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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Pak in India and a website anniversary

We have just a few days to go before the next mega cricketing spectacle begins and I, like millions of others, cannot wait. With due respect to the Ashes series (of which I myself am a huge fan), I strongly believe there is nothing as eagerly anticipated as a contest between India and Pakistan, be it a Test match or a one-dayer. If you have any doubts about this, just follow the passion on this site during an Indo-Pak cricket game and you will know what I am talking about.

During and immediately after India’s tour to Pakistan last year, I wrote a couple of articles on this site, discussing the magic of the moment and thanking Pakistan for being a wonderful host. All the misgivings before the tour turned out to be unfounded as the players and other Indians were given a warm reception wherever they went, the games were played in the best of spirit and a huge amount of goodwill was generated – best evidenced by the sight of Indian and Pakistani supporters sitting next to each other, waving their respective flags in a fiercely competitive, yet friendly atmosphere. This picture will remain imprinted in my mind for ever.

For me personally, having grown up trying to convince many around me that there was nothing to fear in building good relations with Pakistan and that there were but a few rabble-rousers - on both sides of the border – who had a vested interest in keeping the countries apart, there could have been no greater vindication of my belief. Short of saying “I told you so”, I did take an opportunity to gloat (read my article, “Thank You, Pakistan”).

I still believe that the vast majority of Indians and Pakistanis have very similar day-to-day concerns in life and have little interest in stoking fires of passionate hatred towards the other’s nation. We are extremely competitive about sports when we play each other (be it cricket or hockey) but we have the sense to separate competitiveness from hatred.

Or, do we ? If the daily messages in the media, both Indian and Pakistani, are anything to go by, the portents for the upcoming tour do not look very promising. I am not talking about the cricket itself – I am convinced that the cricket will take care of itself. It is the other aspects of the tour that are quite worrying.

By now, we are all used to the BCCI’s handling of a cricket series. We would have been very surprised if everything had been well-organised. But this time the BCCI seems to have surpassed even its own standards. Eventually everything will sort itself out (as it always does), but, as far as I know, there is still uncertainty at this moment about the venues and the TV rights. If the media is anything to go by (and I am always a bit skeptical about this), there is a report out there that some PCB officials who visited cricket grounds in India to assess their suitability for the series, were not given the most professional of treatment. Whether this is true or not, we can do without this sort of negative publicity for what is already a very sensitive situation.

But more than all BCCI’s shenanigans, what worries me is the jingoistic tone in some of India’s political establishment. It is not entirely unexpected and I would like to think of this as being only a minority voice but it is worrying nonetheless. Already there has been attempt to damage the pitch in Mohali and security was tightened at the Green Park ground, Kanpur today to prevent a vandalism attempt there. Security has also been heightened for the Feroze Shah Kotla ground in New Delhi.

The sad thing is that it does not take much to succeed in an act of vandalism or a more serious act of destruction. Which is why I respect the views of the Pakistan Cricket Board if they do not wish to play at Ahmedabad. The Gujarat Cricket Association may huff and puff about this and threaten to have the whole tour called off but the Indians need to see where Pakistan is coming from. Whether the objections are justifiable or not, if the Pakistanis do not want to be anywhere near Ahmedabad, I would say – so be it. After all, the Indians also did not want to play a Test in Karachi – much to the disappointment of millions of localites. Ultimately, the one-dayer played at Karachi was of the highest standard – not just in terms of the game, but also in terms of the atmosphere. Perhaps Ahmedabad could learn from this.

I have not even discussed the actual series yet but I will do that at another time. The performances and the results of this series may be a huge deal to millions of cricket lovers but to me, they do not even come close to the real responsibility that this series bears on itself.

It has to carry on from where the series last year in Pakistan left off. It has to continue to build on that spirit of friendship and goodwill. India has to prove that it is as friendly a neighbour as Pakistan proved to be last year. The bridge-building must continue with full fervour.

If the tour can go on without any disturbance or disruption, it would be a success, regardless of the outcome of the matches. And that should be the focus of the Indian government, the BCCI, every local cricket association and the people of India – all of who are responsible to make this a reality. Even the Indian and Pakistani players need to play their part – and if Inzamam’s comments are any indication, he is taking his ambassador role very seriously.
I am hoping against hope that everything goes off smoothly.

Lastly, talking of bridge-building reminds me of the site that first introduced me to following cricket matches online. It was 2004 - on the eve of India's tour to Pakistan that year. A group of young enthusiasts, who believed that cricket could play an important role in building a bridge between India and Pakistan, started this website called indopaktour.com. It became quite a success - the tour was a landmark success itself - and the ball is now rolling for frequent India-Pakistan exchanges. The site has since been renamed to cricbuzz.com.

It is the first anniversary of that site today and I am very happy for the site. I am sure the site creators can take great satisfaction from what they have built over the last year. For, with their limited resources but huge aspirations, they have built a bridge among cricket lovers of India and Pakistan like none other. I, for one, am indebted to them for introducing me to many Pakistani cricket lovers. And, I must say, not just Pakistanis because the site also boasts followers from Australia, West Indies, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Bangladesh and England.

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