March 30, 2011

Foes turn friends in America

Peter Della Penna
Where's the rivalry?
Where's the rivalry?  © Peter Della Penna
Enlarge

I’ve never got to experience an India - Pakistan match in person. I know that until I do, it will be very hard for me to fully grasp the intensity of the rivalry. I can read and research all I want into the history of the two countries, but nothing can replace the intangible yet extremely visceral elements that are only detectable inside the live atmosphere of a stadium.

Perhaps the most confusing part of this rivalry to me is the amicable interaction between players of Indian and Pakistani heritage who play their cricket within the United States. It totally flies in the face of the inherent tension between the two countries that’s described ad nauseum in print and on television.

On the USA senior team’s recent tour to Hong Kong, I was able to spend an off day doing a city tour with members of the team. Among the players were Asif Khan, Usman Shuja and Muhammad Ghous, all originally from Pakistan, as well as Ritesh Kadu and Sushil Nadkarni who had both grown up playing in India. All of them interact like close friends, on and off the field. It’s hard to fathom that they could have been reared in an environment that would have taught them to be wary of each other because it’s completely absent while watching them.

The same is true at the junior level. While covering the USA Under 19 team on their journey to the 2010 U-19 World Cup, USA captain Shiva Vashishat was frequently hanging out with his San Francisco Bay Area teammates Saqib Saleem and Saami Siddiqui. It didn’t matter that Vashishat was born in Jalandhar and Saleem in Islamabad (or Siddiqui in West Virginia). The only thing that mattered to the legspinner Saleem was that Vashishat set the right fields and Siddiqui held on to any edges behind the stumps.

It spreads down to club level cricket too. While there are plenty of instances of clubs that prefer to maintain a parochial climate, there are just as many that establish a cosmopolitan flavor. In 2007, a documentary was made called “Leg Before Wicket”. It focused on a cricket club called the Chicago Giants, a team with Indian and Pakistani members co-existing as they mounted a challenge for the league title in the Midwest Cricket Conference.

The most enjoyable teams I have played for are the ones that mix and match players from different religions and nationalities. In my first couple of experiences playing with Indian and Pakistani teammates, I asked why they are able to get along here in America when there are so many issues between their countries back home.

“It’s not the people who hate each other,” said one of them. “It’s the politicians. When we come to America, we get to leave all the politics between India and Pakistan behind.” Last year, I spent the early part of the season playing for a team that contained mostly players of Pakistani heritage. I brought my girlfriend, whose parents are from India, along to one match. Instead of a façade existing between my girlfriend and my team-mates, they became friendly because they were all Punjabi. Having family from different sides of the border didn’t matter.

Just about everyone in India and Pakistan, in addition to the millions of expats from the two countries living in America, will be glued to their TV sets to take in the latest match between these two arch rivals at the World Cup. That the build-up to this match keeps growing and generating so much attention underscores the magnitude of the rivalry. But after observing so many instances of the two cultures coexisting peacefully within America, I scratch my head sometimes trying to figure out how it’s a rivalry at all.

Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey

RSS Feeds: Peter Della Penna

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Jaideep on (March 31, 2011, 7:34 GMT)

There is no rivalry actually between the people of 2 countries. Walking down Manhattan in search of souvenirs 3 years back, I found that Pakistani owners of souvenir shops exited when being told I was from India and readily offered more than normal discounts.

Posted by JaiBharath on (March 31, 2011, 6:42 GMT)

I have personally experienced the camaraderie with some of the Pakistani students when I was studying in the USA. I saw no antagonism on the Pakistani or Indian students. I think the neutral environment and the struggle/priorities to come up in life overtake the bitter relationships which is inherent in any Indian/Pakistani.

That being said we cannot discount the role of politicians and historical facts that have plagued our relationships.

To me the most difficult part as an Indian is to accept the division of a country based on caste/creed/religion. No country/people will tolerate these kind of divisions. Since we cannot change history we should stop being antagonistic and resolve all disputes amicably. There is a lesson to be learnt in these events where peace triumphs over war.

Posted by Jamie Harrison on (March 30, 2011, 18:06 GMT)

This morning, I had the pleasure of opening up one of our multi-purpose rooms on the UMBC campus so that our cricket-loving students could watch the last five hours of the match on a big screen. As we have a good sized population of both Indian and Pakistani students, the room was packed with both groups.

I can happily report that throughout the match's ups and downs, everyone behaved as friends and yes, as rivals, but mainly as friends. There was rooting, cheering and some light taunting, but nothing that could ever be considered unkind or untoward.

No matter who you were pulling for, in that room, it was a good day to love cricket.

Posted by James on (March 30, 2011, 8:53 GMT)

Well, obviously, if they're playing for America, and consider themselves American, they won't give a damn will they? I wonder if one of them supports the Red Sox, and another the Yankees. Wonder how 'friendly' they'd be then. They'd be rivals at the least.

Posted by AK on (March 30, 2011, 7:37 GMT)

in usa, there is no rivalry really...pakis and indians typically get along and are usually good friends...speaking from my experience and what i have heard.

Posted by mirza zohaib on (March 30, 2011, 7:32 GMT)

from all the past week I literally have listen to the word war now from a person who has a different prospective of seeing cricket, It's really good to hear that really. carry on Mr peter both nations need want more of it.

Posted by Maddy on (March 30, 2011, 7:02 GMT)

Hi Mohali...

As yuvraj requested, please sing our national anthem so loudly......

Let our sound always ring on opponent ears...let all the world listen to this...

I am so excited to see indian team winning world cup in India....India Rocks

Posted by pulkit on (March 30, 2011, 6:33 GMT)

gud one

Posted by Durgaprasad on (March 30, 2011, 6:09 GMT)

Its a ridiculous claim to make that its "America" that makes Indians and Pakistanis co-exist peacefully. And imply that Indians and Pakistanis are foes outside America. Left to their own devices, it happens all over the world in all countries - including in India when people come over from Pakistan, and in Pakistan, when people visit from India.

Americans really have to learn that there's a world outside America. Heh, the United States of Ignorance all over again.

Posted by Akshay Sabnis on (March 30, 2011, 6:01 GMT)

You're first few sentences state the evident.... You will feel it when when you will be in the crowd in a stadium.... Try this at a neutral venue, not a partisan venue. It will bring out a sense of being part of a phenomenon....

Comments have now been closed for this article