I am glad the Indian cricket team toured Pakistan. Before the boys in blue left, I thought it made no sense as cricket, and all sense as Vajpeyan politics. It was crazy to send our best cricketers to play in April, when the temperature in Multan would be touching forty. They had just returned from an exciting tour of Australia; only an election-crazy politician would send them into another gruelling series even before they had unpacked their bags. Apart from the BJP, the biggest beneficiary would be the Pakistan Cricket Board. Pakistan’s notoriety as the home of terrorism had led to its being struck off the itinerary of every good cricket team in the world; the consequent slump in home series had brought PCB to the verge of bankruptcy. The touring Indian team would refill PCB’s cash box — and if successful, would bring other, better teams to Pakistan.
I have not changed my mind on any of this. But still, the series was enjoyable because just for now, India is a fascinating team to watch. In my youth, Dattu Phadkar was the only Indian pace bowler. Now we find great pace bowlers in every alley of Baroda. I missed Zaheer Khan, who in my view is the most graceful pace bowler in the game today; but Balaji and Irfan Pathan were a pleasure to watch. But perhaps the most delightful player was Parthiv Patel, another Baroda cricketer. When Sourav sent him to open, he looked as if he had strayed into a game of over-eighteens. He looked cautiously, bashfully, diffidently at the ferocious Pakistanis who seemed gathered to make a meal of him. And he made them run to all corners of the field.
That there were three players from Baroda, notorious all over India for the killings of Muslims that the Hindu joint family organized there two years ago, and that two of them were Muslims, tells us something about the strength of cricket in this country. Cricket in Baroda had nothing to do with mob rule and ethnic cleansing. It was a royal game; the Gaekwads organized and financed great teams. Although the days of the Maharaja are over, some of his spirit still survives — the determination to produce great cricketers irrespective of where they worship. The place and form of worship can make a difference to whether we can sleep with a clear conscience — and I wonder how Praveen Togadia, Narendra Modi or Madhu Shrivastav can ever sleep. But in the acquisition of all skills in which humans compete, except perhaps the one of pulpit oratory, they are irrelevant. Somewhere, some of the time, some people in Baroda forget misplaced enmities and concentrate on playing the game — and three of them end up in the national team. If more of them forgot their enmities, maybe they would excel in more things; they would put Baroda on the map of glory. But it would help them a great deal if the government in Gujarat were to pass out of the hands of the Hindu joint family. The only city that beats Baroda in the national team is Bangalore. Bangaloreans have never spent much time on religious exhibitionism; and except for the anti-Tamil riots ten years ago, they have never made a sport of violence. And they have never had a BJP government. And just compare their achievement, their reputation, their brand value with those of Barodekars.
It is also significant that three players from little Baroda can get into the national team. There was a time when the Board of Control for Cricket in India (a typically awkward Indian name — why do they not call themselves just Cricket India, or the Blue Board') was an oligarchy of satraps from the four zones, and when the teams were based on regional reservations. As our politics, so our cricket. But for now, those days have passed. Sourav has been captain for four years now, but just look at the representation of Bengal in the national team — it has seldom done worse. As Imran said at the end of the series, Indian cricket is better structured than Pakistan’s; it seeks out and rewards merit more consistently. That is the secret of India’s win. And the fact that the Australians, the world’s best team, had given our team such good field practice.
My most graphic memory of the tests is that the advertisements took more space than the crowds. Those tests were not staged to beguile Pakistani cricket lovers; they were staged to make Indian couch potatoes watch. And watch not just the game, but the ads of Hero Honda and LG. And not just to watch, but to go out and buy. This was not a triumph of Vajji-Fauji diplomacy; it was not a triumph of team spirit. It was a triumph of the Indian market. Ten Sports got a slice of that market, and PCB got a slice of the slice; and those slices made their fortunes. It was the mighty market that talked.
So I am not surprised that while the Pakistani team struggled and stumbled in the last test, Shoaib Akhtar kept visiting the Indian team’s changing room. And he did so, not to fix the match, but to enlist their help to get ad shoot to India. As soon as the series ended, he took a flight to Bombay. And I bet that ad is not being shot to entertain the girls in burqah; it will be all over our television screens. I am no connoisseur of male looks; but some Indian girls have told me that they find Shoaib irresistible. He is not for them; but if he endorses a refrigerator, a few thousand of them will go and buy it. They are members of the world’s fourth largest market; and cricket is the shortcut to reach them. That is why playing India was so important to Pakistan.
How can I go on so long about Pakistan without mentioning Musharraf' For like in Indira’s emergency, Musharraf is Pakistan, and Pakistan is Musharraf. Vajpayee says the cricket tour was Musharraf’s idea. So much the better. For the idea he is famous for — the one he just cannot resist talking about whenever he encounters an Indian — is Kashmir. And Kashmir, as we know all too well, means nothing but fundamentalism, failure and frustration on both sides.
That is why we should expand the space the other idea, the idea of access to the Indian market, has in Musharraf’s and in Pakistanis’ mind. Indians get very frustrated at the highly unfair and discriminatory import restrictions Pakistan imposes on Indian exports. Most tyres on Pakistani trucks are made in India, but none has been imported; they have all been smuggled in from Afghanistan and Dubai. But it does not matter. If Pakistanis do not buy our bicycles and insist on producing them at three times our price, that is their loss. But we should go over to Pakistan and buy up everything they have to offer. And if, as is likely, they run out of things to sell — for their range of production is pretty limited — let us find things for them to sell to us. The best candidates are gas from Iran and oil from Uzbekistan.
And let BHP of Australia build the pipelines to India, and Western oil companies own them. If self-interest does not, the workings of global capitalism will teach the Pakistanis to live in peace with us.