Team wins matches and hearts

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  • Monday, 03 May 2004

India Diary with Coomi Kapoor

THEY undertook the tour of Pakistan amidst uncertainty, fearing the unknown gunman who might target them because he bore a grudge against the rulers in Islamabad or New Delhi. The Indian Home Ministry almost cancelled the tour, citing security concerns.  

The players themselves were unsure whether they could give their best on the field while all the time being mindful of a possible missile attack from the stands. 

The media was divided with some pressing for the tour to go ahead as scheduled while others called for a last-minute cancellation.  

It was the intervention of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee that saved the tour.  

And what a tour it turned out to be, especially for the victorious Indians.  

As if they had taken Vajpayee’s advice to heart, the Indian team won the match as well as hearts. 

Never before had victory on the field of sport tasted so sweet to Indians as in this twin series.  

Indians got the better of the hosts in every department of the game, winning three to two in the five-match limited overs Samsung Trophy and inflicting a humiliating two to one defeat in the three five-day Test match series.  

The fabled Pakistanis crumbled almost without a fight, losing two of the three Test matches with an innings and some runs to spare. 

Contrary to fears, the series were played with tremendous goodwill.  

The hosts laid the red carpet not only for the Indian team but a great number of VIPs who had come from India to watch the edge-of-the-seat action on the field between the two great sub-continental rivals.  

If Indian ministers, including the Law, Justice, Company Affairs and Commerce and Industry Minister, Arun Jetlie, watched the opening one-day thriller in Karachi, the Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Rabi Shankar Prasad, occupied a ringside seat in the Gaddaffi stadium in Lahore to watch the last two one-dayers. 

The Indian glitterati, including Bollywood stars and starlets, trekked to Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi, the venues of the matches, to see and to be seen by the vast number of cricket-crazy audiences in the sub-continent who stayed glued to their TV sets for the live telecast of the matches.  

Even tens of hundreds of ordinary Indians travelled to Pakistan to see the matches, exploiting the temporary relaxation in visa and other restrictions that have made the neighbouring countries inaccessible to all but a handful of top-most officials of the two countries. 

In the end, while the players provided a grand feast of excellent cricket, the Indo-Pakistan contest in Pakistan after a break of 14 years was all about diplomacy and goodwill.  

The returning Indians were so full of stories of great and gracious Pakistani hospitality, it was as if the two nations, which had fought three wars in the last 50-odd years over Kashmir, had all along enjoyed the best of relations.  

It was commonplace for an Indian just back from his exhilarating trip to Pakistan to relate how he was treated with great warmth by shopkeepers and restaurateurs who refused to accept payment for the goods or food upon learning he was an Indian.  

The story about shopkeepers refusing to accept payment from Indians was so common that almost every Indian newspaper which had sent its correspondent for the historic series recorded it more than once. 

There were other vignettes of Pakistani life seen through Indian eyes which helped generate a lot of goodwill for Pakistan in this country.  

Before the series began with the first one-dayer in Karachi, there were fears that the local crowds would be extremely hostile to the Indian team and visitors from this country.  

That match itself dispelled all such doubts when a large number of Pakistani fans cheered the captain, Saurav Ganguly, when he collected the winning team’s cheque and other mementos from the local dignitaries.  

Live telecast brought home to millions of Indian homes the images of Pakistani fans cheering a Sachin Tendulkar cover- drive or the swashbuckling batting of a Virender Sehwag.  

One could not have orchestrated such a show of appreciation for Indians by ordinary Pakistanis even if one wanted to.  

VIPs and ordinary Indians alike both came back convinced that the average Pakistani nurtured feelings of goodwill and affection for his Indian counterpart.  

Yet, in spite of the overwhelming show of goodwill towards the touring side and its fans, ordinary Pakistanis made it quite clear that their defeat in both the limited overs and the Test series was “ordered” by higher authorities.  

In other words, they said that the outcome of the matches was fixed.  

It might sound wholly ridiculous to anyone unaware of the passions that the game evokes in the sub-continent, but the crushing defeat of Inzamum-ul-Haq’s team had caused ordinary Pakistanis to blame it on “bad umpiring” and on the “fixed” nature of the series. 

Given that both the teams had only recently been embroiled in a messy match-fixing scandal, there was no dearth of cricket aficionados on either side of the Radcliffe Line who suspected foul play.  

Curiously the oft-cited reason in Pakistan, according to reports in the Indian media, was that Islamabad wanted to do a good turn for adversary-turned-friend, Vajpayee, so that the latter could lead the incumbent National Democratic Alliance back to victory in the forthcoming parliamentary polls and carry on the dialogue with Islamabad on all disputes between the two nations. 

Otherwise, the conspiracy theorists asked, why would Shoib Akhtar, Pakistan’s ace pace bowler, suffer cramps or feel giddy just when he was required to bowl his quickies to unsettle Indian batsmen.  

That Akhtar absence from the field during the matches was widely noticed and adversely commented upon is a matter of record now. 

Whether or not the outcome of the two series was fixed in India’s favour, there was no denying that the ruling party was not above using the unexpectedly good showing by the Indians against Pakistan in Pakistan to their electoral advantage.  

After they won the fifth and final one-day match in Lahore to win the series, the Bharatiya Janata Party sent out SMS messages saying ney match bhi jeeta, dil bhi jeeta (won the match as well as hearts).  

Vajpayee did not forget to make a congratulatory telephone call to Ganguly and let the country know he had done so.  

Opposition leader, Sonia Gandhi, also issued a statement congratulating the team on its “grand victory.” 

The congratulatory messages were repeated when the team won the Test series last Friday.  

In addition, rival politicians sought to co-opt the victorious cricketers in their election campaign without the express permission of the players. 

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