India and Pakistan are two countries that absolutely love cricket, and whenever these two teams play with each other, it creates a unique aura, both inside and outside the stadium. There is a reason behind the competition between the two countries being unique. The competition is very political and diplomatic in nature.
The rivalry between these two South Asian neighbours dates back to 1947 when Pakistan was carved out from India on religious lines by the Britishers who were till then the colonial masters of the Indian subcontinent. The partition led to horrific incidents of mass killings, rapes, rioting in different parts of India as well as Pakistan. This left some very bitter memories which remain imprinted in the minds of people from both sides.
The first Indo-Pak cricket series was played in 1954 when the Pakistani team toured India. Since then, cricket lovers on both sides cannot bear the thought of losing a match to the other side. One could see this in the angry reactions of the crowds when either of two teams lost on their home soil. Thousands of Indian fans were granted visas to go Lahore when the Indian team went to Pakistan to play a test series for the first time, and the Pakistani government did the same when their team toured India in 1961.
But the concept of ‘Cricket Diplomacy’ came much later because at that point in time Hockey was a much popular sport in both countries compared to cricket. The India before partition was also an Olympic champion in Hockey. The two teams only played three test series between 1947 and 1965, and there was a very little window left for using Cricket as a tool to maintain goodwill between India and Pakistan.
The wars in 1965 and 1971 led to complete stoppage of cricketing ties between the two nations. After a gap of 17 years, cricket was resumed between the two countries in 1978. The resuming of cricketing ties was a result of the governments in power in both the countries which were not in power during the 1971 war. In India, it was the Janata Party’s government led by Morarji Desai while General Zia-ul-Haq headed Pakistan’s government.
The 1978 test series was mired in controversies. The infamous Sahiwal incident, where Sarfraz Nawaz bowled an excess of bumpers that were out of the batsmen’s reach, and the umpires chose not to intervene. I think, the biased umpiring against India conjured an image of a Pakistan that wanted to defeat India, either by hook or by crook. Bishan Singh Bedi, in response to the lack of intervention by the umpires, conceded the match in protest.
Kapil Dev in his autobiography, “Straight from the Heart” mentions this series, which also his debut in international cricket. He elaborated on how bad the conditions were for the Indian team. A lot of sledging, poor umpiring decisions against India made life difficult for the Indian team on tour.
The media gave extremists and right-wing forces the platform to speak venomously about the other side. The peacekeepers and cricket fans were happy though when the two sides continued to play with each other in the next few years.
Soutik Biswas, an online correspondent for BBC News, India, wrote in his blog about Indo-Pak cricket diplomacy. He said, “Sometimes it has come as an icebreaker; at other times; it has merely marked a deceptive lull before another storm. Former Pakistani President General Zia-ul-Haq started it all when he came to India to watch a Test match between the two sides in February 1987 as part of his “cricket for peace initiative” because India had launched a huge military exercise on its border during the winter, and a rattled Pakistan had bolstered troops on its borders in response.”
Cricket continued to be played at neutral venues like Sharjah, while only one bilateral series was played between the two countries till nearly the end of the millennium. Sharjah was an extremely popular venue for One Day Cricket and the reason why Indo-Pak matches were so popular there was because a sizable number of both Indians and Pakistani expatriates lived there, giving the stadium a truly neutral character as both teams were supported by their respective fan base.
Tensions grew after India’s tour to Pakistan in 1989 for a full-fledged one-day and test series. The reason was the rising insurgency in Kashmir that led to the deterioration in the political ties between the two countries. The Shiv Sena dug cricket pitches out at the Wankhede Stadium in 1991, and the Ferozshah Kotla stadium in 1999 to stop cricket matches from happening between the two countries as the situation was tense at the border.
India visited Pakistan for a short ODI series in 1997 and Pakistan came back to participate in the Asian Test Championship in India in 1999. Three world cups happened in 1992, 1996 and 1999 and, in all three India defeated Pakistan. The situation between the two nations remained tense throughout the end of the last millennium and afterwards.
Infact, when India was playing Pakistan in 1999 world cup in England, back home the Kargil War had started. The situation had become so bad that India decided to pull back from the second Asian Test Championship in 2001. It was only in 2004 when things seemed to go back to normal as both teams visited each other’s country twice to play both Test and ODI cricket. India went to Pakistan for a full-fledged ODI and Test series in 2004 and 2006, while Pakistan reciprocated by visiting India in 2005 and 2007.
Cricket ties got better to the point that both countries found playing with each other every year, which was a treat for all cricket fans. In fact, the BCCI celebrated its Platinum Jubilee by inviting Pakistan to come and play a match against India at the historic Eden Gardens.
The 26/11 Mumbai attacks severely damaged cricket ties between the two countries, except for one short tour of the Pakistani team in India in 2012. India was scheduled to play a full-fledged series in Pakistan in Jan-Feb 2009, which was cancelled after the Mumbai attacks. After 26/11, the two teams only play against each other in ICC tournaments, where India continues to have the upper hand against Pakistan as it continues to maintain its invincible record against Pakistan in world cups.
India defeated Pakistan twice in the inaugural T20 World Cup. India also won matches against Pakistan in the 50 over world cups in 2011 and 2015. After the Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked in February 2009 and had to be airlifted from the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, not a lot of cricket is being played in Pakistan anymore.
There seems no possibility of the resumption of bilateral cricket between the two nations and relations have worsened in the last couple of years. Cricket Diplomacy was at its best when the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani for the world cup semi-final match between the two sides at Mohali.
After that, PM Modi tried to reach out to Pakistan and called Nawaz Sharif before Indo-Pak World Cup clash in 2015 and talked about mending cricketing ties between the two nations and talks were termed successful.
But after the Pathankot and Uri attacks this year, both cricket diplomacy and diplomatic talks otherwise, has taken a backseat. The Pakistan team wasn’t allowed to play at the scheduled venue, Dharmshala, against India in this year’s T20 World Cup and at the last moment, the venue had to be shifted to Eden Gardens, Kolkata.
India is scheduled to play with Pakistan next, at the Champions Trophy in June 2017.