They say cricket is our religion. Not just in India but also across the border. We give our teams the same do-or-die pressure, we burn effigies if they don’t win and sometimes, lose the plot and lives in post-match heart attacks.

Yet, for many years now, there have been no bilateral cricket relations between India and Pakistan — long enough for Rahul Dravid to become a coach, Wasim Akram to have another child and Arjun, not Sachin to be the Tendulkar on the block.

Despite the BCCI and PCB agreeing, for their different reasons, there is still a chance of a ‘no show’.

Also read: Sri Lanka finalised as hosts for Pakistan-India series

This probably does save Indian Twitter trolls from 'sending cricketers to Pakistan and becoming Shah Rukh and Aamir Khan’s neighbours' (although, we wouldn’t mind at all if a few BCCI officials did cross over).

Calling it cricket diplomacy is taking the game too seriously.

Neither will the series solve the Dawood or Hafiz Saeed or Samjhauta stalemate but, then again, nor will it aggravate it. Some things are best left to the governments.

India and Pakistan have many things in common, not the least of them are the three wars. Yet, cricket has been an integral part on both sides and the hysterical reactions associated with it are almost identical.

Shoaib Akhtar’s tirade against his team’s performance in the World Cup earlier this year went viral in India. We understood it because we hear the same.

I have often wondered why the Indo-Pak series have never been given a name. Despite that, they have more drama and rivalry than the Ashes. For cricket lovers, on both sides of the border, the emotions are more real than Priyanka Chopra’s accent in Quantico.

Also read: Pakistan-India series — ‘Cricket and politics cannot be kept apart’

All those who say otherwise have either never called in sick on match day or searched the whole night for that safe place where they stored the national flag after the last series.

Just as there is a saying jisne Lahore nahi dekhya woh jamya nahi, (you haven’t seen anything if you haven’t seen Lahore) I have my own version in cricketing terms, jisne India-Pakistan match Mohali mein nahi dekhya woh asli fan nahi (He who hasn’t watched an India-Pakistan match in Mohali is not a true fan.).

Happily, I can tick this off my bucket list.


I watched the Indo-Pak World Cup semi-final at Mohali in Punjab in 2011. Nothing compares to that experience. I could try saying it in Ramiz Raja’s crisp English that the ‘atmosphere was charged’ but that would be an understatement. Nor would a win at Lords ever come close.

The bhangra party started kilometres away from the stadium. With faces painted and flags raised high, strangers singing on the streets became back-slapping mates instantly.

To get into the stadium wasn’t easy, and standing in those long queues patiently wasn’t ‘made in India’. Above us, almost a hundred chartered flights delivered passengers on that day alone.

It was not even time for the toss when a big roar drowned ‘chak de India’. If you are a Punjabi like me, you would know, everything is loud. The roar is deafening, the music is thunderous and the curses are, well, let’s just say, intense.

Anyway, Sachin Tendukar had come out for some practice. For many fans, that was ‘paisa vasool’ (worth their money) right there and then!

Throughout the day, there was an edge-of-seat excitement but that was possibly also because as the overs went on, the uncomfortable stadium seats forced us to almost edge ourselves on to the ground.

Occasionally, the gigantic board would show Sonia Gandhi or her son jumping in the ‘sanitised’ stadium room above one of the stands.

Prime Ministers of both the countries, Bollywood stars, celebrities, you name it — they were all there. But the real excitement was in the midst of hysterical fans who were hungry only for a win.

The match also kept India’s record in the World Cup against Pakistan intact. For us, the tournament was won there and then. The victory in the final was just a bonus.

I don’t doubt it would have been the same for Pakistan but so far, despite the pressure, India is holding on. And there will be a big bang the day the frustrated man in the ‘mauka’ advertisement gets to finally burst those firecrackers!

Some within Pakistan will argue about the logic of having a home series away from home. The BCCI coffers really do run deep. But if it is any consolation, even we have failed to understand the working of our cricket board.

I, for one, would have been happy if their adopted and my current home UAE was the chosen venue. Here at least Indian and Pakistani fans can sit side by side. After all, as expats we have no rivalry, our time is instead spent on counting our similarities.

Also read: After the 17-year-itch — The historic 1978 Indo-Pak cricket series

But rumours that began during the time Sharjah became the mecca of cricket never completely vanished, and now there are fresh allegations after the recent one-day match between England and Pakistan.

So, you can keep reminding us of that last ball six by Javed Miandad that smashed Chetan Sharma’s career, but it has long stopped being a deterrent. Reality is different.

It’s not like India hasn’t played Wahab Riaz in recent times or Pakistan hasn’t come under Ravichandran Ashwin’s spinning web.

But playing like this feels something like being promised biryani and getting only steamed rice!

It takes the fervour out of the fandom. It makes us remember our problems and mistrust, instead of rejoicing in our national colours.

Because when India and Pakistan play, the world stops.

Opinion

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