India v Pakistan, 2nd semi-final, World Cup 2011 April 1, 2011

Is this really patriotism?

Looking at the hype and hysteria that surrounds every India-Pakistan encounter, one wonders whether India has really evolved as a responsible nation

Was it really good-spirited patriotism that strutted itself in all forms decipherable in the lead up the semi-final game against Pakistan, or was it in fact an obsessive case of fervent jingoism? The support for the Indian team bordered on crass, the nation did not just support Team India but ridiculed the opposition. The media, in order to grab eyeballs and increase TRPs, went to unimaginable extremes and added fuel to the fire. Losing to Pakistan seemed no longer an option for the Men in Blue. But wasn't it a game of cricket in which one side had to lose? Yes, it was the semi-final of the World Cup and hence an important game, but would the build-up have been the same if the opponent had been any other team? I doubt it. In fact, now that we have beaten Pakistan it's considered okay if we lose to Sri Lanka in the final, for we have been avenged. Don't you find it strange? What does it tell you about our evolution as a responsible nation?

Let me go back to the 1920s when India was reeling under the British rule and cricket, a European sport, was finding its feet in India. There was an annual quadrangular tournament featuring a team each of Hindus, Muslims, Parsis and the British. Initially, these matches were played and seen as a sport but when the freedom movement gained steam, the stakes changed too. These annual cricket encounters were seen and used as the vehicles to assert our presence and our right to freedom. Every British loss on the cricket pitch was viewed as the nation's victory over its rulers. And one could easily relate to those emotions because the country was struggling for its existence and survival. But even then the Indians (called natives) didn't take up the sport to get even with the rulers; they took it up because they liked playing it.

Post independence and the division of the country, we just carried forward the same sentiment i.e. sport being the vehicle to assert supremacy. The relations between India and Pakistan remained sour for the longest time. We've fought wars and still continue to have other equally important issues plaguing us. Yet, there's enough reason to believe that we as people, have matured and come a long way in trimming down that animosity, especially via Bollywood and numerous other cultural exchanges, perhaps reiterating time and again that the rivalry is only political. Or at least I'd like to believe that India has definitely evolved and has become a responsible nation. Unfortunately though, all it took was a cricket match to topple that process of evolution. Are we not, in a sense, pushing ourselves back a 100 years?

Besides that would it not be fair to spare a moment of thought for cricketers involved in the game? We cricketers are also the product of the environment we've grown in. We also understand the importance of an India-Pakistan game and dearly want to beat them every time we meet. But we also realise that it might not be possible every single time, for a game of cricket is not won by the team that is more emotionally charged but by that team which executes its plans properly and has the skill to support those plans. We know that we carry the expectations of a billion people and would do anything to not let them down. But at the same time we are humans too and can take only so much pressure. We try to insulate ourselves by not reading the newspapers or watching the news channels but despite our best efforts, we can't completely go into our cocoon. While we want to think positively all the time, the thought of a possible loss followed by a backlash finds its way into our mind. What if we lose this game against Pakistan? Will our effigies be burnt across India? Will our houses be vandalised and will our families be safe? Will we be the nation's pariah just because we couldn't win a game of cricket?

It's about time that we, as a nation, answer these questions. Are we going to behave like this every time we play Pakistan? If we detest them so much, it may not be a bad idea to severe all cricketing ties with them, for a cricket match can't be used as a benchmark to prove our superiority as a nation. Every time we behave like the way we did this time, it pulls us down as a responsible nation

You must be thinking right now -- since we love you so much, it's only fair to receive the ridicule. While we agree that we are what we are because of your love and support, we are humans too who can and should be allowed to fail from time to time. Memories from 2003 loom large in my mind, when fans vandalised Mohammad Kaif's house and left the players completely gobsmacked. For the first time ever, we felt unsure about our families, and their safety back home. I also vividly remember my tour to Pakistan in 2004. That was the first time I saw cricket being the lead story on the front page of all national dailies for almost every single day. As a player, however much you want the recognition, you'd rather stay within the sports pages, for the repercussions of featuring on the front pages can be manifold. We have in a way, learnt to take even appreciation with a pinch of salt.

I, personally, have taken immense pleasure when we defeated Pakistan in Multan and Rawalpindi and felt gutted when we lost to them at Lahore. The point I'm trying to make is that we also go through the same set of emotions as you do, albeit objectively. And believe me, the Pakistan cricketers, who are otherwise a friendly lot, don't forget to remind us about the repercussions of a possible loss during an event. While they envy the status our cricketers enjoy, they're happy that their country receives a loss in a much better fashion. England did not go to Zimbabwe during the 2003 World Cup because they received threats. While the English players were warned by the outsiders, cricketers in India get that word of warning, quite strangely, from their own fans.

It's about time that we, as a nation, answer these questions. Are we going to behave like this every time we play Pakistan? If we detest them so much, it may not be a bad idea to sever all cricketing ties with them, for a cricket match can't be used as a benchmark to prove our superiority as a nation. Every time we behave like the way we did this time, it pulls us down as a responsible nation. The choice is ours.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Beyond the Blues, an account of the 2007-08 Ranji Trophy season. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on April 3, 2011, 20:55 GMT

    I think the person who wrote this article dont get the point that Cricket is like a religion in subcontinent and Indopak matches are the clash of the titans and when u win a match with that magnitude u should celebrate ur heart out i mean cmon how many good moments do we get in life? I m from Lahore, Pakistan and i m with the Indian fans with this celebration thing if Pakistan would have won the same situation would had been experienced in every street of my country so thats absolute normal and is the love for cricket and for our motherlands I respect India and their cricket team i know there are some hate mockers on both sides but generally I think we love each other how can two parts of a human body hate each other its impossible ... if only media and politicians correct themselves i think we will become the best neighboring countries on this planet and than there will be more matches and more celebrations burrrrrrrrr cant wait :P and Many many congrats to Team India on WC victory !!

  • Dummy4 on April 2, 2011, 2:59 GMT

    Of course it's Patriotism! The match was one of the greatest. It was a great victory too against a very qualified Pakistani team. And the victory was treated with the right respect and celebration it deserved. To have celebrated it with any less enthusiasm would be an insult to the match. The 2 countries have not faced each other in the World Cup since 2003 and this match was eagerly awaited by people of both countries. Victory would have been celebrated with equal fervor by both nations. It was not treated like a war by anyone, there were cheers for the Pakistani team from the Indian audience. Doesn't the same rivalry-fever exist during Aus-Eng or Aus-NZ matches? The only difference would be the method of celebration. Their fans would party with beers, while our fans (India/Pak) celebrate with fireworks. Dance, Music and Fireworks! That's almost part of our culture. So Mr. Chopra, please dont politicize this. No one asked you to sing and dance but at least stop being a party-pooper!

  • Rukmankan on April 2, 2011, 2:23 GMT

    Hahahaha…look at all the Indian fans jump on Aakash just because he says it as he sees it.

    @ Rogerproxy - no SL fans, while passionate, are much more reasonable. No one ever throws stones at our cricketer's houses or even heckle them when they seem at restaurants and while shopping. Yes, our cricketers go shopping and lead normal lives.

  • jagadish on April 2, 2011, 1:43 GMT

    There is a bit of truth in what akash said ..... I understand the match between India Vs Pakistan was a big one but it was very hyped and i did switch off the television till the match started .... It was too much to be honest .... It did reflect upon the performances of our boy's , they were under tremendous pressure, luckily we got a cool captain who handled it very well ... I think we tend get overboard when it comes to success and failure with our cricket team ...

  • manish on April 2, 2011, 0:56 GMT

    I found your article very interesting in the sense that when "allz is not well" between the 2 countries,this could perhaps go in some +ve and right direction.Infact cricket only gave chances for the relations to improve like anything.Like I thought Sachin on dat day did not deserve MoM,it wud have been a great gesture to share it wid Wahib Raiz as he outshone everyone.n mind it it wud have been a much greater effort than of Manmohan singh.but than I forgot one incident,remembering which I still cme @ pain and which will always remind me that dis is just not d game.In one of the test match @ Kol,Tendulkar had just taken two runs and was returning for a third when substitute Nadeem Khan hit the stumps from deep mid-wicket. Tendulkar had collided with Akhtar, who was waiting for the throw, and failed to ground his bat; third umpire K. T. Francis ruled him out. Had then Capt Wasim Akram called back Sachin,it wud hve been a great thing not only for the game but for the relationship as well.

  • Dummy4 on April 2, 2011, 0:22 GMT

    This was a lame article! First you deem this to be the match of the century and then expect that the fans from both sides will not be passionate about it.. There is a reason why India vs Pakistan is special and it is because of the emotions that every fan associates with a game.. If you take that quotient away from the game, it will no longer be passion. It will no longer unite 1 billion people the way it did on Wednesday. Though I was not in India on that day, but from what I have heard from people.. They have never seen or experienced something like that in their entire lives. They have never seen so many people on streets to celebrate with each other.. a united celebration.. Emotions are important in everything and need to be respected.. I dont blame people like Aakash Chopra because unfortunately for him, he has not done anything..for himself or for India. Sitting infront of the TV, watching his peers pull off one of the greatest wins in Indian cicket can be frustrating.

  • Dhirendra on April 2, 2011, 0:01 GMT

    Well Mr Chopra, I beg to differ... India is a country where 1.2 Bn hearts beat together when their team is gathered around those 22 yards, forget about defeating their longest standing arch-rival in a World Cup Semi Final which will in all likelihood be our God's last.... It is inhumane to expect fans to sit inside their houses and clap as if they just finished watching some stand-up comedy show. What we did was true patriotism, for our country and for the game which brings billions together. If someone could not reach a pinnacle in his career or was tagged as the "secret-blogger" in one of the Domestic tournaments, doesn't give him the right to stop Indians from celebrating their team's triumph over their arch-rivals. We knew we just moved a step closer to gifting our God the World Cup as a parting gift... The emotions WILL flow and no one, absolutely, NO ONE can stop them!

  • Dummy4 on April 1, 2011, 23:45 GMT

    Very well written I must say. Akash Chopra read my mind. I tend to think that the sense of patriotism or jingoism that was shown by our media and also the people was immature. There is no problem with celebration. How ever it is silly to go overboard with the celebrations when the final is yet to be played. As far as the sentiment "losing world cup final is OK but we shouldnt lose to Pakistan" i think it boils down to what we call "Jhooti Shaan". Very true in saying "Every time we behave like the way we did this time, it pulls us down as a responsible nation. The choice is ours."

    I am actually surprised to see grown up and mature people behave the way they did in regards to the semifinal. I am very Happy that MS Dhoni is doing the right thing by asking the team to stay away from this frenzy. All the best to Team India today. Hope they win.

  • Dev on April 1, 2011, 23:30 GMT

    It seem to have become a fashion, a statement of excellence among the so-called 'intelligent', 'fair minded' reporters and columnists to bash and criticize how Indians celebrate their cricket and their cricketers. Yes, Indian are pretty damn passionate about cricket so get over it. And yes when it comes to Ind vs Pak this passion multiples many more times. For gods sake it is passion and not HATE. Anyway, we passionate Indian cricket fans don't need Chopras of this world to tell us how to celebrate our passion for cricket and cricketer.

  • Dummy4 on April 1, 2011, 23:25 GMT

    I appreciate your cricketer's perspective. After all, you are the ones who face all types of fans on a daily basis and know their nature and temperament. We know you are not referring to the majority of "polite & respectful" fans, but the boisterous, over-zealous ones. Unfortunately the uncouth loudmouths may not be the majority but they tend to be the most visible too.

    Having said that, I was mostly impressed by the way cricketers from both sides behaved. Egoless & gentlemanly with plenty of good things to say about the opposing teams. That's what ultimately counts :)

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