India Pakistan Cricket Rivalries



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By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Up Front

I think commentators make a grave error in judgement when they are of the opinion that sports always improve bilateral ties between nations. “When I played my first series against Pakistan, it did look like a war,” recalls India’s 1983 World Cup-winning captain, Kapil Dev. “In our time, we were expected more to harm the Pakistani players than to win a match.”

Sports cannot be a carrier to cease hostilities when two countries have rivalries of a political past. These hostilities serve as bad reminders for the game. When passions and emotions run high, as a spectator, winning a team gives personal pleasure. It is called cricket psychology - as an avid supporter of Pakistani cricket, even I have fallen into this prey at times, as I realise the consequences it gives to an individual’s time. Due to my personal choices, I have rarely enjoyed the true spirit of the game, whenever India and Pakistan played cricket. As a Kashmiri, having grown up watching the game, I have realised that spirit of the game can’t be enjoyed till an individual cools his or her flaring passions for a favoured team. That’s how animosity arises: it has different levels and reasons to it.

In South Asia, India and Pakistan share same bitter rivalries in cricket, as Latin American nations, Brazil and Argentina share in football. When national anthems are played, flags are waved and choirs are chanted, the game merely remains as a sporting spectacle. It rather transforms into one of the instruments of nationalism - I can vouch that with the aired statements of L K Advani who felt proud on the achievements of the Flag Committee instituted by his government, in relation to Indian cricket, that allowed every Indian to haul flags into stadiums. These developments may be rational for patriots and nationalists, but it has constructed intense pressures on the true spirit of the game, because a sport like a cricket, in the subcontinent, is now driven amidst a potent political atmosphere.

An India and Pakistan cricket game is watched under totally different perceptions when we compare it with a neutral venue. In Kashmir, loyalty towards Pakistani cricket goes back to decades. The place has even witnessed fireworks and celebrations for a foreign team like Pakistan where Kashmiri people have pleasured their wins. This allegiance even questions the nationhood, the identity of supporters who do it, and this fact even holds true for many Indian Muslims as well. Maybe, it is the reason of religion or it is just a blind allegiance because of the appeal Pakistan has, as a cricket team, with a history of superstar cricketers.

I don’t think any rivalry compares to India-Pakistan. And the reason is the partition,” recurs Boria Majumdar, a historian and TV pundit who lives and works in Calcutta, India. “No other country has come out of this level of political trauma. So you see India-Pakistan cricket is of a different league. It is the world’s foremost sporting rivalry, across all sports.” The reason for that are the uproars a win or a loss causes on media or in the public. We have seen cricket being transformed as a form of ‘productive blow’ to either country – it has political as well as social dimensions. It even has a direct consequence on the behaviour of the masses. This attitude stays with the public for some time. They cheer and forget. But when matches between these two countries start again, the same mental attitude persists.

We have witnessed barrages hurled upon each other by commentators on media – take the example of a recent ugly skirmish between Aamir Sohail and Ravi Shastri that happened during the eve of the world cup on national television. Recall the rebuke which was honked at Inzamam by a spectator during Pakistan’s tour of India, the abusive moments of Gambhir and Afridi, or the ever pesky stares which we encounter when these national teams play with an agitated history behind them. If ex-cricketer, Moin Khan believes that cricket acts as a  facilitator of peace after violent acts of extremism, then where should we class instances like these? These moments foment the Indian and the Pakistani public towards hatred. They recall earlier rivalries that these two cricket playing nations have shared. In these occurrences, cricket diplomacy just superficially acts as a facilitator of peace for these two nations. Therefore, the marketing of cricket should rest upon the shoulders of good analysers.

When sportsmen don’t play with responsibility, and when we have media and observers commenting on the basis of nationalistic gestures, the honest reviewing potential of this game loses equity. Boria Majumdar further postulates that it is the responsibility of political classes to mend relations between two “feuding nations.” But how can this happen when politics literally plagues cricket - it holds true for India and Pakistan because they are the only two countries in the cricketing world who serve a meaty agenda for many – including match-fixers, cricket boards and the followers of the game who get carried away by the love of the country, and people who use it to their leverage. So should I say that love of the nation in the subcontinent outcasts the true spirit of appreciation? To a certain extent, yes.




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