The ongoing India Pakistan cricket series was touted to be the mother of all rivalries. The media spared no stone unturned in cashing in on the hype. The Indian and Pakistani scribes went gung-ho glorifying their respective team's credentials and analyzing the rival team's weaknesses. They went overboard putting the tournament at the top of cricket's pyramid while relegating the Ashes to a second rate competition. Reviews, previews, talk-shows and in-depth analysis gave some long-forgotten-heroes and some not-so-successful cricketers a second chance to recognition. On the ground, the two teams are arch-rivals; outside of it, the two nations are sworn enemies. Cricket thus becomes a virtual war as bats and balls replace F-16s and Sukhois.
A much-abused cliché calls cricket a second religion in the subcontinent, a religion very unkind to losers. History is a proof that the losers in India Pakistan matches pay heavily. At times players' careers were ended; they felt unsafe returning to their own countries and hometowns after their teams lost. A win in these matches could put you on the peak of fame and adulation while a loss would take you to the depth of lifelong ignominy. Ask Chetan Sharma and Javed Miandad to describe what it means to be on either side. The sword of job-loss swings tantalizingly close on top of everyone - from the pitch curator to the coach. The mentality is thus to be safe than sorry. So the captain would rather be safe and not lose than go for the kill and invite public wrath if the plan fails.
A look at the statistics reveals how brazenly biased the wickets were in favour of the batsmen in the first two tests. 1089 runs were scored for the loss of only 8 wickets – a whopping 136 runs per wicket – an ignominious world record. In the second test both the captains delayed their declarations until they made sure that the other team can't even hope to win, an ample evidence of their defensive attitudes. Batsmen broke world records; captains saved their resumes from smudges of defeat, but cricket was the loser. Their focus is how not to lose and not how to win.
Compare and contrast this to the recently concluded Ashes series. England beat Australia after 18 years; nail biting test match finishes brought a lot of lost fans back to cricket. South Africa's Captain Graeme Smith surprised Australia by his sudden declaration and brought the dead test and the lost series to life. Can this be expected from either of India-Pakistan captains? Not until we give them the freedom to lose following a daring gamble to win.
A deeper look at the evolution of sports would help separate sports from its misguided connection with patriotism. The evolution of sports lies in man’s need for entertainment. All the sports started of as simple fun acts and evolved into community events before businessmen saw opportunities and expanded the scope of these sports. As the earning potential through sports grew along with the fame factor, more and more sports personalities emerged. But playing a sport is still a personal thing. A player is happier if his team wins because of his pivotal contribution than when his performance is forgettable in his team’s win. The sport is his means of livelihood no less than our work is for us. And we don’t go around doing our daily job with a streak of patriotism running in our veins right? Nor do we always succeed in doing our job. And when we fail, we don’t fear a public backlash. So why should a cricketer’s inability to do his job invite crowd demonstrations and violence against him?
What happens when a simple act of playing a game is wrongly associated with patriotism? Losing a match makes you a traitor who deserves to be lynched. Let cricket between the arch-rivals be played like a sport. Cricket was meant to entertain; so let us allow our cricketers to be players and refrain from making gladiators out of them. Only then we’ll see test matches between these two nations yielding results and drawing crowd due to their result producing ability and not just the hype. Let us not dump our brand of patriotism on their shoulders. Let us give them the freedom to win or lose. For as Walter Reuther once told, “If you’re not big enough to lose, you’re not big enough to win.”