Can we have an annual “Amritsar-Lahore” cricket series?


Cricket and the subcontinent have a very emotional, strange but interesting relationship. victories make people laugh, losses make them cry. Cricket players are heroes/demigods one day and villains the next, good examples of this being Sachin Tendulkar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Inzamam-Ul-Haque. They are the most patriotic citizens one day and the most anti-national the next. What determines either of the tags is simple, victory and defeat. Such is the significance of cricket in the subcontinent that even politicians who do not know what LBW stands for (what to talk of the length of a cricket pitch) also become arm chair experts.

Apart from the above mentioned  “emotional relevance” of cricket, it has also played an important role in Indo-Pak relations. Cricket has been an important factor in the peace process between India and Pakistan in the last two to three years- it is a different fact that International Affairs experts, Political Analysts and other intellectuals may disagree and lay emphasis on changing “geo-political” equations. However it is tough to forget the 2004 series in Pakistan, where Pakistani fans cheered for the Indian team. This series was even termed as one of the "turning points" of the relationship. Talking about this series, one of the senior Pakistani politicians and prominent advocates, Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan narrated an interesting episode of relating to the Lahore One dayer, which India won in 2004.  He was accompanying the Indian High Commissioner Shiv Shankar Menon, who also happens to be the current foreign secretary. When the two were getting out of the stadium, Mr. Ahsan was worried that no untoward incident should take place as sometimes fans get carried away, Mr. Ahsan kept a close watch and remained close to Mr. Menon. Before he could say anything, straight away a Pakistani fan came up to the latter and asked him who he was. Once he told him he was the Indian High Commissioner he hugged him.
Cricket by itself is emotional enough but a Punjab-Punjab interaction makes it even more emotional. When the Pakistanis visited India the next year in 2005, the same very bonhomie carried on especially in Mohali, (Punjab) where Pakistanis stayed with the locals. The scene worth watching was where Pakistani fans were holding the Indian tricolour, while Indian fans were holding the Pakistani flag.

Earlier too in the 1950’s Pakistan’s commissioner to India, Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan, had given visas to a large number of Indians to witness a cricket match in Lahore. Even though it had only been eight years since partition, people from both sides mingled as if they were long lost family members. Seeing this Punjab-Punjab bonhomie, it would make sense to have a 5 match annual Indo-Pak series in Lahore and Amritsar, rather than looking for neutral venues all the time. In the past fans used to cross over from Amritsar to Lahore and vice-versa, so why can we not repeat the same every year? While Gaddafi stadium is a world class stadium, the Gandhi Stadium at Amritsar is not, but it has space for 18,000 people and temporary stands can easily be put up for atleast 40, 000 people. Amritsar with its “international reputation” for hospitality certainly has space for as many Lahori guests. While many would say the matches should be at Mohali (considering the fact that it is the only world class stadium in Indian Punjab), the Amritsar-Lahore relationship has a certain history attached to it apart from the fact that both cities are very close to each other.

This series would have some clear advantages. Firstly this series would lead to the interaction of at least a hundred thousand people. Secondly, such an event would help in boosting the sagging economy of Amritsar, as tour operators, hotels and others of the tertiary sector will gain. Thirdly this series will also help indirectly in carrying forward the Punjab-Punjab bonhomie, which has emerged as an important dimension of Indo-Pak relations in the last few years. Such a series would also be the first step towards reviving the “twin city” relationship, which the two cities earlier had. Fourthly if this series can be held successfully for a few years it will show the rest of the world that neither India nor Pakistan need a neutral venue for playing cricket. Lastly if this series is held soon it may cheer up Indian and Pakistani cricket fans after the poor show put up by both teams in the World Cup. This cricket series could be followed by a hockey series so that a greater mass of people becomes part of the Indo-Pak, Punjab-Punjab initiatives apart from the fact that the status of hockey would also be revived.

The ball is in the court of Board of Control for Cricket in India, Pakistan Cricket Board, The Governments of India and Pakistan and it remains to be seen whether they have the ability to think “out-of-the box”.

Back To APNA Home Page