As the London Olympics 2012 regaled the world with a spectacular opening ceremony this morning that as usual celebrated the power of sport to bring nations together, India and Pakistan prepare to re-build their fragile relationship through cricket. But as Joseph Rana points out, unless both countries bury their history of conflict, the fans will not get to experience the true worth of these great cricketing nations.
A couple of helicopters will hover above. Hundreds of social watchdogs in plain clothes will loiter around, bayonets and muzzles hidden, while uniformed police point their weapons with uncanny imprecision.
Meanwhile, the sturdy boys in blue and green will pad up and walk down the turf to take their positions.
Welcome to a thrilling game of cricket; cricket with a difference.
The era of icy indifference between India and Pakistan to showcase brilliance in cricket looks set to be a thing of the past with the cricket nations now ready to face each other.
And the authorities have chosen a ‘safe’ date, very close to the catastrophic predictions of the end of the world as predicted by Nostradamus and the Mayan calendar centuries ago.
Rajiv Shukla, Vice-President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), announced on July 16 the decision “to resume cricketing ties with Pakistan by inviting the Pakistan cricket team” and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) for a short series from December 12 to January 13.
Reactions on both sides have been a mix of quiet caution and optimism.
While former Indian cricket captain Sunil Gavaskar has been quick to advise restraint, slamming the BCCI decision, former Pakistani leg spinner Abdul Qadir welcomed action on bilateral relations.
Shahid Afridi, former Pakistani cricket captain, compared the series with the epic Australian-England Ashes series, insisting that the India-Pakistan series will be monumental.
Such divergent views, given the history of these two neighbours, are not hidden from the world’s radar. It has understandably been a matter of global concern that the spirit of sport has time and again fallen victim to the vagaries not of weather but of human aggression: the Kargil war, the Mumbai terror strikes, and the attack on the bus carrying Sri-Lankan players at Lahore.
These disasters would be a nightmare for any nation so it is hoped that when the governments of these two countries finally agree, the fear that dangles like Damocles’ sword over the heads of its citizens will meet its nemesis.
And high time too, for besides the very limited One Day International (ODI) and Twenty-twenty (T20) matches they have played, it has been five long years since Pakistan toured India on a series.
No wonder cricket enthusiasts across the globe are celebrating the burial of the scare-mongering tactics as they prepare to view a superb display of cricketing skills. The Australian High Commissioner Peter Hayward has in fact expressed a desire to now hold Australia-Pakistan matches in Pakistan.
The BCCI decision will not lead to another Mahabharat (Indian cultural mythical holy war) but hopefully public anxiety will not mean that the series will be played to empty stands with the only spectators a posse of policemen, some liveried, some in plain clothes, with weapons of destruction hidden or on display.
After all we are talking about cricket, the nation’s darling pastime, with its billion lovers the world over, not to mention the legion of brands vying for display and the numerous television channels competing for broadcast rights.
The infighting for a slice of the earnings has already begun with the Pakistan Cricket Board wanting a cut out of the BCCI earnings.
Winston Churchill was right when he famously observed that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton and Harrow.
With a bit of luck, the long-awaited amicable relations between India and Pakistan may also be won on the field.
But for the thaw to lead to a permanent working relationship, both countries will need to address the conflicts that have wedged them apart for too long.