The final match of ICC Champions Trophy 2017 is scheduled for tomorrow, 18 June 2017. The match is between India and Pakistan and this fact should be enough to understand the importance of this second last Sunday of June in the Indian subcontinent. In both countries, while hockey is the national sport, it is cricket which is the most popular. There is what is termed, Cricket Nationalism. Cricket is used as a vehicle for nationalism and unfortunately, mostly it is aggressive nationalism. It is used to assert or fuel nationalist passions. More than victory, it is the defeat of the other (India/Pakistan) that seems to matter to the majority in both countries.
Yet, cricket has also been an important medium to connect the two traditional rivals. Aggressive nationalism could not restrain cricket enthusiasts from respecting legendary cricketers of each other. The “Chacha Cricket”, Mohammad Bashir, of Pakistan is a die hard fan of MS Dhoni. In fact, it was reported in 2014, that Chacha Cricket who goes to watch all India-Pakistan matches was unable to get a ticket for the final match where India was playing. MS Dhoni was reported to have arranged for a complimentary ticket for him. It is also a known fact that off the field, cricketers of both the countries maintain friendly relations with each other.
This picture captures the soul of Ind-Pak matches. Enemies on the field. BFFs off the field. Dhoni with Sarfaraz’s son, Abdullah. pic.twitter.com/O6p3CPpIUn
— Humayoun Khan (@HumayounAK) June 17, 2017
The cricket matches are also an important space for Indians and Pakistanis to meet and become friends. They are a space for people-to-people communication and breaking of stereotypes and misconceptions. They have also been more directly utilised for peace-building. Amidst the waving of Indian and Pakistani flags, placards with nationalist slogans, the cameras have often focused on placards with peace messages flashing in the crowd stands.
Indians and Pakistanis overseas also organise match screenings to bring people together. I have also been part of one such peace activity that aimed to utilize cricket for peace. In one of the first activities of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, a cross-border peace group, we went to Feroz Shah Kotla stadium (New Delhi) for the 3rd ODI match between India and Pakistan of January 2013. We had painted the flag of India and Pakistan on our face and distributed peace pamphlets among Indian and Pakistani fans. We had received a heartening response. Two Pakistani people themselves came to us when they saw our posters and our painted faces. They came to us and took posters with text in Hindi script. While they could not read what was written, they trusted our words for peace. It was an unforgettable gesture.
Cricket and Cricket matches are an important melting pot of hatred and suspicion. This seems to explain why hardliners oppose cricket matches. Under the garb of terming them as sources of entertainment, what they intend to do is to stifle any opportunity to know the “other”.
So while we will have to wait to see who wins the match, it is for sure that there will be more than one winner and one of them will be Peace.