It is always endearing to hear our neighbours, touted as our staunch rivals, say warm things about Indian hospitality, spirit and safety. The boys from across the border landed in Kolkata – three days behind schedule – amid tight security, ahead of the upcoming match against India on March 19, in the on-going ICC World T20 series.
Yet there was a familiar camaraderie and an easy air around them. Led by skipper Shahid Afridi- who is in the last leg of his career – the Pakistani cricketers were quick to win our hearts, as they went on to say that Indian fans have always showered more love than the ones back home.
At a much publicised and high-profile press conference, a suave and prepped-up Afridi stressed on the need to keep politics away from cricket. There was a cloud of uncertainty that had foreshadowed the team’s arrival to India. The Pakistan Cricket Board, concerned over the security of its team, had even given the players the option to pull out from the tournament. No one, however, moved.
“We support whatever decision our government takes. But we are professional cricketers and not politicians. As far as cricket is concerned, we have always enjoyed playing in India. Indians have given us a lot of love and adulation, more than what we receive in Pakistan. As cricketers, we always enjoy the game. In my career span of 20 years, I have observed that the game has always brought people and nations together. Cricket, therefore, must be kept away from politics,” Afridi said at the conference.
The upcoming match between India and Pakistan, played on the Indian soil, will give cricket lovers more than one reason to cheer. And irrespective of the two-nation conflicts, the game will be relished, enjoyed and celebrated. It is therefore, necessary to keep the spirit of the game alive. Banal politics and vested interests are only overriding the sport, throttling its vibe – something that is unhealthy and must be rooted out.
In cricket-crazy countries like India and Pakistan, there is always a brook of emotion that runs steady. The fans who are divided by the border, are united by cricket. Irrespective of where they play, when these two teams take on each other, the match is always spectacular and feisty. Cricket has transcended boundaries and the game must be kept chaste of bilateral politics. It is, at the end of the day, a gentleman’s game and must be played like one.