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Should we continue to play with Pakistan?

The last few cricketing encounters between the neighbours have been disconcerting, says RAMANUJAM SRIDHAR.

AP

Face-off ... Sachin Tendulkar on the eve of the World Cup against Pakistan.

NOW that the dust has settled over the Wanderers and the World Cup has made its way to the MCG, where it rightly belongs and when some of the Indian cricketers rest their weary limbs after a famous campaign, maybe I too can give my overwrought hoarse lungs and TV weary eyes a rest and give a gentle nudge to my mind which was in hibernation between February 8 and March 23. I thought I should look closer home at our "friendly" cricketing neighbour "Pakistan". I have been following and watching India-Pakistan cricket from the days of another little master, Hanif Mohammed. No, this won't be another trip down nostalgia lane where I wax eloquent about Hanif Mohammed's records, the grace of Saeed Ahmed's cover drive or the guile of Fazal Mahmood's swing bowling. I am going to merely stay with cricketing memories of the last two decades. One of the most endearing moments in Pakistani cricket might well be Javed Miandad's six off Chetan Sharma at Sharjah in 1985. To my mind this was the defining moment in the great India-Pakistan cricketing divide when contests assumed proportions and dimensions other than mere sport. It took Indian fans and cricketers several years and a few important victories to exorcise this ghost from our minds. On to 1992 and to Sydney and India's win over the eventual champions Pakistan. The enduring imagery is that of Javed Miandad's (whom you can never seem to keep out of India-Pakistan chronicles) ludicrous aping of Kiran More's over zealous appealing.

Fast forward to 1996. To another World Cup. Another city. Bangalore. Another Indian victory. Other images easy to relive and difficult to forget from this Indian triumph. Venkatesh Prasad sending off Aamir Sohail in style and Ajay Jadeja sending off Waqar Younis to all parts of the stadium and an injured Wasim Akram watching an important match from the pavilion in startling contrast (perhaps) to Damien Martyn's commitment in playing and scoring an impeccable 88 not out with a fractured finger at the Wanderers. And who can forget Javed Miandad's lacklustre performance in the same game.

Clearly the record of playing in six consecutive World Cups would be his, even as the Indians discovered that they could beat Pakistan when it mattered, Miandad or no Miandad.

In the next few years, we had a few more matches. Perhaps less important but equally enriching for the cricket fans.

Imagine playing cricket in Chennai in May, under lights! Well, Indian and Pakistan played the Independence Cup and Saeed Anwar scored a small matter of 194 runs and shell-shocked and sun-sapped Indians like me waited for the sea breeze from Marina (and an Indian victory) in that order, but in vain as neither happened. The year 1998 and Chennai again, Sachin Tendulkar's histrionics notwithstanding, Saqlain Mushtaq's doosra prevailed and Pakistan won. Javed Miandad, the coach this time, exulted. On to Delhi and the origins of the Anil Kumble circle at M.G. Road, Bangalore, as our own leggie took all 10 Pakistani wickets. In 1999, Old Trafford, the venue and the carnival of cricket, the occasion where Pakistani supporters outnumbered Indians in paint, flags and volume. But two Mannina Magas (read as sons of soil of Karnataka) Rahul Dravid and Venkatesh Prasad ensured our victory and the silencing of thousands of raucous Pakistani supporters. South Africa 2003 and Sachin Tendulkar's annihilation of Shoaib Akhtar, whose bold words to the media were followed by a tense, feeble bowling performance which consigned his team to defeat and has possibly pushed him out of international cricket for a while at least.

These have been wonderful cricketing memories for me and lakhs (if not millions) of cricket fans like me. And yet I am disappointed to see a dramatic change in the way both Indians and Pakistanis view contests between the two countries born almost simultaneously. Matches which were friendly and yet fiercely contested have become Jehads for players and spectators alike. I remember the sporting cricket fans at Chepauk cheering Saeed Anwar to a man for his stroke filled innings. This was batting magic from the subcontinent at its best. I remember too, Wasim Akram's team doing a victory lap at Chennai, of all places. I believe the cricket lover in Chennai is a true lover of the game.

And yet, the last few cricketing encounters between these two countries have been disconcerting, to say the least as the deteriorating relations between the two countries has impacted the spectators too to whom cricket matches have been less of sporting encounters and more of warring encounters. The tension in the grounds is palpable. I feared for my safety in 1999 at Old Trafford as we were outnumbered. And at Centurion, the Pakistanis who were outnumbered 15 to one may have been a bit nervous, overt show of bravado notwithstanding. In fact there were three minor scuffles, which lasted, all of 30 seconds, thanks to expeditious handling. I was horrified to read in the South African newspapers that Muslims in India were in danger if Pakistan won! What irresponsible journalism I thought. And yet, there was violence in Bangalore the day after and tension in the border. Perfectly placid cricket fans go berserk when they watch India-Pakistan encounters. They shout expletives and abuse the religion of the players. Why oh why, do we behave like this? It is easy for people to say South Indians haven't been exposed to Partition, wars, strife and loss of property, which is perhaps why we are a little less volatile. But isn't it just a game whomsoever we may be playing against? I was distinctly uncomfortable over the last few Indo-Pakistan matches. Why do we make statements like, "Our World Cup final is against Pakistan"? Or "We have already won the World Cup" widely repeated after the 1996 quarter final win at Bangalore? Are we merely rationalising and defense mechanising or is the problem more deep rooted? Is it cricket fervour or the intoxication that happens to people drinking cheap country liquor that brings out the worst in them?

I have been having this feeling for a few years now. I strongly believe that we should never play each other in our respective countries and most certainly not in Sharjah. We have demonstrated in four consecutive World Cups that we are the superior team. By far. And the wholesale changes in the Pakistan team are a compliment not to their debacle in the World Cup as much as to their capitulation to us. Not even getting out to less than 60 in two consecutive innings to Australia is as bad as defeat to India. Let us give them time to regroup but we won't play them. With the true grace and tradition of Indian mythology, let us honour an expression from the Ramayana and say, "Indru poi, 2007 Vaa" And here is hoping that in 2007 we do more than merely beating Pakistan. Let us win the World Cup.

Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO brand-comm. Feedback can be mailed to Sridhar@brand-comm.com

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