Sunday, March 27, 2011

World Cup India Pakistan match: Win is the only thing

Virender Sehwag had once come up with this highly entertaining tale about his sledging with Shoaib Akhtar during an India-Pakistan match: “Shoaib was repeatedly bowling bouncers and I kept ducking. He’d walk up to me and taunt `show me your hook shot’.

After a lot of this sort of talk, I told him pointing out at Sachin, `that’s your father at the non-striker’s end. Ask him to show you the shot.’ Next over Shoaib bounced at Sachin and he hooked him for a six. I walked by Shoaib and remarked, “Beta beta hota hai, baap baap hota hai”.

Sehwag’s inimitable wry humour is legendary in cricket circles. He has his own way of seeing the funny side even during tense moments and it is this extraordinary gift which helps him make light of any pressure. Pakistanis, in fact, bring out the best in him as he can banter with them in Hindi.

It is no wonder that while other players on either side of the border succumb to nerves in these needle matches, he has a triple ton and a double ton to show, among other sterling performances.
Pakistani all-rounder Abdul Razzaq, who grew up in a one room house in Lahore with eight others and learnt his initial cricket on the streets, hit the nail on the head when he explained pressure associated with India-Pakistan matches.

“All my countrymen want to see only a win against India. They do not care for anything else. They put tremendous pressure on us all the time to win against India. We don’t enjoy it at all. The tension is too much.”

He could well have been echoing the feelings of the Indian cricketers, except, in this case, these are a billion people who’d settle for nothing other than an Indian victory.

While the India-Pakistan rivalry has existed right from the time of partition, it was the series of matches in Sharjah that really gave a fillip to the needle. Sharjah, now denounced as the epicentre of betting and match-fixing, was supposedly a neutral venue and the television rights from these games were used by the organisers to keep both the Boards and others happy. It was at Sharjah that the pressure of India vs Pakistan matches took a new dimension.

The matches would be staged on Fridays, which was a holiday for the Indian subcontinent’s expatriates working in UAE. The cheap seats, which stretched through most of the stadium, were filled with noisy, abusive Pakistani spectators.

Indian film stars, board officials and VIPs were wooed by the organisers and seated in the exclusive VIP section (along with the likes of Dawood Ibrahim). Indian spectators were outnumbered in the stands (many Indians claimed they could not get their hands on these tickets, which were almost exclusively made available to Pakistanis). The Indian cricketers were booed, berated and maligned by the spectators till it unnerved them. The umpiring too sucked at times.

But what took the cake was in the shopping malls and other entertainment areas in Dubai and Sharjah. The Indian expats would harangue the players and demand they first defeat Pakistan before venturing out to relax or shop. “We will give away these items free to you,” they’d mock. “Go and win first.”

It was, without doubt, traumatic for the Indian cricketers. They were harassed and picked on, on the ground and off it too. And this was pressure — of the most intense kind that they had to endure it series after series in Sharjah. Those who could withstand it, like Sachin Tendulkar, for instance, became mega stars. But there were some who packed up while others were accused of colluding with fixers and other undesirable elements.
The dozen-odd years of Sharjah tournaments almost destroyed the credibility of Indian cricket till the ICC and BCCI were goaded into action by a series of media exposes. The venue was banned for international cricket. So too were a few players and officials. But the pressure and the hype that visited the two teams those days remained.

The wide reach of satellite television ensured that the rivalry grew more passionate and the pressure more extreme for the players of the two nations.

It is perhaps ironic that the eagerly awaited semifinal clash on Wednesday is to be staged at Mohali in Punjab rather than any other Indian venue. Mohali is not very far from the Wagah border and whichever team wins will encourage extra pep that evening to its soldiers and citizens during the ‘beating the retreat’ ceremony.

As it is, the lowering of the flag each evening is a jingoistic
exercise at the border. The result of the cricket match in the neighbourhood of this location would certainly send tempers and passions soaring at the ceremony next evening.

Certainly an India-Pakistan match is not just a game. And its result does not impact only the main protagonists. The match and its intensity would suck into its vortex so many others, in so many different walks of life throughout the world.

This is why so many Indians who interact with Pakistanis in the US, Middle East, Europe and elsewhere would want their team to emerge triumphant. Nothing else would matter. For them, and for the billion strong Indians, a win against Pakistan is not everything. It is the only thing!

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