Mother of all matches By Rahul Singh - Tuesday 29th March 2011

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AFTER India’s victory over Australia and Pakistan’s over the West Indies in the cricket World Cup, India and Pakistan are due to meet in a mouthwatering semi-final at Mohali, near the Punjab capital of Chandigarh (and not too far from the India-Pakistan border) on Wednesday.
In one of the most eagerly anticipated one-day cricket matches ever, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has invited the Pakistan president and prime minister to watch it, thereby attempting to bring the derailed peace process back on track.
Tickets for the match are reportedly going for a mind-boggling Rs100,000 and hotels within a 50km radius of the venue are already booked. An air ticket from Mumbai to Chandigarh on that particular day can only be had for about Rs22,000, almost four times the normal fare.
To paraphrase the late Saddam Hussein in a different context, this is going to be the mother of all matches.
The bookies have made India the favourites, one reason being that India has never lost to Pakistan in a World Cup. The other, India is playing ‘at home’. Even though he is in his late 30s, Sachin Tendulkar is at his very best. And the explosive Virendra Sehwag, if he gets going, can take the game away from Pakistan on his own. However, Pakistan is an
unpredictable team, studded with brilliance and has a better bowling attack.
Life in India will come to a stop on Wednesday afternoon and evening (as it will in Pakistan, surely). But let me tell you a small secret: Quite a few Indians — and I am among them — have a sneaking sympathy for Pakistan and would like them to win. And do you know why?
Because that would mean Pakistan would play in the final at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium (which happens to be quite close to where I reside) on April 2. Where will the Pakistan team stay while in Mumbai? At either the Taj Mahal or the Oberoi hotels, the two best hotels in the city, located near the match venue.
As all Dawn readers must know, Mumbai is the city terrorists attacked not so long ago and two of their main targets were the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels. How deliciously poignant it would be for Pakistan to play in Mumbai and the team stay in one of those hotels! I believe it could be a catharsis, benefiting both nations.
Could it happen? The Wednesday match will provide the answer, giving it an importance beyond cricket.
But there is a joker in the pack: the Muslim- and Pakistan-baiting Shiv Sena, still a powerful force in Mumbai. It has vowed to violently disrupt any India-Pakistan match in the city — a threat it has carried out in the past. However, this will be a match between Pakistan and a non-Indian team. Will the Shiv Sena insist on disrupting it? Only time will tell.
Let’s move away a little and ask how Indians feel when other countries (other than India itself) are playing against each other. I shall speak for myself but I believe I reflect the sentiments of a majority of Indians. And if in what I am about to say, there is an element of ‘racism’, so be it.
Take for example, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh playing Australia or England. I find myself rooting for Sri Lanka and
Bangladesh. If two ‘white’ countries, such as Australia and England, are playing against each other, I am indifferent, though it gets a little more complicated when players of Indian origin are in a largely ‘white’ team. That confuses me.
For instance, when Nasser Hussain was England’s captain, my feelings were somewhat ambivalent. Similarly, when Ravi Bopara (who played for England in the current World Cup) did well, I was cheering.
South Africa is even more complicated. It was an outcaste in the apartheid days, deservedly so. But when it gave up apartheid and returned to the sporting mainstream, my sympathies were entirely with that country’s team, especially as it included coloured players like fast bowler Ntini.
Finally, an even touchier issue: India and Pakistan playing in England. The spectators who cheer vociferously for India, when India is playing, look like Indians. Nothing wrong with that, except that most of them are actually British nationals, though of Indian origin (the same is true when Pakistan plays in England).
Many ‘white’ Englishmen find this offensive. I agree with them. The loyalty of such people should be with the country whose nationality they have taken. In fact, a British minister named Tibbit criticised such ethnic Indians and this became popularly known as “the Tibbit test”.
I shall end with another admission. Apart from when Pakistan plays against India (Wednesday’s match is exceptional), if Pakistan is facing any other country, whether ‘white’ or ‘coloured’, I want Pakistan to win. Why? The cultural affinity between our two countries and the common passion we both share for cricket has something to do with. But I think it goes deeper: A belief that despite our differences a day will come in the not too distant future when we will speak the common language of peace and understanding.
I wonder if at least some Pakistanis feel like I do and that when India plays another country, apart from Pakistan of course, they root for India, even if secretly.
The writer is former Editor of the Reader’s Digest and Indian Express.

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