The Thursday column January 29, 2004

Yes to passion, no to hysteria

Watching Ravi Shastri and Wasim Akram do their stuff in Australia is a demonstration of what India-Pakistan cricket relations really are

International cricketers share knowledge, so why bring nationality into it?
© Getty Images

Ravi Shastri and Wasim Akram doing their stuff in Australia is a demonstration of what India-Pakistan cricket relations really are. Shaz and Waz isn't the most delectable cricket show on air - that it is classier than the pathetic efforts made by other channels to sex up cricket broadcasts shouldn't count as an excuse - but the real story is the camaraderie and kinship that the two ex-players openly display off the camera.

Not an inch was conceded during their playing days. Shastri's cricket was defensive, but he was perhaps the first Indian cricketer with the street-fighting sprit that Indians have always envied in Pakistani cricket. There are always a few sparks on the field when India and Pakistan play cricket, but as Sanjay Manjrekar once wrote in Wisden Asia Cricket, no two international teams are as friendly off the field as India and Pakistan are. It should come as no surprise that apart from sandwiching a lovely on their show, Akram and Shastri have been spending many evenings together in Australia to destroy the evidence of their indulgences. Before you jump to lurid conclusions, however, let it be clarified that the aforesaid forays have been to the gym.

Cricketers have never been part of the problem in Indo-Pak cricket, of course. Politics, everyone knows, has been the culprit behind the non-fulfillment of the promise of great rivalry that these two teams held out. Forty-seven Tests in 51 years is abysmal compared to 306 Tests between England and Australia in 127 years, but what has given politicians even more ammunition to use cricket as an expedient tool for manipulative diplomacy? Hyper-jingoism is a word that readily springs to mind. And if cricket lovers are sincere about encouraging more bilateral cricket between India and Pakistan, jingoism should be first affliction to be consigned to the garbage bin. Passion, yes, because it enhances, but hysteria, no, because it reduces a good game of cricket to a cauldron of negative, destructive emotions.

Ahead of a potentially groundbreaking tour by India to Pakistan, the portents are evident already. Some television imbeciles have over-enthustically decided to call the series `The LOC Series' in their promotions, while a month or two ago, Akram found himself facing a lawsuit over a speculation that he had been offered a job to coach Indian bowlers. In fact, it is a controversy that refuses to go away, with reports suggesting the unhappiness of the Pakistan team management over Akram "giving tips" to Indians in Australia, which has moved Akram to write to a newspaper clarifying his position and joining issues with Javed Miandad, the Pakistani coach, reminding him of the time he offered advice to Indian batsmen on their tour to England in 1996.

Now, this is a controversy that never should have been. International cricketers share knowledge, and that's the way it should be. Akram himself has benefited from talking to many greats from rival teams, Bishan Singh Bedi advised Matthew Hayden about tackling the Indian spinners on Australia's tour to India in 2000-01, Sourav Ganguly readily acknowledged Greg Chappell's contribution towards his success in the Tests in Australia, and Terry Jenner was generous with his advice to Anil Kumble before the tour began. It was good of Akram to have a word or two with Irfan Pathan, who sought him out, and surely Manjrekar, who has been commentating in Pakistan, would have extended the same courtesy to a young Pakistani cricketer had he been approached. To insinuate that Akram was betraying his country by extending the benefit of knowledge to an Indian cricketer is the reflection of a mentality that cricket supporters in both the countries will need to shed.

To be fair to Miandad, he had only expressed apprehensions about Akram passing on tips to Indian batsmen on how to play reverse swing, and had defended Akram's right to coach professionally any international team. He termed it understandable that Akram should give a few tips to Pathan. But the moral of the story is, because words get twisted and inflamed in transit, they should be spoken carefully. Bombs are not the only things that can derail Indo-Pak cricket.