Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 November 2019

India v Pakistan: players and fans should cut out the jingoism in Cricket World Cup match

With India-Pakistan tensions running high, it is important to listen to saner voices asking supporters to enjoy the match for what it is – a sporting spectacle

Pakistan fan "Chacha Cricket", AKA Chacha Sufi Jalil, left, and Indian fan Sudhir Gautam wave flags at a super-fan event in Manchester. Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP
Pakistan fan "Chacha Cricket", AKA Chacha Sufi Jalil, left, and Indian fan Sudhir Gautam wave flags at a super-fan event in Manchester. Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP

India and Pakistan fans need to take a chill pill ahead of Sunday’s Cricket World Cup match at Old Trafford – if it is not rained off.

Earlier this month, the International Cricket Council ordered India player MS Dhoni to change his wicketkeeping gloves because the ones he wore during their opening World Cup match against South Africa bore the balidaan insignia of the Indian para special forces (balidaan is a Hindi word that roughly means sacrifice).

Dhoni is a proud member of this regiment, which is supposedly why he wore it. But rules are rules; ICC events do not permit “any individual message or logo to be displayed on any items of clothing or equipment”.

There were protests from fans on social media, with some encouraging Dhoni to ignore the ICC directive and others demanding India boycott the World Cup. Meanwhile, the media tried to cash in on this needless controversy by stoking the flames of national pride via news programmes and advertisements.

Jingoism, perhaps?

India captain Virat Kohli, right, and teammate MS Dhoni sport camouflage caps before an ODI against Australia in Ranchi in March. Aijaz Rahi / AP Photo
India captain Virat Kohli, right, and teammate MS Dhoni sport camouflage caps before an ODI against Australia in Ranchi in March. Aijaz Rahi / AP Photo

There are perfectly valid reasons why nationalism has become a force to be reckoned with today. In response to an increasingly inter-connected world, the issue of identity has resumed importance in the lives of many, with more and more people in India and Pakistan – cricket stars and fans included – desperate to hold on to the notion of nationhood.

And what better way for cricketers to express their love of nation – real or contrived – than to wear army insignia or don army caps, which the Indian team did during a one-day international against Australia in March in response to the previous month's terror attack in Kashmir that killed scores of Indian soldiers.

Kashmir is a disputed region whose territory is in parts occupied by India and Pakistan, with both countries claiming all of it as theirs. The attack, allegedly by a Pakistan-sponsored terrorist group, brought the neighbours to the brink of war. As tensions escalated, the Board of Control for Cricket in India requested the ICC to ban Pakistan from the World Cup.

The BCCI’s logic was, if South Africa could be left in the sporting wildnerness for apartheid rule, why not suspend Pakistan for allegedly harbouring terrorists. The ICC rejected the plea, its refrain being that cricket and politics must not mix.

Much too showy, Hasan Ali?

Now, sports and politics should ideally not mix, but sports and patriotism inevitably do – and for good reason. Patriotism provides context to a game and motivates players and supporters. But what we are seeing play out at the moment is jingoism, and there is bound to be some fall-out consequently.

In fact, an 'ad war' is in full swing.

Pakistan television channel Jazz TV aired a promo showing an actor mimicking India’s Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was held captive for 60 hours in Pakistan after his aircraft was shot down in an aerial dogfight in February. In the 33-second video, the Abhinandan character – sporting his trademark gunslinger moustache – is shown wearing the Indian cricket jersey, rather than his military outfit, sipping tea and being interrogated about the upcoming match. He is then released, the cup snatched from his hand, with the promo making an obvious play on the word 'cup'.

The ad is poor in taste and content. But the so-called “fitting Indian response”, while better produced and presented, has only served to further push the narrative of 'us versus them'. Not that this is all bad, but in sensitive times like these, some positivity goes a long way in calming people down.

The Pakistani promo

The Indian response

It is important, therefore, to listen to saner voices – particularly those of Sunil Gavaskar and Aaqib Javed, who played hard but fair for their respective countries at a time when the rivalry between the teams was at its peak.

Former Pakistan fast bowler Aaqib stressed on the importance of players from both sides "reaching out to each other" and bridging the divide – as they did back in the 90s – rather than widening them.

On his part, Gavaskar scolded an Indian TV anchor when asked why India should not boycott the World Cup in the fall-out of the Dhoni fiasco.

“Have you thought about how India will win the World Cup if they don’t play at all?” the former India captain said. “Do you even think before talking?”

The hope, of course, is fans from both countries will take a moment to think, dial down the heated rhetoric, engage in healthy banter, take selfies together, cheer on their respective teams and enjoy the match for what it is – a sporting spectacle.

Let us not do sport the injustice of giving it more importance than it really deserves.

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Updated: June 15, 2019 08:38 PM

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