Cricket: Uniting Two Nuclear Rivals

The colonial game that brought 2 enemies together, on one field, with a standing ovation.

Much has been written about the British Raj, the once jewel in Britain’s colonial holdings. After centuries of colonial rule, the subcontinent was all set to be liberated in 1947. Britania was exhausted and broke after World War II and the recently formed United Nations was in a no colonies, no more kinda mood. It was to result in a moment of joy that was many decades in the making for the culturally rich colony. Alas, not everything is celebratory, because, religion.

The subcontinent was home to a majority Hindu population and a minority Muslim population who all existed in harmony until the freedom push took on a religious twist. Long story short, the Hindu leaders didn’t want to give the Muslim side decent representation and Gandhi was silent. This resulted in Mountbatten being tasked with carving out two countries based on religious affiliation. Carving out he did. He hired Radcliffe who drew an arbitrary line through towns, lives and history.

The line meant, people ended up on the wrong side of the religious divide. The resulting movement of tens of millions of people was one of the largest mass migrations this world has ever seen. Millions lost their lives to communal violence and when all was said and done, there was Kashmir.

Kashmir, an indpedant kingdom in the north, remained defiantly independent and wanted to stay that way. With two big players on either side looking to extend their influence, the Hindu king was forced to choose sides for his Muslim majority population. You get the gist. The resulting dispute has been the plot for numerous wars between the newly born India and Pakistan. The last major conflict being in the late 90s. Peace on the subcontinent was a distant dream. Love and harmony was out of the question, until, cricket.

India vs Pakistan, Chennai, January 1999

Cricket is funny game. It was born out of white men wanting a gentlemen's sport to play — in all white clothing, with tea breaks built into the schedule. It was a game of trust and a game where winning or losing didn’t matter. The classical form of the game, called a test match, is played over 5 days. As it’s name suggests, it’s a test of courage, patience, skill and boredom. While the governments of India and Pakistan couldn’t figure out how to make peace, the cricket teams of these two nations did the most logical thing — they decided to play each other in a series of two test matches.

Pakistan packed away its players and sent them to a little south Indian city called Madras (now Chennai). It was an intense match, by all standards. Security was at an all time high with threats of violence and terrorism in the air. The game played out over 5 days and drew record numbers of people to the stadium. I distinctly remember being given a holiday from school during the match. It wasn’t just a game, it was an emotional rollercoaster.

It came down to the wire on the final day of the match, with India needing 13 runs to win with one wicket in hand. If you aren’t a follower of cricket, its the equivalent of driving cross country and having a mile to go before your destination. It was literally touch and go and India seemed to have it all under control. India should have won by all measures and they were really really really close. Pakistan’s star bowler Saqlain Mushtaq delivered a brilliantly over spun ball, and the last batsman on the Indian side fell. Pakistan had won by a hair. And this was a huge victory on and off the field.

I may have shed a tear. A billion hearts sank in utter disbelief.

For much of the game India commanded a sizable advantage and was ahead. Having a home crowd in the stands also helped India assert its dominance. As is the game of cricket, things change fast and Pakistan played the right cards. The stunned Chennai crowd went silent for a few minutes. Indian crowds are known to be sour losers. Just a few years ago, the crowd in Kolkota got rowdy when India was trailing behind and began pelting the ground and players with fruits, rocks and bottles. Fearing such a reaction, security and the players took every step to try and get off the field as soon as possible.

What happened next defied all expectations and emotions. The Chennai crowd stood up and applauded the Pakistani team. The Pakistanis were warmed at the heart and decided to embrace the applause and do a victory lap around the field. This was unheard of and nobody expected it. There wasn’t a man or woman or child in the stands who wasn’t on their feet and applauding.

For a few minutes, on a cricket field in the south of India, two warring nations figured out a way to put everything aside and show each other the love and warmth the subcontient has craved for many decades.

On the eve of their 70th independance day, lets remember that moment of love. The moment that brought two political rivals to love each other on a cricket ground, in a sleepy South Indian city.

Happy 70th India and Pakistan.

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