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Sports

Judgement day-As India and Pakistan face off in the World Cup today in the wake of heightened tensions

June 16, 2019 04:54 AM

COURTESY MIRROR JUNE 16

This relationship is about more than just competition on the pitch
Judgement day
As India and Pakistan face off in the World Cup today in the wake of heightened tensions, two sports writers – one from each nation – break down the friction
| Anand Vasu
mybangaloremirror@timesgroup.com
TWEETS @BangaloreMIRROR

The year was 1986. A boy, perhaps 10 years old, had exactly one pataka in hand, and he thought that was enough. After all, only one ball was left to be bowled and four runs were still needed. The bowler ran up, and as he let go of the ball, the child was fumbling to light the firecracker. But before his clammy hands could, the Srinagar skies lit up all around him in massive celebration, drowning out his own moment of joy. How’s that for a damp squib?

It was, of course, that Chetan Sharma full-toss — and that Javed Miandad six — that scarred a generation of Indian cricketers and fans alike. The incident, recounted vividly by journalist and author Rahul Pandita in his book Our Moon Has Blood Clots, illustrates the mood in the Valley at the time: the deep polarisation between Hindus and Muslims, Kashmiris and Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmiris.


Indian cricket fans of different vintages are not quite as polarised, but can easily be differentiated, based on their age.

There are those to whom the Miandad six was an event so soulcrushing that they remember exactly where they were, whom they were with, and what they were doing when it happened. It’s a bit like asking an American where she was when JFK was assassinated, or a German about the time that the Berlin Wall fell.

And then there is the next generation — those whose first, serious memory of watching cricket is the 1992 World Cup. All this lot knows is the successive humblings of Pakistan by India at the World Cup. That India have never lost to Pakistan in a World Cup, and the score reading — like a Rafael Nadal opening set at Roland Garros, 6-0 — is widely enough known, and flaunted in the face of Pakistani fans each time the quadrennial circus comes along.

In Manchester today, it will be out again — on placards, in tweets and with the die-hard, in face paint. But while the players from both teams aim to keep the contest limited to cricket, every other stakeholder has gone in the opposite direction, imbuing the match with hues from saffron to green, patriotism to jingoism, thuggery to lumpenism, and a whole lot else. And in this, fans from both sides of the border are united. In fact they routinely attempt to outdo each other in plumbing new depths of indignity.

For Indian fans, though, it is not so much the record that is important. While 6-0 has a splendid symmetry to it, each of those wins served as a kind of salve. Each of those wins was not so much about revenge or redemption, as a soothing balm applied on an earlier wound.

In 1987, Salim Malik walked out to bat at No. 7 at India’s fortress, Eden Gardens, in a lost cause. Mighty Miandad had been dismissed early, and at 161 for 5 in pursuit of 239, India had the game in the bag. Then came Malik, not only controlling the strike like a charmer would a hooded cobra, but using those wrists to carve up the Indian attack to the tune of 72 from 36 balls. This was no IPL match where every batsman with a log of wood and biceps the size of an average thigh, hammered 50s for fun. This was 11 fours and a six, and a win that pierced the Indian heart like a skewer through a seekh kabab in a tandoor.

From the elegant surgery of Malik, move a decade ahead to the butchery of his brotherin-law, Ijaz Ahmed. It was as though the family had a special dislike for India, or at least an extreme affection for its bowling attack. In 1997, at the Gadaffi Stadium in Lahore, India was underwhelmed, putting 216 on the board. But the response was disproportionately brutal. At the crease with a stance that could be described as rustic at best, Ijaz batted as though his team needed 316. With some truly spectacular yet undeniably-agricultural hitting, Ijaz made an unbeaten 139 off only 84 balls, with nine sixes and 10 fours — unthinkable at the time — winning the game in 26.2 overs. Yes, there was time left for a meal break and another T20 team innings; that’s how visceral Ijaz’s innings was.

It is these cuts and slices, routine yet unique, that made India’s wins over Pakistan in the World Cup so significant. There was nothing valuable about beating Imran Khan’s cornered tigers in 1992, in terms of India’s progression in the event, but it helped shove the memory of a rampaging Malik into the farthest corner of the mind.

There was nothing especially constructive about the Manchester breeze of 1999, except for Venkatesh Prasad, who took 5 for 27 in defence of 227, as India did not even make it to the final four. But here, again, the precondition of so many Indian fans was fulfilled: do what you want in the rest of the tournament, but beat Pakistan.

The tensions between India and Pakistan, off the field, have ranged from simmering to ready-to-explode, with only tiny windows of something approaching a genuine mutual desire for peace and stability. One such span, however artificially constructed, in the time of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Parvez Musharraf, was India’s tour to Pakistan in 2004. Not so much a ceasefire as a cessation of country identities (to be in Pakistan in those days was more unreal than surreal). Pakistanis took ‘mehmaan nawazi’ to heights previously unexplored, and Indians discovered commonalities and kinships hitherto unimagined.

It was a time of such unabashed crossborder losing that it proved to be too good to be true. The cricket was of an unusually high standard — not always the case in India-Pakistan matches, because neither team can bear the cost of losing — and this should be the outlook for 2019. Forget the scars, forgive the slights, just get together and provide a spectacle worthy of the people

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