India-Bangladesh: Beyond Cricket

By Anjum Altaf

The India-Bangladesh match ended predictably but in Pakistan its off-field resonance was of greater interest. All the ambivalent feelings about India and Bangladesh that are otherwise submerged bubbled to the surface. It was a rich occasion for some casual explorations in social attitudes.

My limited sample revealed two sets of observations – those on which there was relative agreement and those where opinions were more divided. The first set comprised the following:

First, a sense of pride that four South Asian teams had made it to the quarter finals of a major world championship. It was encouraging evidence of a South Asian consciousness amongst people many of whom had not seen more than one or two cities in their own country.

Second, a fairly objective assessment of the quality of the four teams based purely on their track record. Most people ranked India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Bangladesh in that order.

Third, a decidedly calculus-based preference for a Bangladesh victory which would be “better for Pakistan” by yielding an “easier” contest in the semi-finals. It was a commentary on Pakistani optimism that its team was already projected to be in the semi-finals despite the odds of negotiating Australia in Australia. A chorus of Inshallahs settled all doubts.

The following observations belonged to the set of divided opinions:

First, on whom to support in the India-Bangladesh match independent of the implications for Pakistan? A subset didn’t want India to win under any circumstances. At the other end was the opinion that it didn’t matter who won as long as it was good fight.

Second, if India were the only South Asian team left in the semi-finals, should Pakistanis root for it to win the World Cup? Opinion was sharply divided between those who could never support India under any circumstances and those for whom regional affinities held some attraction for one reason or another.

I noted with interest the correlation of education with opinion in my limited sample of fellow viewers. The more educated in the group were more anti-India wanting it to lose every match; the least educated were open to rallying behind India if Pakistan were out of the competition and to wanting the better team to come out ahead. Opinions about Bangladesh were independent of education.

I questioned once again the widespread belief that education is the attribute that leads to openness, tolerance, and objectivity. Its veracity was not borne out in the sample of viewers and confirmed my doubts based on other independent observations. The paradox may have something to do with the changing content of our education. I was reminded of the late Asghar Ali Engineer who posed a rhetorical question (Why is the educated middle-class more bigoted than the illiterate masses?) and pithily answered it himself – “Because it is educated.”

Perhaps it is a blessing that more than half of Pakistan is still illiterate. There is still time to fix our system of education so that a cricket match is just a match and not a psychic extension of war and a means to settle scores.

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3 Responses to “India-Bangladesh: Beyond Cricket”

  1. indiajones Says:

    Well written, though I recoil at the conclusions drawn. In my personal experience, I have found that cricket has been the bane of the sub-continent, and about time that it has been seen for what it is – falls short as a true sport; and I should stop short of calling it an opiate of the people, though it comes close to being that.
    I personally used to watch and hear cricket through most of my school and collegiate years in the 70s, and I brought it to a complete stop when I read a Kapil Dev ( former captain and Indian all-rounder, for the uninitiated ) interview, and as great a sportsman as any, when he went to bolster the spirits of a few Kargil wounded fauji, on the Indian frontline, and as they nursed their bloodied hands and legs, they asked Kapil laughingly ” Kya Pakistaniyon ko haraya ?”. And Kapil was dumbfounded, these fellas had lost real blood, and they were asking him about a mere cricket match !
    Barely two years ago, I had a couple of days in Dubai, and made it a point to eat in Pakistani restaurants, – not in Karachi Durbar, which has become a big name/chain there, and thereby expensive too – and waited an hour on a blistering Friday afternoon outside the door of the restaurant, till those working in the restaurant returned after their prayers – and to have the only vegetarian dish that they could possibly serve. And as I gorged into the food, and chatted up the waiters, owner and cashier, it could not go beyond cricket. Whither education, whither literacy ? Sad !

  2. GC Says:

    Beautiful ideas, nicely put. The last paragraph, sums up the emotion.

  3. Vikram Says:

    Faisal Devji has pointed how disciplined the wars between India and Pakistan have been, every war has been fought in perfect accordance to accepted rules of combat.

    I think something similar applies to subcontinental cricketing encounters. Once the two sides are subject to a neutral regime, they seem to be able to forget their fear and hatred of each other and celebrate/abide by the values they cherish.

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