It’s a big day today. Everyone is excited about the India versus Pakistan T20 match to be played at the historic Eden Gardens in Kolkata. Kashmiris are eagerly looking forward to the contest. When the T20 World Cup schedule was announced, cricket fans in the valley marked March 19 as the most important game of the tournament and there is no doubt which team they are rooting for. It is no secret that most Kashmiris have traditionally been supporting Pakistani team. For many people, like me, it seems more of an inherent thing. I have grown up supporting Pakistani team whichever country they play against, including India, and I may not be able to give any convincing reason for the same. Sometimes we just pick it up in childhood from our elders. However, it can turn quite political and ugly when this fondness is ascribed to something else as some Kashmiri students found out two years back. Cricket and sedition had never been spoken off in the same breath until over 60 Kashmiri students, studying in an Uttar Pradesh university, were slapped with sedition charges in March 2014 as they had celebrated Pakistan team’s win over India in a nail-biting Asia Cup match against India. Coming under sharp criticism for undue politicization of the game of cricket, the government was forced to drop the charges against Kashmiri students. However, the case has perhaps changed the way Kashmiris would express their emotions in an India-Pakistan match outside the valley. They would be careful lest their cheering for Pakistani team invites undue attention from the Indian supporters and land themselves in trouble. Not many people in India would be aware of the loyalties of Kashmiris as far as cricket is concerned. Here Shahid Afridi is a bigger superstar than Virat Kohli and Kashmiris can’t resist cheering for every six he hits against any opposition, including India.
Cricket is by far the most popular sports in the sub-continent and India and Pakistan make up for fascinating cricketing rivalry stoking passions in both countries whenever the two teams clash. But things often get ugly when the event is blown out of proportion. Some Indian news channels, which are even otherwise known for sensationalism, turn India-Pakistan matches into a subject of national pride where victory and defeat is taken as a matter of life and death. Amid the tense atmosphere, cricket ceases to be a sport. It appears more like a full-fledged war where there is no place for defeat. Such a portrayal of a cricket match is not good for the spirit of sportsmanship.
Pandering to desires of Indian fans, sports broadcasters have been running advertisements, which appear to me more provocative than entertaining. Take for instance, the ‘mauka’ commercial series of Star Sports. The premise of the advertisement is that Pakistan has never won against India in the One-day World Cup matches and World T20 encounters, and that Pakistani fans are desperately looking for a ‘mauka’ (opportunity) to turn the tables on the Indians. I remember another advertisement of Star Sports channel that showed Indian team clinching victory from the jaws of defeat against Pakistan with two late sixes. Such premature projections of a cricket match are bound to raise expectations of fans, and if the real game turns out to have a contrary result, it is more likely to upset them and even evoke a violent reaction.
In the latest ‘mauka’ ad, the ageing and distressed Pakistani fan begs Afridi via skype to defeat India. While such advertisements excite Indian fans, it enrages the Pakistani team supporters. No wonder, whenever the ad comes on TV, Kashmiri fans of Afridi & Co fume with anger.
The game should just be taken as a game. There should be no undue expectations or comparisons. It is better to keep cricket as cricket and nothing else. As Pakistan team’s coach Waqar Younis said: “There is history between the two nations but also cricket history. We should take it as a sport... it's the most-watched game so we should all cherish that and feel proud of it. The way we have played cricket in the past 50 years it's a treat to watch for the world."
The ideal thing would indeed be to just sit back and enjoy the game!