Pakistanâ€™s players applaud after India won their ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 semi-final match in Mohali March 30, 2011.
Passions have been running high for a week now, once everyone knew that intense rivals India and Pakistan would be playing each other in the semifinals of the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup. Fans began making late-night viewing plans upon Pakistan destroying the West Indies and India dumping Australia in their respective quarterfinal matches. But, is the rhetoric and the hype in advance of this match truly a good thing? On the surface it would appear to be simple fan excitement and bluster leading up to a sporting event. But not very far below the surface an ugly side emerges, and it brings to light one of the principal problems with the sport of cricket itself.
This matchup between the two south Asian countries is the latest that the two have played against each other in their World Cup histories. But even in earlier World Cup encounters between the two, fans were guilty of losing their cool. In the San Francisco bay area where I live, in a previous year a locally owned movie theater hosted a viewing of an India-Pakistan World Cup match. But the get-together quickly turned upside down as heated arguments and near-fights broke out between fans of the two sides. That particular theater has not offered the same viewing opportunity this time around. When I expressed my concern, somewhat jokingly, that tensions would be running high late on Tuesday night in areas of town where many Indians and Pakistanis live, a colleague said, â€œSure, if there are a lot of Indians there.â€ Similarly, another acquaintance of mine described how his wife stayed up late to watch one of Indiaâ€™s matches saying, â€œShe hates India so much, she wanted to make sure that they lost.â€ Back in India, a Mumbai politician threatened to not allow Pakistan into the city if the two squads had met in the finals.
Admittedly, it is not unusual for any rivalry in sports to have heated fans on both sides. Look at the disdain that Boston Red Sox fans and New York Yankees fans have for each other in Major League baseball. The Real Madrid-Barcelona rivalry divides the hearts of soccer fans in Spain. And the plethora of college football rivalries in the U.S. all stoke the fires of fandom. In soccer, the drum of nationalism is beaten every four years, but once the fervor dies down, so does the jingoism. Everyone goes back to playing for their professional club, and the angst goes from a bias against country or creed, to a simple bias against laundry.
These rivalries in other sports are not part of a larger societal rivalry the way cricket is. The citizens in India and in Pakistan respectively have been conditioned, by politicians and other extremists, to dislike each other. And this has led to an era of distrust and at times downright hostility between the two countries. So when this enmity is transferred over to the sport of cricket, it only adds fuel to the societal fire. Itâ€™s a shame, because these two countries, after all, share the same race, the same culture, and even the same conservative ideals. But the added wrinkle is the fact that much of the tension between the two nations gets funneled into a religious rivalry between Hindus and Muslims. Once these two groups stop hating each other on the World Cup pitch, they will resume the hatred on the Test Match pitch, and then onto the One Day International pitch. The vitriol just never ends. Because cricket has been designed to be a country-versus-country battle only. The Indian Premier League has made some inroads to being a unifying professional league, but the season only lasts about six weeks. And oh by the way, in recent years there have been no Pakistanis playing in the league.
It just so happens that many of the prominent cricket-playing nations are former British colonies. Perhaps this is just an ongoing plan to enable England to continue to divide and conquer. Whatever the reason, it is my firm opinion that as long as cricket remains a full-time exercise in nationalism, it will remain unhealthy for society. And now it looks like the result of the big match is in. And the winner isâ€¦no one.