Congratulations are in order following the national team’s win in the final of the ICC Champions Trophy. India playing eleven was far better than Pakistan’s chances on paper in terms of their past performance — reflected in a better ODI ranking as well — but it was completely outmanoeuvred by the national side.
Sunday’s match also reinforces the perception that Pakistan remains a highly unpredictable team. On a good day, we can defeat the best team in the cricketing circuit and, on a bad day, we can crumble against novices. While this impression is a testament to the extraordinary cricketing talent in the nation, it should also serve as a reminder about the need to strengthen domestic cricket structures. That Pakistan goes on to win major international cricket competitions in the absence of a flourishing domestic cricket scene is nothing short of amazing. But the sooner the Pakistan Cricket Board sits down with veteran cricketers to evolve a domestic cricket structure, the better. For it will not just enable the national team to complement its talent with consistency in performance but also, and more importantly, ensure that the vast pool of cricketing talent that remains out of sight of authorities at the national cricket academy will have an environment conducive to getting past club- and region- levels on the basis of merit alone.
The recently launched T20 Pakistan Super League was a welcome addition to the domestic cricketing circuit. Though, let us underscore that T20 tournaments alone cannot be relied upon to evolve countrywide structures that can polish talent for One Day and Test formats as well.
Team sporting events in football and cricket get tied up with nationalist sentiments the world over. Similar sentiments are aroused among cricket fans in the Sub-continent during a Pakistan-India competition. Cheering one’s side and celebrating its victory is part-and-parcel of watching sports. This becomes problematic, however, when fans become hyper-nationalist and engage in jingoist and masculinist sloganeering against one another. This is condemnable. It is unfortunate that rather than opting for a progressive line and raising awareness for a more healthy rivalry to emerge between fans and players — media in both nations provide space to hyper-nationalist and masculinist discourses. This was evident across television screens in the run up to and after the match on Sunday.
Lastly, there is no reason why fans in both nations cannot watch a Pakistan-India match for the sake of cricket itself — meaning that they appreciate a fine performance by a Fakhar Zaman or a Virat Kohli regardless of the colour of the jersey donned by the player. But that level of sportsmanship among the fans requires efforts for promotion of peace and goodwill between both nations as well as an end to unrest in the Kashmir Valley. That remains a daunting task but let us bear in mind that its achievement will bring about more benefits to people of the region than more frequent cricket tournaments between the two countries ever will. *