I just choke on the term ‘cricket’ diplomacy when it comes to India and Pakistan. Seriously, you need to be in a stadium with Indian and Pakistani cricket fans during one such match to experience the animosity. No, really. This isn’t “sportsmanship” of the extreme kind. It is antipathy bordering on visceral hate. And it comes up most during a high profile cricket match. What diplomacy and what diplomats? The sheer glee on the faces of Indian and Pakistani diplomats when wickets of the other side topple has to be seen to be believed.
Indian fans celebrate after batsman Virat Kohli scores a century during the India-Pakistan match at the Adelaide Oval on Sunday. Pic/AFP
As one commentator said, “India-Pakistan match hai to garmii toh hogi.” Another remarked “pataakon ka kya hoga?” when Pakistan lost the match on Sunday. Kapil Dev tried to be magnanimous for about 30 seconds, but Shoaib Akhtar made a plaintive appeal, “jaley par namak na chidakiye”.
The next best thing or worse thing to being in a stadium during an India-Pakistan match is to watch it in on a big screen TV with one eye on the social media page of your choice. Twitter burst into hundreds of thousands of tweets on Sunday in India and Pakistan. And Indians and Pakistanis everywhere in the world, woke up at odd hours because of the time difference with Australia where the World Cup 2015 is being played. Over 41,000 people were in the stadium in Adelaide when the home team was not playing!
I can happily admit that the best experience I have had is watching an India-Pakistan match in a stadium, in an enclosure with a giant TV screen, so that replays are visible and shooting nasty tweets at the opposing side. The stress of multiplicity of mediums to vent one’s excitement is intoxicating.
Of course there are non-SAARC countries participating in the tournament. But the match that draws maximum eyeballs, maximum advertising, and maximum adrenalin is an India versus Pakistan match. As one Twitter handle @RushdieExplains tweeted “As Sadat Hasan Manto might say, Partition totally worth it for excitement of India-Pakistan cricket matches”.
A Ranbir Kapoor advertisement has him taping his mouth and pulling it off saying “Cricket ka daura jab padtaa hai….tehziib toh tauba tauba.” Nail, head, dishoom. Thank God, the censor board cannot censor our tweets and comments while watching India-Pakistan cricket matches.
It is thus hard to understand the goodwill that cricket is supposed to generate. Yes, we have all seen General Zia ul Haq, General Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif meeting Indian cricketers. Not to mention Imran Khan’s politico-cricket comments. But there is sharpness to the interactions that cannot be missed. Indian cricketers have several anecdotes to tell of the tension on the field and in the dressing room during India-Pakistan matches.
The pressure of politicians adds to the high expectations from their respective cricket teams. Diplomacy is about reducing tensions, isn’t it? Dr Manmohan Singh travelled to Mohali to join his counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani in 2011, even though he was probably the only one in the history of cricket who sat through an India-Pakistan match showing zero emotion. Neither Prime Minister reflected the ill-will that exists between the fans of the game on both sides, nor were they able to impress upon their countries that cricket could bring the two sides closer.
No, dear politicians. Keep diplomacy out of cricket. It is pure unbridled rivalry here. “Haath say chooh kay issey, rishton ka ilzaam na do.” So there is really no point in sending Foreign Secretary Jaishankar to hotfoot his way to Pakistan over cricket. He can talk about river water sharing, fishermen, and disputably undisputed issues, whatever. Just leave cricket out of it. And leave it out of Track 2 (and its a,b,c,d versions too).
They have the best bowlers; we have the best record of winning matches at the World Cup. Let us slug it out on the cricket field without film stars and politicians bringing in their respective agendas. More cricket won’t improve ties just as less cricket won’t impact bilateral ties. There is nothing-called cricket diplomacy. As it is, there is too much corruption, chaos and filth in the game. The last thing we need is to have Indian and Pakistani politicians hijack cricketing events to discuss Kashmir and Sir Creek against the backdrop of nail-biting games.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash