I was recently reading Mark Manson’s “The subtle art of not giving a F**k” which has a chapter on legendary guitarist Dave Mustaine. Mustaine was part of Metallica in his early days before he was asked to leave the band. Determined to create his own legacy in music, Mustaine went on to create heavy metal band Megadeth and sell over 25 million records. Despite his success, Mustaine admitted to being jealous of Metallica’s success. Mustaine may be conflicted over Megadeth’s achievements but for music lovers, Mustaine’s separation meant they were treated to not one but two great bands in the same generation and their rivalry pushed both of them to make better music.
Mustaine’s story is very similar to the cricketing rivalry between India and Pakistan. Before partition, they were one cricket team. Pakistan grew out of India’s shadows and created a cricket team they could be proud of. There have been times when fans on either side got jealous of each other's success, but the game always got richer as a result of their rivalry. India and Pakistan continue to be rock stars of cricket and their contest is cricket’s showstopper.
“There have been times when fans on either side got jealous of each other's success, but the game always got richer as a result of their rivalry.”
Last 70 years haven’t been smooth sailing by any means. We have seen wars, hatred, diplomatic breakdowns. Cricket has flared tensions when players are told to win at all cost and a loss is seen as a catastrophe by fans and media. Mindless hubris before the game on TV and collective grieving and finger pointing after the loss to appeal to the lowest common denominator in the mob have hurt not just the cricketing ties but political and cultural ties between the two nations.
Shiv Sena workers storm BCCI office, to protest against Pakistan cricket board chief
There have been times when cricket was the only way to make any meaningful contact between two nations giving birth to the term “cricket diplomacy”. A visit from General Zia ul Haq to watch a test match in Jaipur or an endorsement of Dhoni’s hairstyle from General Pervez Musharraf have provided a healing touch to the bilateral relations between the two countries in the times of need.
Pakistan President Gen Zia-ul-Haq with Sunil Gavaskar in Jaipur
India and Pakistan have exchanged spots at the top of test rankings over the last couple of years but it’s been almost a decade since the two have played a test match against each other. The Pakistan board recently demanded damage for the financial loss it incurred due to India’s continuous denial at touring Pakistan. Whether or not BCCI is responsible for PCB’s damage is debatable but there can’t be any debate over the cricketing loss due to this extended hiatus.
“India and Pakistan continue to be rock stars of cricket and their contest is cricket’s showstopper.”
Despite the break in cricketing ties, fans on either side continue to follow the fate of their neighbouring cricketers. If there is one team we follow, even if it is just the results or their spot in ICC rankings, it’s our neighbours. This has been the case ever since I remember watching cricket. India didn’t qualify for 1992 World Cup semi final but our interest was kept alive due to Pakistan’s progress. It helped that Imran Khan probably had more female fans in India than in Pakistan. The win made us envious of Pakistan’s success throughout the 90s. We wished we had a bowler like Waqar Younis in our ranks as much as Pakistani fans today wish they had a captain like Kohli in their team today.
Both India and Pakistan have exchanged top spots in Test rankings
The friendship between cricketers has always been strong despite the on field animosity. Yes, I completely acknowledge Gambhir and Afridi as an exception. When sceptics were raising questions over Mohammad Aamir’s legitimacy as an international cricketer, Virat Kohli’s endorsement of his skills helped fans in India and across the world acknowledge that the kid has done his time and deserves to showcase his skills now. Aamir later returned the compliment by naming Kohli as the best batsman he has bowled to.
Virat Kohli gifting Mohammad Amir his bat
Historically our cricketers have always helped each other out off the field like good friends do. Ganguly used to ask Inzamam to bring bats from Sialkot and return the favour by sending him home cooked meals while the big man was staying in Kolkata.
When Inzamam had come down for an ad shoot to Kolkata, the food at the hotel came from Ganguly’s home
Another request for a bat made in Sialkot from Sachin to Waqar meant that Waqar had a bonafide Tendulkar bat in his kit that he could lend to Shahid Afridi in his debut ODI game to score the fastest hundred of all times. Perhaps this is how our relations are meant to be. Politics and history will keep dividing us, destiny and proximity will keep reminding us of our connections.