Of India-Pakistan cricket

Any tour of Pakistan will be remembered by Indians for the generosity of the ordinary people, and their obsession with the game.

A star is born: A young Sachin Tendulkar in action during his debut series, against Pakistan in December 1989.   -  V. V. Krishnan

“He sat, in defiance of municipal orders, astride the gun Zam Zammah on her brick platform opposite the old Ajaib-Gher — the Wonder House, as the natives call the Lahore Museum. Who hold Zam-Zammah, that ‘fire-breathing dragon’, hold the Punjab, for the great green-bronze piece is always first of the conqueror’s loot.”

Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (which begins with the above para) was a favourite when I was growing up. So it was a treat to visit the Lahore Museum (Kipling’s father had been the curator of the original museum) to pay a visit to the Zam-Zammah gun there. It had been used in the third battle of Panipat in 1761.

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That was on my first tour of Pakistan, where the only memorable thing on the field of play was the debut of two formidable cricketers, Sachin Tendulkar and Waqar Younis. Sanjay Manjrekar was India’s leading batsman, with a double century in the Lahore Test. Every Test was drawn, which some considered an achievement, considering the hammering India had received on earlier Pakistan tours.

But any tour of Pakistan will be remembered by Indians for the generosity of the ordinary people, and their obsession with the game, although in Faisalabad there were some hints of trouble with megaphone-toting ‘fans’ exhorting people to come to the stadium to jeer at the Indians. That was a small minority then.

Crowds disrupted the one-dayer in Karachi, hinting at, rather than displaying the hostility and frenzy that sometimes became a feature in later years. And then, of course, there was Peshawar and Tendulkar’s sixes off Abdul Qadir that caused skipper Kris Srikkanth to say later in the evening, “The little bugger must play (the ODIs) now.”

Above all, there was Mohenjo-daro, and a trip arranged by the Pakistan International Airlines simply because I expressed a keenness to visit. Complete with a guide! I was young enough to remember history lessons from school, and old enough to appreciate history coming alive before my eyes. The Indus Valley Civilisation, established 2500 years ago, went from being a bunch of dry notes in a textbook to something worthy of reverence.

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On a later tour, the airline lost my luggage, and I spent a day in borrowed clothes. It belonged to a photographer and could have fit in two of me, but it didn’t matter. It was the thought that counted. I consoled myself thinking I had now paid a portion for my Mohenjo-daro trip.

There was, too, the journalists’ cricket match, a fine tradition now sadly abandoned (Indian journalists can form half a dozen and more teams on any tour now). As we were winning I noticed the umpire — an international — was calling ‘over’ after four balls. When I asked the umpires if they noticed this, one of them said, “Yes,” and added, “But what can you do about it?”

It summed up Pakistan cricket for me. Intensely competitive, intensely patriotic, and ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. But what can you do about it?

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