The spirit of sport: When hate took a back seat

Will this demonstrable assertion of sportsmanship lead to a revival of bilateral sporting ties, particularly cricket, in the near future?

Tarun Basu Oct 25, 2021
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India-Pakistan cricket

For once, hate - especially the cross-border variety - took a back seat! There was intense match rivalry,  tough competition, huge build-up of pre-match emotions and play of pent-up sporting passions, but once the last ball was bowled, the sub-continental antagonism was all but forgotten! Instead, there were warm congratulations, backslapping and gracious embracing, showing, as popular cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle noted, "the true story of sport".

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) took to social media to share a photograph of Indian captain Virat Kohli interacting with captain Babar Azam and fellow opener Mohammed Rizwan, and captioned it as "Spirit of Cricket! #WeHaveWeWill". Kohli, in fact, was seen walking up to the rival captain and warmly congratulating him, before he shook hands with Rizwan and tugged him in an embrace, much to Rizwan's joy and surprise.

Then MS Dhoni, who is a legend in the subcontinent and much loved and remembered in Pakistan for his batting exploits in that country, was seen congratulating Azam and chatting with respectful Pakistani players like Shoaib Malik and Imad Wasim. who formed a ring around him after the game.

Bhogle tweeted: "Really loved the scenes at the end between Virat and Rizwan and Babar and thereafter between some of the younger Pakistan players and Dhoni. Beyond the hype and posturing, this is the true story of sport."

The photo was well-received by fans of both countries, who hailed the trio. Bismah Maroof, who is the captain of the Pakistan women's cricket team, applauded the players and commented, "We want/need to see this more often".

Fans hailed the moment with one user writing, "Captions won't do justice but what a wonderful game of cricket it was....The beautiful game, Dhoni passing on knowledge to Babar".

Said another fan: “Kudos to Kohli for his sportsmanship. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is a LEGEND!”

Of course, there were some stray voices of self-proclaimed nationalists, who decried the on-field India-Pakistan bonhomie, and wanted "no match with the terrorist state".

But these were drowned out by voices of support, with another denouncing such sentiments, saying " … only job less politicians have a concern. We all sports lovers to (want) vitness this game (sic)!

Another fan wrote: "This is the picture that every real cricket fan dreamed of".

Yet another wrote: "All that matters at the end of the day. Humanity, Sportsmanship and sheer dedication towards the game".

Will this demonstrable assertion of sportsmanship lead to a revival of bilateral sporting ties, particularly cricket, in the near future? Bilateral cricket ties have been suspended since the 2009 Mumbai terror attack. Both teams only face each other in ICC tournaments now.

The two countries last played a Test series when Pakistan toured India in 2007, although they did meet in a bilateral limited-over series in 2012-13. A meeting between India and Pakistan's cricket board chiefs in Mumbai was cancelled after a protest by the Shiv Sena, a Hindu nationalist party that is now part of the ruling coalition in the state of Maharashtra, and which had once threatened to dig up a cricket pitch if an India-Pakistan match was planned in India to protest Pakistan's "terror policy" against India.

With feelings inflamed in the country in the aftermath of this month's targeted terror killings of Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir, attributed to agents sponsored by Pakistan's 'Deep State' (read military), it is doubtful if any government in India, particularly one known to take a hardline stance against Pakistan, can politically afford to give the nod for the revival of a bilateral cricket series or any other sport.

But cricket can be a great healer, and the sporting spirit in which the October 24 game was played in Dubai in front of a packed crowd of Indian and Pakistani expats, lends hope that the fraternal people-to-people ties may yet transcend the visceral politics of hate. 

(The writer is Editorial Adviser, South Asia Monitor. The views expressed are personal)