Green grass, blue skies.
Legend has it that there are only two forces of nature known to mankind that have eternally managed to empty every street and neighbourhood of India at the blink of an eye- the Mahabharat TV serial and an(y) India-Pakistan cricket match. While both have commanded a great deal of emotion and intensity, there’s also an undeniable sense of irony in the age-old phenomenon. While the Mahabharata is believed to be an actual war according to folklore, an India-Pakistan cricket match has oddly attained an undesirably similar stature over the years. Ridiculously trivial wars unfurl on even more trivial venues across social media and Whatsapp forwards. As I sit down and laud Pakistan for their inspiring Champions Trophy triumph, I can’t help but fish for a bit of cricket drowning somewhere amidst all the hoopla and rivalry.
There’s no refuting the fact about that we’ve all been fortunate enough to witness some memorable cricketing moments between the men in blue and green over the years. While Miandad’s match-winning six and Akthar’s vicious bouncers kept denting a million Indian hopes, a curly-haired Mumbaikar, his MRF bat and an infectious smile spread a million more smiles. The rivalry exponentially grew alongside Tendulkar’s rise in his career, but lacked the class the latter exuded. While many of these matches aimed at strengthening diplomatic ties between the neighbours, the fans often seemed to have other plans. Especially when a lion’s share of them kept taking sardonic joy in hurling abuses at each other, based on a few irrelevant shortcomings of both the nations and their citizens. Of course, there have been some rousing exceptions like the Chennai Test of 1999 where a sweaty home crowd graciously stood up and cheered for Pakistan on their victory lap. Or that time when Pervez Musharraf couldn’t get over Dhoni’s luscious mane. The otherwise growing animosity has often dissolved the sheer joy of sitting down together and enjoying a good game of cricket.
Before we further discuss the symptoms of this chronic illness, let’s ask ourselves a few questions. What makes you follow a sport with immense interest? Does it have a lot to do with its uniqueness of game-play? Is it one of those sports you grew up playing back in the day? Or was it the many sportsmen and women whose skills and successes commanded all your admiration and attention? If you can find yourself answering at least one among the above, your passion and loyalty for the sport are indeed intact. On the contrary, if you can trace the roots of your interest for a sport solely back to nationalistic pride and identity, it’s probably time you called for a quick DRS. *cue Shane Watson fist-bumping his bat* It is, naturally, almost blasphemous to expect a cricketer to choose anything above and beyond the team he/she represents. After all, getting to represent one’s country is a testimony to a lifetime’s worth hard work, commitment and innate flair. To me, the last nine words of the previous sentence forms the crux of a cricketer, and in turn his team, and in turn his nation of representation. Take this out of the equation and try picturing a game of cricket. If you find yourself scratching your head and impatiently waiting for a result, your DRS has let you down. In a good way, thankfully.
National pride lends us a comforting and profound identity, within and beyond sport. Donning it is naturally a matter of pride and joy. Pitting it against each other in the name of rivalry, however, diminishes its significance as well as the essence of the sport. It’s disconcerting to observe how India-Pakistan matches have always been result-oriented, with individual contributions often swept away under the rug of rivalry. All of us remember India’s dramatic win at finals of the T20 World Cup. Not many of us recollect 22 year old Irfan Pathan quietly walking away with the Man of the Match that night. Ironically, the number of closely contested matches between the two teams has waned away with time, leaving me wondering if perhaps India’s matches against Sri Lanka, Australia and West Indies are more deserving of the honorary title of rivalry and all the publicity that it drags along. Surely, the 1983 World Cup final, the Kolkata Test of 2001 and the World Cup finals of 2011 are among Indian cricket’s finest cricketing hours. These matches are fondly remembered for player performances as well as their extraordinary conclusions. And these are just a handful among many other well-balanced and thrilling showdowns the duos have partaken in.
While broadcasters, cricket boards and even Bollywood continue to enjoy a field day during India-Pakistan matches, Cricket quietly suffers a few blows. Social Media turns dirty all thanks to the filth it’s submerged in. Humour takes a nasty turn on Whatsapp forwards and memes. And just in case the atmosphere isn’t foul enough, many among us patiently await the match result to decide between effigies and crackers for the night. In the blink of an eye, team preparation, effort and acknowledgement are hit out of the park. This year’s Champions Trophy finals provided a bit of respite, with Sarfraz Ahmed and his gritty team receiving all the love and praise from across the border. Fakhar Zaman smashed Pakistan’s batting woes into smithereens while Mohammed Aamir thanked Allah for a second chance in cricket with some exemplary bowling. Virat Kohli’s humility trumped his despair as he too saluted his opposition’s triumph. While it may have been the the anti-climax which lent the warm respite, the match also lends a fair share of hope for many more memorable face-offs between two of the most revered cricketing nations in the world.