It is just the semi-finals of the cricket World Cup, but India’s response to its last-four meeting with Pakistan at Mohali on March 30 shows a supposed superpower’s silly Pakistan Obsession. Newspapers and news channels report every drip of news about the teams, about the venue, about the fans and about the match as if the two countries are meeting for war—minus the shooting.
There is the artificial injection of diplomacy into the proceedings with an otherwise soporific prime minister Manmohan Singh suddenly waking up to invite his Pakistani counterpart to come witness the “clash”. They are supposed to watch the match together, but we are dutifully informed that there will be an informal meeting followed by a formal one, with diplomats meeting on the side.
The response from the other side is no less frenzied. There is a wild clamour for visas as if apocalypse is the day after. Long festering issues, like the release of prisoners, are suddenly fasttracked with the kind of mindlessness that escapes both countries in peacetime.
All this means just one thing: that when India and Pakistan meet on a cricket field, there is more to the batting, bowling and fielding than meets the eye. Pumped-up patriotism meets carefully marinated prejudice. Suddenly, the eleven men in blue are at once ambassadors of and warriors for peace, lugging not just their cricket coffins, but also their nation’s ambitions, aspirations and animosities.
The simple word on the street in both countries is: it is OK if we lose the finals but we must win the semi-finals.
Obviously, there is a background to such primal emotions: the memories of Partition, the wounds of wars over Kashmir, Bangladesh and Kargil, and the attack on Bombay. Still, there are questions to be asked. Like, is such maddening frenzy such a good thing, either for cricket or for diplomacy? Like, can 100 overs of artifically manufactured excitement paper over 64 years of organically engineered hatred?
Like, cross-border terrorism notwithstanding, can India really put all its eggs in the Pakistan basket? Like, should we expect 11 young (and ageing young) men—whose basic skills lie in hurling, hitting or halting five-and-a-half ounces of leather and cork—to do what politicians, bureaucrats, armymen, businessmen and diplomats can’t do, won’t do or are not allowed to do, which is act maturely and strive towards peace and prosperity on the subcontinent?
Like, is all this pressure such a good thing for either Dhoni or Afridi, and their boys?