x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Blue-green lights in India and Pakistan's stop-start cricket journey

Osman Samiuddin looks at some highlights of a tetchy relationship of two arch-rivals.

India-Pakistan rivalry could have matched the Ashes in stature if not for a troubled past.
India-Pakistan rivalry could have matched the Ashes in stature if not for a troubled past.

Since Pakistan and India officially began cricket ties with their first Test in Delhi in October 1952, they have played 59 matches in the five-day format.

That is less than a Test a year on average in that time. In the same period, take cricket's other enduring rivalry, the Ashes: Australia and England have played 168 Tests against each other.

Consider even the main offshoot rivalries from this indelibly colonial equation.

Pakistan and England, always spicy, have played 74 Tests since then; Australia and India, a contest that has grown slowly into a rivalry, have played 77.

Fifty-nine is pitiably low, but heard in the staccato beat of their political and diplomatic ties, it is a wonder they have even managed that many.

Fifty-nine Tests (and 121 one-day internationals as well) after a Partition, through three real wars, many nearly-wars, terrorist attacks and a number of moments where nuclear war seemed imminent. Three times when they have played, they have begun afresh after a long break in bilateral ties.

As they resume once again after a five-year gap, this time adding to the limited overs tally, although eventually to the five-day one, we look back at the resumptions.

 

1952/53: Pakistan go to India

The very first series between the two countries was played barely five years after India gained independence from the British and Pakistan became a nation separate from India. In the intervening period they had already warred over Kashmir, the beginning of a dispute yet to end.

On the field, matters were more cordial. When the Pakistan board (then known as the BCCP) wanted to invite the West Indies for a tour in 1948, they sent the invitation through the BCCI because the West Indies were touring India at the time.

India won an engaging first series, winning the first and third Tests in Delhi and Mumbai comfortably. But Pakistan won the second Test in Lucknow convincingly with the star, Fazal Mahmood, taking 12 wickets.

Mahmood later wrote that Pakistan had raucous support from Muslim students who attended the match, although the greater crowd apparently mobbed India in anger after the loss.

Not many Pakistanis made the trip over although they kept abreast on radio and the team received sackfuls of fan mail from home (tellingly, they received plenty of hate mail after the losses, which were hidden from the team).

But the broader implications of the tour, and the still fresh history, were clear throughout.

AH Kardar, the Pakistan captain, was a leader on the field and an ambassador off it. He tired eventually of the volume of functions he attended and speeches of a non-cricket nature he had to make.

 

1978-79: India go to Pakistan
1979/80: Pakistan go to India

When India arrived in Pakistan in October 1978 for a three-Test series, it was the first time the two sides were playing (in any format, as ODIs had begun by then as well) in nearly 18 years. The occasion was as memorable as the cricket as Pakistan won the series 2-0.

With visa restrictions temporarily eased, thousands of Indians came over for the second Test at Lahore, as they had done in the winter of 1954 when Pakistan first hosted India, and the city turned into one big love-in.

Old acquaintances were renewed, family ties ended by Partition rediscovered; magic hung in the air.

Both sets of players, familiar with each other after playing on the English county circuit, hung out at glamorous post-game parties like celebrities and the result felt the least important part of it.

When Pakistan returned the favour the following year, going to India for a six-Test series (and their first tour since 19060/61), they were treated like stars.

So much so that a number of them, including Imran Khan, were accused after a 2-0 loss of being too starry and spending too much time with Bollywood starlets.

Both series marked the most sustained period of reconciliation between two sides - the sturdiest resumption, in other words. Including these two, they played seven Test series over 11 years (four in Pakistan, three in India and 31 ODIs).

 

2003/04: India go to Pakistan

Though the ice after 1989 had been broken by Pakistan's visit to India in January 1999 for a two-Test series and the Asian Test Championship, that was but a fleeting phase and the rivalry had continued through ODIs, the two sides playing a regular bilateral ODI series in Toronto from 1996.

But even as peace was being sought, the two countries engaged in a high-altitude conflict in Kargil, a district in Kashmir and when a terrorist attack on the Delhi parliament in December 2001 was blamed on Pakistan, ties were in deep freeze.

So when India agreed to tour Pakistan just over two years later, and did so under the government of Pervez Musharraf, the man behind Kargil, it was a serious resumption. Moreover, the aftermath of September 11 had eroded Pakistan's status as an international venue. But Sourav Ganguly's India were the most popular tourists in recent memory, despite winning both the ODI series (3-2) and Tests (2-1).

Again Lahore was the spiritual centre of the tour, providing memorable, heartwarming hospitality to thousands of Indians who came over to watch the two ODIs (barely anybody attended the Tests, but the ODIs were packed throughout, from the south in Karachi to up north in Rawalpindi and Peshawar).

The first ODI in Karachi was an electric affair, nearly 50,000 squeezed inside a 35,000-capacity National Stadium buzzed all night long with unique energy.

The match was a classic, Pakistan failing by five runs to overhaul India's 349.

The result did not make a difference.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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