History was made on Sunday night, last night, when Pakistan decimated India in the finals of the Champions Trophy in London. The weakest cricket team had defeated one of the strongest teams in the world. When India outplayed Pakistan in the inaugural match at Edgbaston, nobody dreamt Pakistan would return from the dregs and script such a resounding victory.
In fact, when both countries qualified for the final, many Indians were happy because they thought Virat Kohli and his men would once again roundly humiliate Sarfraz Ahmed and his boys.
This is something unusual about both Indians and Pakistanis. They love to play against each other, but they hate to lose. Especially with cricket, the mother of all games; they hate to play it like the sport that it is. They behave as if it’s bloody war, or at the very least, a boxing match.
As we saw in England, neither Indians and Pakistanis can accept the bitter taste of cricketing defeat. Worse, India has refused to play Pakistan in a bilateral match in either India or Pakistan or a third country, but is ready to play it in an international championship in a country which ruled both of us for more than 300 years.
Is this not hypocrisy? The Champions Trophy 2017 final match in the historic Oval ground of London broke all previous viewership records. It was watched by more than one billion people on their television screens around the globe.
The irony is that Indians and Pakistanis cannot watch their own matches in their own countries, but are ready to watch them in the land of their former colonial masters. Unlike the other days of the week, there was no tension along the Line of Control on Sunday because both countries were tense that day. Every ball and every stroke of this match made millions of people happy and millions sad.
Pakistan reached the finals against many predictions. India won the toss and asked Pakistan to bat. Many Pakistani cricket experts weren’t expecting any extraordinary performances from Pakistani batsmen, but depended on their bowlers to deliver.
They were wrong again. Pakistan’s score of 338 runs is the highest any team has made in this championship. Pakistani youngster Fakhar Zaman scored a century and his brilliant performance was praised by many Indian experts, including Sunil Gavaskar. Similarly, when Hardik Pandya showered sixers to leg spinner Shadab Khan many Pakistani supporters wearing green shirts present in the Oval clapped for Pandya.
Question is, can we do this in each other’s countries? The truth is that it’s not easy for any Indian to praise a Pakistani publicly. The reverse is also true. It’s very difficult for a Pakistani to praise an Indian player publicly.
Remember what happened with a Pakistani fan of Virat Kohli last year? Umar Draz, from a small village in Okara district of South Punjab was arrested because he praised Kohli. The police raided his house and seized one Indian flag and three smiling pictures of his cricketing hero. A case was slapped against him.
The same happened to an Indian fan of Shahid Afridi. Ripon Chowdhry of Hailakandi town in Assam, who was arrested last year for wearing a shirt with a picture of his cricketing hero. He was charged with indulging in “obscenity in a public place.”
Let’s look at these two examples and ask ourselves, “Are we normal people?” The answer is equally simple. No. Something happens to us when we watch a cricket match between our two countries in our own countries.
That is why we must be grateful to Indian-Pakistani fans in England who behaved normally during and after the match – the Indians congratulating the Pakistanis and even joining them in dancing and victory celebrations.
Tragically, we cannot extend these common courtesies to each other back home in the subcontinent. Catch Indians publicly admiring Pakistanis in India? It’s almost impossible. The same is true for Pakistanis who cannot be gracious in defeat against India, inside Pakistan. Mad politicians and mad media stars have made us abnormal people.
I spent a few days in UK recently to cover the elections. I was amazed to see Indians and Pakistanis collaborating with each other for common political goals. I met many Indians in Bradford supporting the Labour candidate Naz Shah. It was very difficult for me to understand why Sikhs and Hindus were supporting a Muslim woman speaking against human rights violations in Jammu & Kashmir in the British parliament last year.
I was told that these Indians and Pakistanis supported the manifesto of the Labour party; that individuals hardly mattered.
Similarly, many Muslims of Pakistani origin helped Preet Kaur Gill of Birmingham to be elected as UK’s first Sikh woman MP. I was so surprised I asked why they weren’t divided in different camps on the basis of religion – just like we were 70 years ago, and continue to be so today.
The first Muslim mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is popular not only among London’s Muslims but much more among Labour’s Indian and Bangladeshi supporters, many of whom happen to be Hindu.
I return to the original question. Why can’t we participate in and promote this kind of sane logic in India and Pakistan? Why can’t we play cricket under normal circumstances in each other’s country?
We must learn to accept that cricket is cricket, not war. We need to learn to celebrate each other’s victories. Today Pakistan won. Tomorrow India can win. Imagine an Indian cricket team playing a match in Lahore. Imagine India winning a match in Karachi. India may or may not defeat Pakistan. But India will defeat its fear of terrorism.
Imagine Pakistan playing a cricket match in Delhi. Imagine Pakistan winning a match in Kolkata. Pakistan will not defeat India. Pakistan will defeat a horrible mindset that breeds hate for another religion.
Of course, the issue of terrorism is important for India, while the issue of Kashmir is important for Pakistan. But we should try to use our mutual love for cricket to bridge the gap, not widen the chasm.
In fact, cricket can pave the way for our political leaderships to sit down and talk about the toughest problems facing us.
We should learn from the Indian and Pakistani cricket fans in UK who have left behind the prejudices of the subcontinent and decided to celebrate their similarities in a far-off land. If they can dance together outside the Oval in London, why we can’t dance together in Lahore or Delhi? If they can vote for each other, ignoring their religious sensibilities, why can’t we do this in India and Pakistan?
We must allow Umar Draz to clap publicly for Virat Kohli and Ripon Chowdhry to wear a Shahid Afridi shirt. In fact, I believe that these two are the only two normal people who live in our terribly abnormal nations. The tragedy is that we don’t even know it.