02/25/2004                                            Just another tour



And so, onto another country and another series! Cricket is back in the air after just a short hiatus as the Indians prepare to tour Pakistan. And not unexpectedly, the media has gone hyper with stories of caustic remarks and tart retorts from both sides. In the coming weeks the tempo will only climb as player, pundit and populace dish out opinions ranging from the patently inane to the moderately absurd.


Both countries will go on a do-or-die footing as they prepare for a battle that will fully monopolize the hearts and minds of two populations for more than a month. I did not want to use ‘war footing’ given the current situation, but heck, now do-or-die sounds even worse! Hearts will start and stop. Blood pressure will board a roller coaster. Every game will become a battleground with captaincies, careers and reputations littering the aftermath like corpses – those that are left behind forever and those that need to be painfully scraped off the ground after the series.


Fortunes will be made and lost as bookies and betters sharpen their knives. But I hope those fortunes stay in the betting markets and don’t walk in with the drink trolleys.


But I also wonder how much this is going to help further the peace effort. My opinion on the subject is well known. It’s like painfully building an igloo and then moving it into a furnace, hoping that it doesn’t melt anything significant. Nothing stirs the passion as much as an India-Pakistan series and this is the first in a long, long time. National claim to masculinity is at stake and defeat will be like collective castration.


When India beat Pakistan in the last World Cup, a friend told me “Bus! That’s all I want! Now even if they lose every match after this I don’t care. As far as I am concerned, we’ve already won the World Cup!”


We all know what happens when one of these two countries loses to the other. Players are vilified, their patriotism questioned, their homes and families attacked. It’s one thing to feel miserable, even let down, by a defeat but quite another to vent one’s anger on all those players who are out there giving their all for their country all the time. Well, okay, okay, I may have exaggerated to make my point – there are some who didn’t quite give their all but took everybody else’s all – but that is a different story.


But who knows? Let us cross our fingers. Cricket is a funny game. Some 8000 Indians will officially cross over to the other side to watch the games. Let us cross our hearts too. Let us pray that they become the ambassadors of the hopes of a billion people and return with memories that will bind hearts a little tighter and bring peace that much closer.