It’s been a long wait to see India and Pakistan playing each other in a bilateral cricket series. But who can forget the 2004-05 ODI series played in India. India won the first two matches with Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s blitzkrieg 148 at Vishakhapatnam. Pakistan ended up winning the series 4-2. The following series in 2005-06, played in Pakistan, was won by India 4-1. It’s Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni who helped India to clinch the series. Pakistani players even took part in the first edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2008.
The November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks changed the situation altogether. After the attack, apart from cancellation of political dialogue, the Government of India cancelled sports activities with the neighbouring country. Pakistani players were barred from playing in the IPL. India refused to play with Pakistan in the bilateral events or in any other format except in World Cup events.
The World Cup underway in England and Wales has brought some hidden facts to the limelight. We are closely watching the Indian and Pakistani commentators on the Star Sports television. These former cricketers show a lot of respect for each other. There is no animosity at display but appreciation of talent and good cricket. Listening to Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Irfan Pathan and Sunil Gavaskar or Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Rameez Raja provides you a different taste of India-Pakistan bonhomie.
Another interesting thing that happened during these days was the retirement of Yuvraj Singh from international cricket. Soon after Yuvraj announced his retirement, Shoaib Akhtar in a YouTube message bided him adieu by saying: “Yuvraj is a rockstar, a match winner and a very good friend….always found him as an elegant batsman. He’s a Punjabi and speaks our language……I remember that he used to play very fluently. Yuvi always knew a lot about cricket. Yuvraj has done wonders for his nation. He was an integral part of India’s 2011 World Cup triumph and his six 6’s against Stuart Broad will always be remembered. He is very patriotic and he will always remain the biggest match-winner. I wish him all the very best for his future”.
Responding to this heartwarming video, Yuvraj tweeted: “Thanks payan for your lovely wishes. Trust me; every time you ran into bowl at me it was terrifying! Had to gather a lot of courage to face you. We had some great battles will always cherish those moments.”
My inner belieF is that people in the sub-continent would like to see India and Pakistan playing cricket regularly. Amartya Sen, in his book Identity & Violence narrates: “During the Pakistani team’s tour of India in 2005, when Pakistan lost the first two one-day matches in the series of six, I cheered for Pakistan for the third match, to keep the series alive and interesting. In the event, Pakistan went well beyond my hopes and won all of the remaining four matches to defeat India soundly by the margin of four to two (another instance of Pakistan’s ‘extremism’ of which Indians complain so much!).
As citizens of South Asia we believe that the sports and cultural exchanges should not be kept hostage to political relations. Indo-Pak cricketing ties have helped in bridging the divide, allowing fans an opportunity to visit the other side and enjoy mutual hospitality. In 1987 General Zia-ul Haq flew to Jaipur to watch a cricket match. General Musharraf followed suit almost two decades later, coming to watch an India-Pakistan match in New Delhi during his state visit in April 2005. Pakistani Prime Minister Mr. Yousuf Raza Gilani and his India counterpart Dr. Manmohan Singh watched together the cricket World Cup semifinal at Mohali in 2011.
Shoaib Akhtar, while interviewing Harbhajan Singh on his YouTube channel on 15th June 2019, asked him a very intriguing question: “What happens to us cricketers on television? When we are at some news channel, why are there such differences?”
Harbhajan gives a frank reply: “See it depends on who is there. If you listen to my statements, they are never like that…..political context should be kept separate. But I have always said that my cricketing heroes are from India, from Pakistan, even from Australia. On further probing Harbhajan said: “A simple match is scandalised like anything. It should be fun. Two countries come together, sit with each other. Enjoy the match together.”
Cricket could help in bringing the two countries together. India cricketers enjoy good following in Pakistan. The heartwarming story of MS Dhoni and Mohammad Bashir must make us believe in the innate nature of cricket as a unifier instead of a divider. We wish Imran Khan and Narendra Modi could watch a cricket match together in Mumbai or in Lahore anytime soon.
The writer teaches Political Science at GDC Women, Anantnag. Views are personal