Never has the fate of an inconsequential sports game so remarkably captivated the hearts and minds of close to 1.5 billion people ever before! India and Pakistan met in their first group match of the 2015 One Day Cricket World Cup. The match was billed as the “Mother of all battles”. Strangely however, this amazing battle would have little or no real consequence in the destination each team reaches in the competition. For, even after the first – some would say rather devastating – loss, Pakistan can arguably reach the quarter finals if they beat Ireland, Zimbabwe and the UAE! That’s all!
That, however, is for those who look at things logically. The world of cricket in the sub-continent, specially between India and Pakistan is anything but. It is of the emotions and passion. National security is almost on the line.
I watched the match live. The match was very interesting with both the teams fighting to do their best. India had a better day and perhaps was better planned of the two. However, in skills and grit, one can’t take it away from the Pakistanis either. Despite the bad bowling figures, Mohammad Irfan did bowl well! In the batting, Haris and Shehzad got out against the flow of the game. Umar got a bad decision. The match could have gone on any side. But the Indians kept their heads cool and kept on with the things professionally and it worked well.
As interesting as the match was, the entire national discourse in Pakistan is even more interesting! From match fixing (video), to the scandals and scams of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) (video), to how Modi’s phone call to Nawaz Sharif may have impacted! In fact, interestingly, India seems to have done an amazing deal with Pakistan. That India will get Saeed Ajmal’s action “passed” as long as Pakistan lost the February 15 match. A deal we are told they happily agreed to. And, then started the whole plan to send Younis Khan as the opener, picking Umar Akmal as the wicketkeeper and sending Shoaib Maqsood down the order. All this for Saeed Ajmal. A guy who never played!
After the Nukes, Saeed Ajmal has suddenly become the most important national asset in Pakistan. I am sure that even if the whole nation is depressed, Ajmal would be jumping with unbridled joy!
Over the years, cricket matches have been a proxy for war between India and Pakistan. This became even more real during the 1990s in Sharjah, when Pakistan was winning there all the time. Sometimes not in a scrupulous manner. Those were also the days of terrorism from Pakistan. And, the impotent Indian Government, knowing they couldn’t do anything in the real battlefield, withdrew from those games.
In the coming days, while the Indian team and indeed the nation, will need to focus on other matches to proceed ahead, Pakistanis will be busy in a witch-hunt while their team is trying to get back into the tournament. The highs and the lows of Pakistan’s love for the game and need to win against Indians are very pronounced right now. After the latest Indian visit of World Dignitaries and the drubbing Pakistan is getting on the other hand, things are rather awful for the morale of the nation. The polity is in a mess, the basic utilities are almost non-existent. Cricket became one way to “assert” the national outrage and testosterone! Unfortunately, despite the jingoism of the media in the run up to the game, things didn’t work out that well.
Therein lies the very essence of managing expectations and national moods. Popular games and sports which produce winners and losers on a day – create a hysteria sometimes, which can lead to far more devastating results than we can anticipate. One such example is the “Football War” between El Salvador and Honduras.
The Football War (Spanish: La guerra del fútbol), also known as the Soccer War or 100 Hour War, was a brief war fought by El Salvador and Honduras in 1969. The cause of the war was economic in nature, namely issues concerning immigration from El Salvador to Honduras. These existing tensions between the two countries coincided with rioting during the second North American qualifying round of the 1970 FIFA World Cup. The war began on 14 July 1969, when the Salvadoran military launched an attack against Honduras. The Organization of American States negotiated a ceasefire on the night of 18 July (hence “100-hour War”), which took full effect on 20 July. Salvadoran troops were withdrawn in early August.
Despite the elapse of more than forty years, a formal peace treaty, a decision by the International Court of Justice and the support of the Organization of American States, the dispute remains active.
This is a situation that none of the countries want to be in.
Let us hope that despite the hysteria that has been generated, things will cool down. Some of the hysteria oddly manifested in breaking of old, unusable TV sets by people specially posing for the cameras with a smile on their faces while they expressed their anguish at Pakistan’s loss. I have seen someone smiling while being anguished breaking a useless thing and making it count, for the first time!
Beyond the fields of conspiracy theories, the suddenly whipped up scandals, and unnecessary trashing of the losing team, lies a field of actual performance (borrowing from Rumi, a presence badly needed in Pakistan). In that field of performance, things are momentary. A bad flick, an awkward bounce, a brilliant catch or a chance six can change things. In that one lies sheer magic of any game. When we are done with our mental gymnastics of making up theories of why someone lost, let us find a few moments to enjoy the beauty of the game. Whether it is Virat Kohli’s perfect cover drive or Sohail Khan’s beautiful outswinger. Let the game win when the battles of our egos and insecurities settle!
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