Being a Kashmiri spectator of India-Pakistan cricket clashes

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My uncle passed away earlier this month after battling covid for over two weeks. As he struggled to breathe after his oxygen levels had dipped, he also had gone into a state of manic. 

Psychiatrists were called in as he started to talk gibberish and turned extremely agitated, often trying to remove his oxygen mask. For a small man who stood at just 5.2 feet, three people were not enough to disallow his arms from reaching the mask. This explained how desperately he wanted to get rid of the oxygen. However, after doses of psychotherapeutic drugs had no effect on his nerves, it was deduced his brain was not getting enough oxygen and hence the condition.

Not only had he turned violent, but he would take names of people he had met and those who had an impact on him. He would also talk about past incidents. He would talk about a fight for hours and name a particular person, “Bi travan ne yi kenh, aemis taara bi fikri (I won’t leave him, I will show him his worth).” 

My uncle kept on repeating. Talking about a brawl that had happened in his childhood. We had often talked about it, and with a broad smile he would tell me how one of his relatives had beaten a local goon. This time, though, he was on the death bed, talking about it repeatedly.

One more incident that he would repeat was a certain section of a commentary of a cricket match. 

“Chetan Sharma aye gend karne ke liye, Javed Miandad tayar, ek gend aur 4 run jeetne kelie Pakistan ko, Sharma aye, Javed ney bat ghumaya aur gend stadium se bahar, Pakistan ney match jeetliya, Miandad nay yaha tareekh raqam ki hai.” 

(Chetan Sharma on his way to bowl to Javed Miandad. 4 needed off one ball for Pakistan, Miandad swings his bat, ball lands into stands, Pakistan wins, history has been created).

My uncle would repeat as he battled death. He was talking about one of the most talked-about matches ever, and about a magician – Miandad, who would later become Pakistan’s finest cricketer.

The match was played in 1986 in a desert known as Sharjah. Arch-rivals India and Pakistan were facing each other. Batting first, India recorded a brilliant 245 on board, with Sunil Gavaskar top scoring. It was a very competitive score in that era when the ball reversed and T20 and fast-paced cricket hadn’t taken over the game. Pakistan started off sluggishly, with Miandad coming at number four, steadily leading the chase until the last over and scoring a magnificent century to win the game for his team. He scripted one of the best finishes and performances ever.

That my uncle talked about it on his deathbed, tells the importance of the India-Pakistan game for Kashmiris. He, like millions of other Kashmiris, remembered the game like last night’s dinner. Some even say it was sweeter than Pakistan winning the world cup in 1992. Uncle’s love for Pakistan cricket had dwindled after the nation stopped producing talented cricketers. He would often talk about the likes of Zaheer Abass and Imran Khan, and criticise non-hard working players and less talented ones like Misbah-ul-Haq. He had in fact developed respect for Indian cricketers like Dhoni and Kohli, although when it came to India-Pak clashes he always supported the men in green.

It is no secret that Kashmiris support Pakistan when it comes to cricket and have often been at the receiving end in Indian cities for this sentiment. Now with the new party at the helm of affairs, there have been incidents where Kashmiri students have been beaten for supporting the Pakistan team. However, it has not always been so. Indian supporters have had great love for the likes of Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar. Not only that, in 1999 Indian spectators gave a standing ovation to Pakistan for winning the match.

Today as India faces Pakistan in one of the most anticipated matches across sports of this year, Kashmiris are nervous along with over a billion people watching alongside them. 

While Pakistan has been doing well of late in T20s, they still lack a hard hitter in their team, barring Babar Azam nobody is bankable, and there is no tear apart fast bowler other than the young Shaheen Shah Afridi. On the contrary India has a number of greats in their side, and a great T20 bowler in Jasprit Bumrah, who can turn the match in one over. 

Also, Pakistan has never beaten India in world cups, which is depressing Kashmiris. Videos and memes about the desperation of Kashmiris wanting Pakistan to win have already started to fill social media.

At times, divine intervention takes over. Thirty-seven-year-old Athar Hussain has a tale to narrate on that. It was 1999 and Pakistan was touring India for a three-match test series. The series was highly charged as it had come at the back of Kargil war. Emotions in both the nations galore, caught in the middle were Kashmiris yet again. 

India were cruising along and just needed 19 more to win with ample wickets in hand, but that is when divine intervention happened. “I remember watching the match in Kolkata at my landlord’s residence,” says Hussain. “At least 20 people were watching it. My brother and I were the only one’s supporting Pakistan but nobody knew it.” 

India needed 271 runs to win and were closing on to a victory. “I remember Sachin was scoring so freely and few runs were required for India to win the first test. But Saqlain who had got him out for a duck in the first innings struck gold and got him again after scoring 136 runs,” he recalls.

Sachin ended up winning the man of the match award despite India losing the game. Hussain says that he was so happy after Sachin fell. “I had seen a window for Pakistan to win the game, despite India only needing 17 to win, however, I did not utter a single word. Eighteen people in the audience were dumb-stricken. I did not want to be a sacrificial goat. So, I instead kept on saying India will win it, despite losing wicket after wicket. And when Venkatesh Prasad, the last man who came to bat, I told them that he can hit sixes in a mocking way. Deep inside I was praying and asking God to not embarrass me. Pakistan’s win that day was a miracle and truly a divine intervention,” says Hussain. 

The unpredictable side later went on to win the series. There also have been funny tales related to Pakistan India clashes, some of them often happening during the months of  Islamic months of Ramadan and Muharram. People have often been caught with radio sets inside mosques and Imambargahs during these tense matches. 

“I remember taking a radio to a Muharram majlis sometime in early 2000. While I don’t quite remember the match, however, I remember I had jumped in jubilation when Akhtar had clean bowled Tendulkar. It was a mourning ceremony and I was yelling my heart out,” recalls Abid Ali, a resident of Srinagar’s Zadibal area.

Ali says to save his face he left the gathering midway and did not go to future majlisses as it had created controversy in his locality. “People were very angry but some were supportive as they understood the emotions we have for the Pakistan team,” says Ali. 

While it remains to be seen who will come out victorious out of yet another highly charged India-Pakistan cricket match today, Kashmiris like Hussain and Ali will end up with yet another set of memories.

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