AN OPEN LETTER TO VIRAT KOHLI
Congratulations to Anushka and you on your wedding.
We remember the time when some so-called fans blamed your (rare) on-field failures on her. When they abused her on social media, you stood up for her and spoke out publicly against the idiots. You’re a good man, Virat
When you’re back from a well-earned break, you might see the ICC’s new Future Tours Program for bilateral series’. It’ll please you that India are due to play a Test against Afghanistan in 2018. On the other hand, there’s not one match against Pakistan. Not one bilateral Test, ODI or T20I, although India play 159 matches in four years. The BCCI didn’t decide that of course; the Government of India did.
The Indian team’s retirement present for Shahid Afridi.
This was so expected that no one is even talking about it. Sadly, there is no debate on why we as a society aren’t using cricket to improve relations between the two countries. Through this letter, we’d like to urge you to publicly ask the Government of India to resume bilateral series’ against Pakistan.
We know you have great affection for Pakistani cricketers. When Shahid Afridi finally retired, you went out of your way to send him a heartfelt farewell present. You made news when you charmed Azhar Ali’s sons soon after losing the Champions Trophy final to them. You were man enough to lavish praise on Mohammad Amir, who tormented you in that final. We want you to build on those acts of true sportsmanship, and publicly call for the resumption of cricket ties.
As you know, there’s deep mistrust between the Governments of India and Pakistan. The two countries have been eyeballing each other for a year, with accusations and counter-accusations flying in both directions. The atmosphere is so toxic that an Indian cannot even have dinner with a Pakistani diplomat without being branded anti-national. Perhaps it suits some for things to be that way.
There hasn’t been a bilateral series between India and Pakistan for five years now. The lack of cricket is contributing to the atmosphere of mistrust. Regular cricket will allow the common people of both countries to see their neighbours across the border as normal people, not monsters that some politicians make them out to be. People will travel, trade will increase and folk will see one another’s shared humanity and heritage. The only way we can improve relations if the people put pressure on their Governments.
Cricket can heal
Pakistani fans during the legendary 2003-’04 series. Pundits from Pakistan chronicles many such acts of bonhomie.
Let’s take you back to the 2003-’04 Indian tour of Pakistan. It was a little before your time, but perhaps you remember it well. It came five years after Kargil, when Vajpayee (of the BJP, lest we forget) was PM. Thousands of cricket fans made the trip across the border, and Pakistanis rolled out the red carpet. Taxi drivers and shopkeepers refused to charge Indian fans. Pyaar toh hona hi tha banners adorned with both flags were a common feature in the stands. Pakistani girls serenaded the mild-mannered Tamil fast bowler L Balaji with the gloriously funny Balaji dheere chalna…
The UN acknowledged the value of the tour thus:
“The national cricket teams of Pakistan and India are appointed Spokespersons for the International Year of Sport and Physical Education (2005) in recognition of the outstanding example both teams have set in overcoming regional tension and encouraging peaceful relations.
The cricket teams have been recognized for serving as catalysts of peace in early 2004, when the India team traveled to Pakistan for the first time in over 14 years to compete in a cricket series amidst thawing relations between the two countries.”
It’s fair to say that the general bonhomie generated by that tour hasn’t been exceeded in India-Pakistan history. Once again, the people had done what was beyond their elected officials. Fourteen years on, it’s time to bring back the magic.
Why me, you ask? Well, because the captain is the leader on and off the field. Because your profile can bring attention to a topic that no mere reporter could. Because nothing stirs the subcontinental soul like cricket. Because legends have a moral obligation to ask how their sport can fundamentally improve society.
You’ve shown us you’re a leader of the field too, prepared to stand up for your beliefs. With your obsession on fitness you’ve made yours a team full of athletes who field like demons and bowl properly fast. When you found the coach’s style detrimental, you took the fight to him because in your mind the captain runs the team. Most pertinently, you’ve refused to endorse Pepsi and fairness creams, because they’re harmful.
One of your predecessors didn’t lead; he just sat mute in the Rajya Sabha. That simply won’t do. Legacies depend on speaking out. Muhammad Ali was the greatest not just because of what he did in the ring. If his causes were the Vietnam War and the suppression of blacks, yours could be the rise of ugly religious nationalism that threatens our Muslim brethren too.
The Greatest: Muhammad Ali with civil rights leader Martin Luther King jr. Pic: Al Jazeera.
It won’t surprise us to know that your BCCI contract prohibits you from speaking about matters weightier than on-field matters. But you should ignore it. You aren’t a BCCI employee in the way that a banker might be ICICI’s employee. You represent us the people, and should you take a stand, millions will back you. In any case, they dare not touch you – your position is as impregnable as any in the history of team sport.
Of course it won’t be easy; you only need to look at Colin Kaepernick is being put through. But we know you can do the hard things, Virat; you seem to relish them. Hopefully the ensuing national debate will conclude that we must normalise cricket relations with Pakistan. You might even get a chance to avenge Amir’s spell.
An Indian and a cricket fan
(possibly speaking for millions)
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author's personal views, and do not necessarily represent the views of Newsclick.