The joy of beating Pakistan in sports
During the final few moments of the newly-released Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, as Milkha Singh (Farhan Akhtar) (spoiler alert) strode to glory against a Pakistani athlete (twice), the entire theatre erupted in thunderous applause and jubilation.
The movie so far had been brilliant, but such was its duration that I could not help feeling bored. But all this applause woke me up from my mini-sleep as I tried to make sense of the situation. It did not take me too long to realise what was happening. Granted, after it all it was just a movie, but there is something about beating Pakistan that makes us forget all our pains, sorrows, troubles, albeit for a moment only, even if it is in reel and not in real life (although it was not metaphysical all those many years ago when Milkha Singh beat Pakistan’s finest in Ayub Khan).
When Pakistan toured India for the first bilateral series in four years last December, they won the first two ODIs to pocket the series and were on course to a whitewash over their arch-rivals, before a dramatic Pakistan-like collapse saw them lose the game.
The series, if you remember, was played in the aftermath of the horrific Delhi gang rape and the subsequent protests and the mood in the entire country was sombre. But, wins in the second T20 international and the final one-day of the tour were celebrated, even though it was the Pakistanis who were going home with the one-day series. In the words of the Indian fans, India may have lost the battle but won the war.
Passions were on the boil when the two arch-rivals played each other in the Super Six stage of the 1999 World Cup. The match was played during the Kargil War. Tensions were at an all-time high as India and Pakistan took centre stage.
India had all but exited from the tournament while Pakistan was playing reasonably well (and went on to make it to the final, where they lost to Australia). But it was India who emerged victorious on the day, triggering mass celebrations throughout the country. That they left the tournament from the Super Six stage at the bottom with a single win to their name was promptly forgotten, because that win came against Pakistan.
The two teams met again in South Africa four years later in the 2003 World Cup. This time amidst heightened tensions in the wake of December 2001 attack on the Indian parliament. Having come seriously close to a nuclear war, the two teams went on to produce a memorable cricket match at the Bullring in Jo’Burg with a role reversal of sorts as it was India under Sourav Ganguly who was on a roll as compared to a struggling Pakistan under Waqar Younis.
As memorable the game itself was, the one image that will always be etched in every cricket fans’ mind is of that six over point by Sachin Tendulkar off Shoaib Akhtar. With Tendulkar in prime form, India once again were victorious, much to the delight of Indian fans.
There have been numerous other series and matches between the arch-rivals, victories in which have been celebrated feverishly on either side of the border.
The 1996 World Cup quarter-final, India’s historic 2004 tour to Pakistan, 2007 World T20 final, 2011 World Cup semi-final and the December 2012 one-day series come to mind instantly.
Celebrations, however, are not restricted to winning the series or the tournament. If one defeats the other and yet exits the tournament or as happened in the last ODI series, wins the last match to keep their pride intact, nothing else matters, even if the other goes on to win it all.
For the fans of both sides, a win over the other is the ultimate prize. Apart from cricket, the two teams have met in other sports competitions, most prominently hockey, but it is a cricket victory that is celebrated the most. It’s a rivalry that defines careers. Just why is it so?
Arch-rivals in any sports share traits such as strong sporting tradition, cultural similarity, conflict of faiths, border proximity, massive following of sport etc. When it comes to India and Pakistan, their rivalry ticks the entire above criterion. The rivalry is only stoked by the fact that the two nations used to be one till 60-odd years back.
Cricket is one game that is followed like a religion in both countries. There is a strong sense of pride about the game and both sets of fans just cannot fathom losing to the other. Sure, great performances and poor displays from both sides are appreciated and critiqued by fans. Such is the passion that fans indulge in abuses online pre and post-match and some try to pacify them.
Cricket is no longer a sport, it is now a war, an opportunity for salvation; redemption. To put it simply, it is the bragging rights that this is all about. The same goes for other sports as well.
As I joined the audience in clapping as Milkha defeated his rival Pakistani athlete, I asked my friend, in spite of knowing the answer, “This is just athletics and not cricket, and then why is everyone clapping?”
He answered: “Because it is against Pakistan.” (Sorry for the expletive, but it had to be there)
And therein I had my answer, after all Dil Bole Hadippa.