Should we have India vs Pakistan cricket matches ?text_fields
There is a part of me that believes that playing cricket with Pakistan is well just not cricket. After all, at the end of the day we have witnessed the disgraceful trolling of Indian bowler Mohammad Shami while students have been arrested in Kashmir Valley for celebrating the victory of Pakistan over India. Reports say they have been charged under UAPA designed to fight terrorism, hardly appropriate for students who should be free to support any side they wish if it were just a game. There has always been a constituency for Pakistan in the Valley and the growth and increased power of forces that believe in a Hindu Rashtra are hardly likely to win over hearts and minds there. But apparently "sentiment" now can be seen as criminal in the charged atmosphere in which we now live evoking what George Orwell called "thought-crime".
There is always debris from India Pakistan matches, historically in both countries. In the past we have read reports of Pakistanis smashing their TV sets and haranguing their team after defeats to India. This time round the interior minster of Pakistan Sheikh Rashid Ahmed in the Imran Khan government made shocking remarks such as describing the win in the ongoing T 20 match as a victory of Islam and saying that all the Muslims of the world including those in India were with the cricket team of Pakistan. Such words imply that players such as Shami would secretly be rooting for Pakistan even if they are thrashed in the game! Presumably, if Pakistan beats New Zealand as they did a few days after the win over India, the minister would not call it a victory of Islam over Christianity. And were Pakistan to be defeated by India in the future as has happened in the past, would the minister then say that Islam was defeated? It is therefore hugely problematic to bring faith into sport but it seems to be something that happens on both sides of the border. But it cannot be ignored if a minster in Pakistan uses such metaphors to describe a match.
Yet in spite of the toxicity on social media that amplifies all anti-Muslim sentiment, it's worth noting that there was a pushback too against the attack on Mohammad Shami. The otherwise apolitical cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar tweeted against the profiling of the player as did other former national level players. BCCI rules and norms apparently bar current members of the team from tweeting or taking positions on sensitive issues in the midst of a tournament.
The strongest condemnation of what was being done by bigots and trolls however came from the much-loved cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle. He created a tweet that he hash-tagged #Shami and #355wicketsforIndia and said that those indulging in such a low level discourse should stop watching cricket and would not be missed! He also had harsh words for retired Pakistani fast bowler Waqar Younis who said that watching batsman Rizwan offer namaz in front of Hindus was very special to him, saying that "a lot of us try to play down such things and talk up sport and to hear this is terrible".
In the end therefore no one of any consequence in India actually made the sort of statements that the Pakistan interior minister and retired bowler did. Social media on our side of the border however completely communalized the match. As for Waqar Younis' stupid statement, surely he must be aware that India has as many Muslims as Pakistan and most Indians have seen people offer namaz. Or was he deliberately suggesting that the power of namaz defeated Hindu majority India? Or was he just really both stupid and communal at the same time?
So, is it worth it to play matches with Pakistan? On the face of it, we should be able to do so without arresting and abusing people. Of particular concern is the constant saga of haranguing and arresting of Kashmiri students in India, presumably because they do not support the national team. That is one faultline that always gets exposed when we play a game with Pakistan.
Yet if we got over the spite and the hate and the huge complex about beating Pakistan and feeling wretched if we fail to do so, we would still see a beautiful game that the team led by Babar Azam played on the night against India. It was almost like an exhibition match of flawless batting, bowling and fielding where the other side was outplayed on every front. The Indian captain Virat Kohli, handled the defeat like a champ hugging the Pakistani players and saying that they just outplayed us.
Years ago, the legendary Indian player Sunil Gavaskar gave a hilarious account of playing matches against Pakistan because he said that they would keep up a constant string of swear words and exchanges that only Indians would understand and sometimes in the midst of an intense bat vs ball exchange there was also a desire to burst out laughing. It has been said that Gavaskar would build up a genuine friendship with Imran Khan when the latter was known as just a great cricketer before he became prime minister of Pakistan. Gavaskar was writing about an era and age when the Pakistani team was not so overtly religious and when India was still hailed as a genuinely secular country. Both the nations have changed since then and the best we can hope for is that we have not become a Hindu version of Pakistan, a name that translates into Land of the Pure. A cricket match between the two nations does make one think about the history of the sub-continent.