Cricket with Pakistan is Politics After All



                                                                                                 By Tushar Charan

There is no dearth of people who would advise us against mixing cricket (sport) with politics, particularly in the context of the traditional India-Pakistan rivalry. The more we hear this homily the more we see the distasteful mixture of the two. This unpalatable truth was again in evidence in Kolkata where the two unfriendly neighbours played a T20 cricket match on March 19.

India won the match and the hyper-nationalists pumped their adrenal by shouting–no doubt about it–all the right slogans, beginning with Bharat Mata ki Jai. The media was lost for words to hail the victory and paint the ‘hero’ of the Indian win, batsman Virat Kohli, as some kind of a cricketing Superman. The Superman may have been different but haven’t we witnessed it so many times before. And still you claim you find it exciting. Of course, poor Kohli would be described as the worst villain the moment he fails in an Indian defeat!

The Kolkata match was originally scheduled to be played in the picturesque town of Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh but the Congress chief minister nixed it to embarrass the ruling party (BJP) which has been speaking in two tongues on cricketing ties with Pakistan.

But it is not only the wild swings of Indian politicians which make cricketing ties with Pakistan such an off putting exercise. The Pakistani narrative on the subject is saturated with jingoism and India-bashing, perhaps not very different from what happens in India. The inevitable self-flagellation that accompanies it does not make it less torturous.

Politics stares out clearly from the negative spin in Pakistan on an encounter with India on the cricket pitch. The purpose is to implant the idea that whenever India defeats Pakistan it is due to some underhand trick in which the ‘Indians’ (Pakistani code for you know whom) excel. Recall what many Pakistanis, particularly Shahid Afridi, have said about India–before Afridi’s recent ‘faux pas’ in Kolkata when he said that he is loved more in India than his country.

So what were the tricks Indians used in Kolkata? The pitch, to begin with. The Eden Gardens pitch was tailored made for the Indian spinners. Now this can be barely denied that pitches are almost always prepared to suit the strength of the home team. Pakistan is no exception to that rule. But then it is expected that the visiting team would be prepared to overcome that ‘disadvantage’, if it can be so described. Besides, before the teams descend on the ground to begin their encounter, the rival captains ‘read’ the pitch carefully and plan their strategy for the game.

It cannot be that the Pakistani captain Shahid Afridi did not have a look at the pitch. If he ‘erred’ in going out with one spinner short it must have been because he had more faith in his pace battery. Not for the first time, this type of ‘gamble’ failed. Blaming the defeat on the pitch and the shortcomings in the bowling department only hides the basic truth that the winner played better. It is as simple as that.

What hurt the Pakistanis most was that it shattered their own illusion about their ‘superiority’ over Indians (at the Eden Gardens) and the failure of their carefully crafted strategy of unleashing a war of words and psychological pressure on India. Days before the Pakistani cricket team finally landed in India, the entire Pakistani establishment, including the cricket administrators, was thrashing their Indian counterparts for their failure to ‘assure’ safety of their cricketers in India. The Pakistan team’s departure was held up till the last minute even when Indian officials had repeatedly announced that the Pakistani players will be given full security cover.

Then came another round of Pakistani propaganda warfare in the form of allegations that Indian authorities were not allowing members of the Pakistani High Commission in Delhi to travel with their team to different venues in India. Indeed the Indian government did not agree to give permission to all the members of the Pakistani mission whose names were notified by the mission.

Pakistan should be the last country to make an issue out of it. It places far more and more severe restrictions on the movement of Indian diplomats than does India. Anyhow, India is also well within its rights to reject travel permission to those members of the Pakistani mission in Delhi who are suspected to be ISI operatives. Why should Pakistan demand permission for a posse of its ‘diplomats’ to travel to different corners of India? Is it because these members of the mission were to take up security tasks because they did not believe that Indians would protect their team? Then again, the question is can a score or more of mission members provide better security than a battalion or more of local security agencies?

Much to their disappointment, the Pakistani cricket ‘icon’, Imran Khan, whose services were requisitioned to boost the morale of the team and provide useful tips to thrash the ‘arch enemy’ failed in his mission. It must have been a personal disappointment for the cricketer-turned-politician to see his team lose to India, the country he always saw as the ‘enemy’ while playing cricket.

Of the various reasons given for their team’s loss, perhaps the most bizarre was the allegation that a leading Pakistani singer had faltered while singing his country’s national anthem in the company of Amitabh Bachchan, the omnipresent septuagenarian film star, in Kolkata.

Mr. Bachchan may be India’s ‘biggest superstar’ or whatever, but one thing that can be said for sure is that he is no singer of any merit. That he has sung some film songs—off key, mostly–does not make him a singer in the real sense. Unfortunately not having heard or seen his rendition of Jana Mana Gana at the Kolkata stadium one can’t vouch for its quality but it might not be irrelevant to add that the Pakistani singer who appeared with him does have a reputation as a competent singer. There cannot be any comparison between the singing qualities of the two. And to attribute a team’s defeat to the bad rendition of the ‘Qaumi Tarana’ (national anthem of Pakistan) is taking things too far.

The Pakistanis did have a consolation—a big one, from their point of view—despite the Kolkata defeat. Their women’s team defeated India by a couple of runs under the DL method. In all honesty, this has to be described as a fluke victory. But if one goes by the reaction in Pakistan, it was one of the greatest moments in the history of cricket in Pakistan. How many in India talked about the ‘fluke’ Pakistani women’s victory?     (Syndicate Features)

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