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Cricket fences -interesting read
« on: January 15, 2006, 03:15:22 AM »


Cricket Fences

As India play Pakistan in Lahore, memories of the last tour come flooding back to Kunal Pradhan

Every time the ball rises, straight back over the bowler's head at the National Stadium in Karachi, there is a sense of deja vu.

Two springs ago at that venue, a cricket ball had been struck in just that manner into the floodlit sky. Two people, from different corners of the field, had darted towards it, both too far away to have any chance of intercepting the projectile in mid-air.

Pumping sinews, still heads, fixed eyes, the moments lasted an eternity as they closed in. The packed crowd had got to their feet, mouths had opened but no sound had come. Then, a clutch in the stomach, averted eyes, and a huge gasp of fear, as the two players had looked set to collide.

But, at the last moment, Mohammad Kaif jumped over Hemang Badani, managed to manoeuvre his knee so that he didn't split his colleague's jaw, and fell to one side with the white Kookaburra safely clasped in his hands.

That was the moment, when he finally stood up, completing the most incredible of catches, that the stadium erupted. More sound was never made in a cricket ground before. Two peoples, divided for almost 50 years, embraced one another on the terraces of Karachi. A barrier was broken, and the air became heavy as a plethora of emotions suddenly formed a seamless, viscous compound.

The people-to-people relationship between Indians and Pakistanis reached a rare milestone that evening. That was two years ago. Now, India are back in Pakistan, and this time, people say, things are different: This tour is about cricketers, it's not about ambassadors of peace.

 But whenever India plays Pakistan, shooting across the Line of Control is known to increase. That can't really happen when it's just about cricket. Sport, at any time, is about respect. Between India and Pakistan, it's about honour.

There is this burning passion among us, on both sides of the border, to be better than our neighbours.

In fact, some of us in India don't even consider Pakistanis as neighbours. We still think they're a part of us, and that we'll actually get them back one day. They'd better come back!  Therein lies the problem.

One race, one people, one soul, say the more liberal. And therein, as I discovered when I spent two months there on that same path-breaking tour two years ago, lies the problem.

It's true that Pakistan and India were once united. Combined, our cricket team would be phenomenal. Lahore looks like Delhi, and Karachi looks like Mumbai. But there are differences. It's been 50 years, we're two different countries, and we have to learn to accept, and respect, that.

It's the city where Porus stood up to Alexander, where Sufi saints preached for years, and where Inzamam-ul-Haq was born.

In the summer, Multan is hot and dusty. It looks like a small town, but it isn't. Lined by dargahs and famous for it's leather footwear, it is now best known to Indians as the place where Virender Sehwag struck his blistering 309, a special milestone in our cricket history, even though he was dropped half-a-dozen times along the way.

And it's the place where Rahul Dravid declared with Sachin Tendulkar on 194, sending the nation into an unnecessary frenzy that lasted for days and, briefly, even threatened to derail the team. But Tendulkar and Dravid being more mature than Ganguly and Chappell, nothing like that happened, and India left the city riding the wave of their test victory.

As you get out of the Alama Iqbal international airport -- ironically named after the same poet who wrote Sare Jahan Se Achcha -- you could easily be in one of the central districts of Delhi.

In fact, as the car turns towards the Pearl Continental hotel, called 'PC' in true Punjabi style, you get the feeling that you're driving down the tree-lined Lodhi Road that houses the India Habitat Centre.

But Lahore, for a visitor from India, is about so much more. As former test cricketer Man Mohan Sood found out in 2004, it's about seeking out the locality you were born in. As Pramod Ojha, a businessman from Delhi found out, it's about delicious food. It is really very easy for a tourist to get lost in Food Street at Gawalmandi in the Anarkali market.

Dal ghosht, kheema, gurda, bheja, taka-tak...the list of delicacies is endless. It's all served on the street, lined with well-lit buildings from the days of yore, setting an ambience of a different era.

And then, when you think the best is over, the paan wallah makes two circles around your mouth, and stuffs the most amazing beetel-leaf you've ever had in your mouth.

It melts on your tongue, and, despite India's defeat in the test, you leave Lahore with its sweetness still lingering on your palate.

The joke is that Islamabad is 15 km from Pakistan. It's not something you can really connect to till you actually go there. But, once in the capital, the humour in the statement actually makes you throw your head back and laugh.

Islamabad looks like an architect's model, clean to the point of being antiseptic, sparse to the point of seeming uninhabited. Rawalpindi, just 10 minutes away, is a bustling, booming small town. Islamabad is wonderland.

 That's where Rahul Dravid told us over dinner the night before India's first innings that he had to bat "the whole day tomorrow". We sniggered at his simple arrogance.

Next day, he was 135 not out. And, as if for good measure, he batted the next day after as well, finishing with a career-best 270 that ensured India won the third test.

The seat of the government, Islamabad has Pakistan's only nightclub -- Bassment -- at the Marriott Hotel. I went there with a few Indian cricketers to dance the night away. Of course, we couldn't legally buy drinks, but a black duffel bag was out to great use to smuggle cans of Belgian ale.

Having won the series, and listening to some of Bollywood's dhinchakest dance numbers after so long, a lot of us were on a high anyway.

Champagne was finally uncorked on the flight back. Sourav Ganguly handed us the bottle, and the whole plane broke into a round of applause for the Indian team that not only won the cricket series, but also brought some sanity to Indo-Pak relations. But that, like I said, was a different time.

The ice has been broken. Now, it's time to get some warmth in. And to try and win again.




« Last Edit: January 15, 2006, 03:18:28 AM by kban1 »
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