It may be ludicrous to think that sports can bridge the gaps that political struggles create, but what happens when the sport is so important that it is essentially another political force? Well, in India and Pakistan, cricket is certainly a force.
People celebrate in the streets when their team wins, legitimately suffer health problems when it loses, and consider it a matter of national pride that those 11 men do well on the international stage. Of course, when India and Pakistan face each other, that’s when it really gets real.
There simply isn’t anything more intense than a good India-Pakistan match. Suddenly, the stat charts are thrown out and we see people whip out the flags. Normally civil individuals become frenzied and there is immediate fire in the ground.
Amidst all this, the beauty of being Pakistani-American or Indian-American becomes apparent. When you see that your longtime friend from across the old border suddenly starts sitting on the opposite side of the restaurant where the match is playing, you see that cricket transcends all other things, and there is something beautiful about that.
(And yes, it is usually a restaurant because, due to certain religious restrictions, there aren’t too many “desi” bars).
For all these reasons, Tuesday marked a special day. After five years of cricketing separation, Pakistan played the first match of its short tour to India.
Due to a variety of political problems over the past few years, Pakistan and India had not met in a proper series since 2005. There were a few matches thrown in the middle but they were all in tournaments with several other participants. The current tour, however, is truly India versus Pakistan and the level of excitement is over 9,000.
The match was an absolute thriller. India started off strong and ended with a whimper, while Pakistan started off disastrously and then stabilized, only to lose their composure towards the end and keep people guessing. Ultimately, though, Pakistan inched ahead and the stage was set up beautifully for the second match on Friday.
It’s of little consequence that the Pakistani visit is short, barely squeezed in between England’s longer tour of India. However, the fact that this series even exists is a testament to how fans of the sport have convinced their respective leaders and administrations to agree to this.
Realistically speaking, however, the real reason may just be that an India-Pakistan series is a major ticket seller.
Either way, it’s great to see that a sport is proving to do something international negotiations have not, which is at least bring two nations together under one roof. It would be too hopeful to think that the historically complicated relationship of these two countries can suddenly be resolved due to a cricket match but it is heartening to see both sides cheering in one stadium.
Of course, when one side is cheering, the other usually isn’t.