Updated: March 14, 2021 8:35:43 am
For the first time since the 2011 World Cup semi-final in Mohali, there is talk of India granting visas to cricket fans from Pakistan for the T20 World Cup in October. The decision hangs in the corridors of political uncertainty, but should the fans be granted access, the magic and mystique of that Mohali night could be recreated.
The quality of that contest never reached fever pitch, there was little drama or thrill that remains stamped in memory. But what the game lacked in drama, it made up for in atmosphere. The sheer atmosphere of the match made it worth rewinding and reliving a thousand times.
The most lingering image is that of a cricket-mad father and son from Lahore who were on a pilgrimage to the Nizamuddin dargah, but snuck into a train to Chandigarh with precious little money and even little clue about purchasing tickets, or lodging. They had no fear of life or security. “Lahore jaisa (just like Lahore),” they felt.
But in an equally cricket-obsessed Sikh widower, they found their farishta. They stumbled onto him at the ticket counter and he took them to his house on the outskirts of Chandigarh. They bonded over cricket and chai, politics and culture. He eventually managed them tickets, and together they watched and celebrated. India won. Pakistan lost. But humanity triumphed.
In that vein, the cricket rivalry between India and Pakistan this century has been sporting, as opposed to the ’90s, when the crowd had to be policed at times. The crowd, whether in each other’s territory or at a neutral venue, has been genial and affable. There could be all those online trolls, but in the stands, they have seldom crossed the lines of hostility.
In 2011, not every supporter from Pakistan was lucky. Several were stranded for visas. There were some who managed a visa, could not find a ticket. For a match of this stature, the stadium’s capacity of 26,000 was inadequate. Of those, only 16,000 were available for the public.
An Indian peace activist, Mazher Hussain, arranged for a group of Pakistanis to come for the match. A group of 50 students too managed visas. Assuming the title of “Pakistan Peaceniks” to try and promote the spirit of harmony between the two nations, they printed some 15,000 banners displaying a combination of the Indian and Pakistani flags, which they distributed to the crowd. Only 15 of them managed tickets, though. Before the match, one of the students quipped: “It’s because of politicians that the game does not happen. But when it happens, they are the first to grab tickets. The common man suffers, either way.”
In any India-Pakistan match, the off-field political actions make more cohesive headlines than the on-field ones. In the Mohali match, seated side by side were Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza Gilani, then prime ministers of India and Pakistan.
Take politics out of India-Pakistan games, it becomes the fusion of two great cricketing cultures. But it seldom is, and understandably so, given the unceasing tension.
During the last World Cup in England, there was a shadow of uncertainty over a group fixture between the two neighbours. Four years ago, supporters from Pakistan were denied visas for the T20 World Cup. The match between India and Pakistan had to be shifted from Dharamshala to Mohali due to protests from the locals.
Ten years after fans brought alive that insipid World Cup match in Mohali, here’s another chance for the supporters of the two cricket-crazy nations to go home with a lifetime of memories and impressions.
This column first appeared in the print edition on March 14, 2021 under the title ‘It’s just cricket, & it’s enough for India, Pak’.
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