Indo-Pak: Pitch battles with an edge
Manchester, millions of miles from Kargil, wasn’t just a venue of a World Cup match in 1999 but an offshore battlefield when the real battle was being fought on the icy peaks of Kargil.
This game became the most potent symbol of what India Pakistan cricket had degenerated into: A bitter conflict. But unlike in Kargil where India won our players couldn’t even reach the semi finals of the 1999 World Cup. But the anti-Pakistan rhetoric vis-a-vis cricket was already ugly in India by then.
That same year in 1999 Shiv Sainiks had dug up the Ferozshah Kotla pitch in Delhi on the eve of an India Pakistan match.
The BCCI office in Mumbai was ransacked and several trophies broken. The Sena chief even ordered Hindus to rise against the Pakistan cricket team. Even threats of releasing snakes into the crowd were issued. But this wasn’t just bigotry. Politically Indo-Pak diplomacy was at its lowest point and cricket was the first casualty.
”Indo-Pak series after we played after a long time, there was a lot of tension then. Pak didn’t want to loose in Pak. And when they came here we didn’t want to loose. That spirit used to be there that we have to win the series. That thing was there you know the revenge type,” said Madan Lal, Former Cricketer.
For the next five years political power play dominated cricket ties. In a TV interview in 2003 Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf said Pakistani players don’t want to play in India.
”I would like cricket and all sporting ties to resume. But cricket is a trivial issue. And let me tell you that my players don’t want to play in India,” said General Pervez Musharraf on A ‘General’ No. Even India’s Home Minister L K Advani made a distinct attempt to shelve the next Indo-Pak tour.
A freeze that continued till the ice on Indo-Pak ties melted in the winter of 2003. This paved the way for this historic win of India in Pakistan in the year 2004.
If it had taken some politicians like L K Advani and Bal Thackeray to queer the pitch for cricket, it took another to prepare the ground for normal cricketing relations that being former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, ironically on the same side of the political fence as Advani and Thackeray.
When India first resumed cricketing ties with Pakistan in 1978-79, Vajpayee was foreign minister. And as history would have it Vajpayee was Prime Minister when India decided to play cricket again on each other’s soil.
Till then India-Pakistan matches had become big in offshore venues like Sharjah and Toronto. But by 2004 with the ice broken and with cricket taking on bigger, richer dimensions, the history of bickering and bitterness has itself become a thing of the past.