The BCCI announced that after almost half a decade, there will be a bilateral series between India and Pakistan. The series comprises of 3 ODIs and 2 T20s. It will be played in December 2012 and January 2013.
On the face of it, the facts read thus: Two countries will play another series that will fit into the cricketing calendar. But no, when India and Pakistan are involved, it is no longer cricket. It is much more.
Right on cue, TV channels were in their element with ‘incisive analyses’ and ‘counterpoints.’ When India and Pakistan are involved, the world watches. And when India and Pakistan are prospectively involved, India watches. The news channels that is.
Last night, there was a debate on this subject. Now that a series had been announced, money was to be made by covering it. That, however, is a long way off. Right now, money is to be made covering the coverage of it.
In a nation of a billion and a bit, there are bound to be people who will oppose a populist move. And these news channels have the uncanny knack of spotting them.
The ‘esteemed panelists’ on this debate consisted of former cricketers, current cricketers, politicians, a cricketer from across the border, some journalists and a diplomat. Diversity: Check. Topic: Is this the right time for India be playing Pakistan. Controversy of the topic: Check. Needless stupidity of the topic: Check. All the necessary boxes for compelling TV have been checked. Onward we go.
The debate waged on with people arguing that cricket is the way forward and others arguing that given the political climate, sport must be happen. Hogwash! It is established beyond almost any reasonable doubt that Pakistan had a large hand to play in 26/11. Nobody doubts that. However, the key thing to note in that previous sentence is the word ‘Pakistan.’ If the sentence was, say, ‘the Pakistani cricket team had a large hand to play in 26/11,’ it would be outrageous and preposterous to even suggest a cricketing or indeed any sporting series.
Sport is inexplicably and undeniably intertwined with politics. The history of sport has never been separate. There have always been political clouds hanging over sporting events; in some cases, dark storm-bearing ones that threaten to burst into a spontaneous outburst at the merest provocation. Games have been played with ramifications that have reached far beyond the confines of the stadium. The results of games have had effects on culture. These moments have been captured on film and Hollywood has had its take on these too; Rocky IV being a prime example.
All this, is undeniable. The furore over the present series, however, is stupid. We are a nation of emotional people and the smallest spark can ignite the largest fire. No doubt. However, we are also a sport-loving people and nothing peps the soul up like a good old fashioned India – Pakistan game. There are two excellent cricketing sides and the occasion only adds to it. The players are up for it that much more and that leads to superhuman efforts from otherwise ordinary players. Suddenly, it becomes more than just a game. Only on the pitch, however.
The old world of punching each other in the middle of the pitch is long gone. The game is played at a ferocious pace with sparks flying but these, however, remain sparks. Once the game is over, there are handshakes all around and visible signs of camaraderie. That is because a game, however more than a game it may be, is still a game. Players understand that although the terror attacks on Mumbai and perhaps other parts of India are perpetrated in Pakistan, the Pakistani players have pretty much nothing to do with them.
Players are mature enough to understand that while the opposition team is their enemy, the enmity lasts only 22 yards. Off it, they may not really be friends but they are not necessarily enemies. Indians being outraged by Pakistan’s hand in 26/11 must be equally sensitive about the terrible terrible state that exists in the country with thousands dying every year because of terrorism within the country. The Indians cannot adopt moral high grounds as deaths in Pakistan due to terrorism do not matter for it is something of their own doing. That may well be but a loss of a life is the loss of a life, regardless of nationality.
Cricket may not be the solution to the problem of India-Pakistan relations. It may not even be the beginning. It may, however, be a getaway for all those people who would like to view a feisty yet good-natured sporting contest. Perhaps if India wins, the families of those who lost their life in the 26/11 tragedy will be consoled. I do not, however, think so. Much as the news channels would love to harp on this angle, I do not think that those bereaving people would get closure because of one cricket match. Or if they do indeed get closure, they would have gotten it in the semi-final of the World Cup.
It is not that any of these people have an objection anyway. It is just a case of the media wanting them to have a problem so that they will have something juicy to report on. After all, the motto seems to be, ‘if there is no news in it and there is potential to be, make it.’ Stop it, already. Let the first ball be bowled; let the first fist-fight happen. Then talk.
Remember, wars are fought between nations, not between people. India and Pakistan have problems between them; they may even hate each other. That, however, does not mean that Indians and Pakistanis do.