Nostalgia, Friendship and Cricket: Recalling India's Tour of Pakistan, 2004
Traditionally, whenever subcontinent powerhouses and arch-rivals India and Pakistan have squared off on the cricket field, the excitement generated among fans and spectators alike is enough energy to light up a few thousand villages back home in the two countries. As former wicket-keeper & captain Rashid Latif once pointed out, both sides give 120-150% of their effort into this contest, way more than when they play other teams.
For people of both nations, it is much more than on-field rivalry. It’s also about one-upmanship, setting the record straight, and a host of other factors that come into play when blue and green collide. In 2004, however, most of that was replaced by a spirit of friendship and camaraderie long missing in the political relations between both countries.
The game was played hard but in a fair manner. Neither side was willing to give an inch, nor was it smooth sailing for either. It was only through the superlative efforts of the young lineup that the Indian tricolour triumphed over their neighbours.
Eleven years since Sourav Ganguly and Inzamam-ul-Haq led their respective troops out in Lahore to begin what turned out to be one of the greatest series of all-time, we look back on some of the magical moments that remain a cricket connoisseur’s delight.
The promotions, emotional build-ups, inspirational messages and financial windfalls
Pepsi, the title sponsors for the ODI leg of the series (aptly titled Friendship Series), went about promoting and building up viewership with a set of innovative adverts featuring members of the Indian squad. While the focus was always going to remain on the contest between bat and ball, catchy commercials with the 2003 World Cup finalists still warm the hearts of those die-hard devotees of the gentleman’s game. I still laugh at the sight of some of them!
Another aspect of the tour was that before the Indian squad jetted off to Lahore, then-Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had an inspirational message for Ganguly & co. It was simple – “ Sirf match hi nahi, dil bhi jeet kar aana (Don’t Just Win Matches, But Also Win Their Hearts).”
While he may have chosen to mean this as a motivational effort of sorts, it also underlined the cricket diplomacy between the two warring nations. India was still looking for a peaceful settlement with Pakistan, and the other nation was, on the face of it, responding in kind. Good omens, if only for a brief while, as it turned out.
The series also provided the Pakistan Cricket Board with an opportunity to get back on its feet financially. The backdrop of terror, skirmishes across the Afghan border, and general smaller acts of violence, had threatened to send the embattled cricket establishment in the country to bankruptcy. Nevertheless, the stage was set for a remarkable showdown and plenty of financial recovery.