Series of excerpts from Not Just Cricket by Pradeep Magazine.
The next encounter at Karachi’s National Stadium made up for the lifeless first match. The stadium was overflowing with thousands of spectators and the contest had everything one would expect from an India–Pakistan match. It had a thrilling finish, with India needing eight runs from the last over to overhaul Pakistan’s score of 265. Off-spinner Rajesh Chauhan sealed the chase with a six, and India won by four wickets with three balls to spare. Chauhan became an overnight star in India for his unexpected batting exploits.
In my memory though, the match is associated more with crowd trouble and the Indian team’s lack of trust in the Pakistani officials and spectators. When India was fielding, the match was marred by incidents of stone-throwing from one section of the crowd. This resulted in four disruptions, the last of which—Pakistan had scored 265 for 4 in 47.2 overs at that point—was declared as the end of the innings by match referee Ranjan Madugalle when the Indian team walked off the field. The tourists refused to field further, stating they did not want to risk injury to a player. The Indian media contingent, which included Ravi Shastri as a television commentator, was furious. Some even felt that it was part of a larger conspiracy and that it confirmed their belief that Pakistan was no place for an Indian cricket team to visit. Shastri, while talking to us, even said that he would tell Bal Thackeray (then leader of the extreme right-wing group Shiv Sena) never to allow an Indian team to visit Pakistan. From the press box it was hard to figure out what exactly was going on, so I took a walk around the boundary line. All I could see were crowds desperate for the match to restart, with no sign of any hostility among them. Whosoever the miscreants were, they had done their disruptive job slyly and were now sitting quietly among the vast mass of peaceful cricket lovers. I went to meet the Indian team manager, Madan Lal, who was understandably tense and jittery. ‘They are throwing big stones at us,’ he fumed. ‘Someone could get seriously injured.’ I realized he was contemplating not resuming play at all, which not only meant conceding the match but more significantly would have been a diplomatic disaster.
I advised caution and reported what I sensed from my walk around the ground. After much deliberation, the Indians agreed to continue the match. As Madugalle had terminated the Pakistan innings, no Indian fielder had to stand close to the boundary. The Indians agreed that the Pakistani total would have to be chased within 47 overs instead of the regular 50. After that, the match continued without disruption, and even though the crowd did not enjoy the nail-biting loss for the home team, there were no further violent or hostile reactions. While making my way back to the hotel among thousands of disappointed people leaving the stadium, I spotted a young boy of about ten wailing loudly. I put an arm around him and asked him why he was crying. The sobbing child replied, ‘Log kehte hain hume inse haarna nahi chahiye (People say we should not lose to them).’ His reaction was astonishingly similar to that of my relatives’ and friends’ children when India loses to Pakistan. That night, members of the Indian media were invited to dinner at the home of legendary Pakistan batsman Zaheer Abbas. In his playing days, Abbas was known for his elegant batting and in fact had been a scourge of Indian bowlers in the seventies and early eighties. He had married an Indian Hindu woman from Kanpur by the name of Rita Luthra, who had adopted the Islamic name of Samina. Ashish Shukla and I were the first to turn up, and she welcomed us with touching warmth.
We thought we were early and that the rest of our media friends would show up eventually. However, no one else came. Our hosts were clearly upset by their invitation being roundly spurned. As our conversation progressed that night, Abbas and Samina eventually spilled their true feelings about the happenings on that tour. They cited the non-appearance of the other Indian journalists as another instance of Indians trying to slight and shun Pakistani people, and even felt that the stone-throwing incident at the ground was nothing but an Indian ploy to defame Pakistan. According to them, there was no visible proof of any member of the crowd having been involved in that act. They said that no camera had captured a single instance of a stone being thrown at the Indian players. Where had the stones come from, then? In an outrageous claim, the couple said that the stones had possibly come from the pockets of the Indian players, who wanted to ‘defame’ Pakistan. Because there had been strict security checks on anyone entering the stadium, they felt that it was impossible for people to smuggle such missiles into the ground. I politely agreed with them and said that the majority at the ground were peaceful and welcoming, but also added that, as in India, there are always a few bad apples who create mischief and that does not mean they represent the general sentiment. However, our hosts’ grievance against the Indian team was not just shaped by what had taken place at the ground. They said that the Pakistani people and media had found the Indian team aloof, uncommunicative and even disdainful of the locals.
Tendulkar, who was leading the side, had refused to speak to the press and had distanced himself from his Pakistani fans, refusing to even wave or smile at them. Pakistani cricket fans were angry and hurt, and Samina said that as an Indian she felt embarrassed by the behaviour of the Indian team, especially when people in Pakistan had nothing but love for them. This conversation continued deep into the night and revealed to me that fractured relationships, if not handled maturely and with sensitivity, can lead to greater mutual suspicion.
I tried to explain that the cricketers were young, possibly immature; that the stifling security and many strict instructions often resulted in paranoia, which may have forced them to keep to themselves and not interact with the public and even the press. I knew from my conversations with the Indian team that they were indeed apprehensive and suspicious of Pakistanis, and their remaining aloof may have been a defence mechanism to insulate themselves from the perceived threat they had been programmed to believe in.
The Abbas couple’s hurt was genuine, though their version of the ‘truth’ may have been coloured by circumstances not of their own making. From my interaction with them that night, it became clear to me that this short tour, whatever the quality of the actual cricket played, had been a public relations disaster. The mistrust between the two nations was too large to be bridged by just a cricket tour. The third and final match was played at Lahore. India was shot out for 216 after batting first, and Pakistan overhauled the target in only the 26th over courtesy a belligerent innings by Ijaz Ahmed, who scored 139 off just 84 balls, hitting ten fours and nine sixes. It was among the most brutal One-Day knocks I have ever seen. The series loss added one more to the list of Tendulkar’s failures as captain. On the eve of our departure, a couple of waiters at the hotel approached me. They had seen my passport, which was kept with the hotel manager, and knew my place of birth was Srinagar. That made them interested to interact with me as they were from the Pakistan side of divided Kashmir, which is called Azad Kashmir in Pakistan. They seemed to be more comfortable speaking Urdu, and spoke in a dialect that was similar to the way the Dogras of Jammu region speak. Later, I found out that ‘Azad Kashmir’ had a mix of many communities: Punjabis, Gujjars, Jats and Mughals, among others. Fewer than two lakh people spoke Kashmiri, and that community was mostly concentrated in Neelum Valley in the northern part of ‘Azad Kashmir’, what we in India call the Pakistan occupied Kashmir.
The waiters wanted to know more about the Indian side of Kashmir, the issues we faced and if a political solution to the problem was possible. I welcomed them into my room and a lengthy conversation followed. The waiters were not happy about the lack of education, development and jobs in their home region that had forced them to seek work in Lahore. They said that many of their kind were spread across Pakistan, doing jobs where they had to work hard for limited rewards. The waiters were speaking naively about equality and fraternity, and wanted both sides of Kashmir to come together to defeat the forces of exploitation. I was not only touched by their sentiment but also very surprised at their scathing criticism of the Pakistani government. I have met many friendly Muslims from ‘Azad Kashmir’ in England, many of them taxi drivers who spoke to me at length once they understood I too was from Kashmir, albeit from the Indian side. But no previous interaction could compare with that night in that cramped Lahore hotel room. It all ended in hugs and best wishes for one another, aware that we were unlikely to meet ever again.
Excerpted with permission from Harper Collins.