Where were you when Javed Miandad hit Chetan Sharma for a six of the last ball in Sharjah in 1986 to take Pakistan to a famous win? I know where I was: transfixed in front of my television, stunned by what I had just seen. Javed was always villain number one for the Indian cricket fan but think of poor Chetan Sharma: he won us a test match at Lords, scored a one day century, even took a hat trick at the World Cup, but somehow his career is defined by one delivery. I remember interviewing him years later, and when I asked him a question on the Javed ball, he almost implored, “20 years have passed, can we talk of something else now!”
Sadly, India and Pakistan often fight their battles through the prism of history. Which is why we kept reminding our Pakistani friends right through the day yesterday that they had never beaten India in a World Cup match. It can’t be easy being a Pakistani cricket fan nowadays. The great team of Imran, Javed and Wasim (three Pakistanis who would probably walk into an all-time best Indo-PAK eleven) is now a mediocre side, bereft of talent and inspiration. Years of internal turmoil have had their effect on Pakistan cricket: for the first time in years, we started yesterday’s game as firm favourites over our arch rivals. We were not just the better team on the day, we are now a much superior team, period.
And yet, I wonder if some of the celebrations were a bit over the top. Our hashtag on twitter was #realfinal. It was almost as if beating Pakistan was akin to winning the World Cup. Some of the comments on social media, the frenzy on television and this morning’s newspaper coverage smacked of a hyper-nationalism that suggests we still define our self-image by comparing ourselves to our noisy neighbours (the permanent ‘enemy’) rather than our self-identity as Cup holders. Yes, we have every reason to be jubilant but surely this is only the first step in our bid to retain the World Cup. As the Australians have shown us in the last two months, we are still a long way from being the best team in the world. And yet, for some Indians, it seems as if the World Cup ended yesterday.
I joined the party too by getting a Bhangra troupe into the studio. My colleague and former India cricketer Nikhil Chopra asked me to join the dancers. I almost agreed, but then held back. I will do a jig, but only when we win the big one. I enjoyed the Indian win but with a quiet celebration at home. A glass of wine, Kishoreda’s music and then began reading Pakistan cricket writer Osman Samiuddin’s fine book, The Unquiet Ones on Pakistan’s turbulent cricket history. I must confess like I felt sorry for Chetan Sharma all those years ago, I almost felt a sense of pathos for Pakistan cricket yesterday. Its cricket team mirrors the country: in decline, and lacking self-belief or direction.
Post-script: I have another reason to look at yesterday’s win with mixed feelings. In 1987, I played for Combined British universities against Pakistan. This was the great side led by Imran. I was bowled by Abdul Qadir, another genius for just two (and not 6 runs as I mistakenly put on twitter). I have never felt more inadequate on a cricket field and that innings effectively ended any dream of playing professional cricket. And yet, having struggled against Qadir, I somehow think I might have done a shade better against a Yasir Shah!
And here’s a final post-script: as Virat Kohli came into bat yesterday, my masseur said confidently: “aaj Virat aur Shikhar run banayenge! Unme Punjabi khoon hai jo Pakistan ke khilaaf rang lata hai!’. Guess this has been a big week for Dilliwallahs, be it in politics or cricket!