We need a longer season of cricket goodwill
It is the season of goodwill. A charity single is at number one on the music charts, showing that the fiercest foes, the management, players, and supporters of Everton and Liverpool football clubs in this case, can unite like brothers for a worthy cause. Now Pakistan's cricketers are in India to restart the healing process for fractured political relationships.
Let's face it, cricket between India and Pakistan is simply a tactical move in the great game of political power in South Asia, a game that players and spectators are helpless to influence. When will the politics end and the cricket run for freedom? When will goodwill no longer be confined to a season or two?
Not much has changed really. India's complaints against Pakistan over the Mumbai attacks linger on. Pakistanis are still excluded from the Indian Premier League. A tour of Pakistan by a major cricket nation seems impossible. The cricket boards blow hot and cold in their relationship. Players remain friends. Spectators want the contest. Not much changes but the cricket comes and goes.
After years of watching this dance, I'd quite like it to end. We've missed out too often on Sachin Tendulkar and Shahid Afridi, the box office stars of the last decade, competing against each other. We'll never see that individual contest again. Great dramas and unforgettable moments were within our reach and we spurned them. Histories were never made, tales of glory unable to be told.
The glory in this upcoming series does not lie in its outcome. For what it's worth, India must be strong favourites for the Twenty20 matches and Pakistan will challenge better in 50-overs cricket. But the value is in competing, whatever political twist and turn or financial imperative made the series a reality. The challenge for politicians and administrators is to ensure that cricket between India and Pakistan becomes the rule, not an exception.
I don't think it is a cliché that cricket can help normalise relationships. I believe it can. There is nothing more normal to the human spirit than to compete. Familiarity can breed contempt but it is more likely to foster tolerance and respect. The more we play the less politically loaded each contest will become. The single greatest initiative to encourage peace in the region would be to mandate a full bilateral cricket series every two years, enshrined in the constitutions of both India and Pakistan. I know it will never happen but I'm equally confident it would work.
There is nothing special about cricket but it happens to hold a special place in the hearts and minds of the people of South Asia. That's why cricket can succeed where politicians obsessed with power and money have failed for half a century - if we give it a chance.
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here