re­mind­ing the world that when the two na­tions meet on a sport­ing field, it is much more than a mere cricket match. In a tense, bruis­ing match, the medi­ocrity on dis­play be­trayed the pres­sure and ten­sion the play­ers must have been un­der: In­dia were the vic­tors again. The mo­men­tum that they gained from that quar­ter- fi­nal win led them to ul­ti­mate glory as they crowned them­selves cham­pi­ons.

To­day, In­dia begin the de­fence of their ti­tle, play­ing against Pak­istan on a neu­tral turf, as the fans of the world brace up for yet an­other World Cup con­fronta­tion on a cricket field. Never mind if the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two coun­tries is at its low­est ebb. Tighten your belts and en­joy this ride into the un­known. It may be a war all right, but it is not fought with guns and bul­lets. No one dies here. The win­ner will be the one who plays bet­ter, en­thrals the spec­ta­tors with his skills and holds its nerve even when the pres­sure gets in­sur­mount­able. That is the beauty of sports.

FAN FRENZY

There is a unique chem­istry be­tween the In­dian and Pak­istani fan that unites and divides them while a cricket match is on

FREEZE FRAME

Pho­tos: GETTY IMAGES

The Aamir So­hail-Venkatesh Prasad ver­bal duel ends with Prasad shat­ter­ing his stumps, Ban­ga­lore, circa 1996

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.