Cricket mania and borderline hysteria

Pakistan will face India in the Cricket World Cup 2011 semi-final on Indian soil tomorrow (March 30). In a welcome move, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited both President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani to come and watch the match with him at Mohali. Prime Minister Gilani has accepted his counterpart’s invitation and will be going to India to watch the semi-final. This is cricket diplomacy at its very best. At a time when the relationship between India and Pakistan is at a low after the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008, Dr Singh’s hand of friendship must be appreciated. This is not to say that cricket diplomacy will lead to some big breakthrough but at least it will create a good environment for both countries. Indo-Pak interior secretaries met yesterday for the first round of talks in Delhi. The talks went relatively well as can be seen by the positive statements made by both Indian and Pakistani interior secretaries. Indian Home Secretary G K Pillai termed the talks as “extremely positive” and said that progress was made “in the right direction”. Pakistan’s Interior Secretary Chaudhary Qamar Zaman’s comments were no different from Mr Pillai. Mr Zaman said the talks went well and “a very positive attitude displayed on both sides”. This is a good development. It is hoped that the dialogue process between India and Pakistan will not derail again as it has only strengthened the hardliners and not helped the two neighbouring countries at all.

The semi-final on Wednesday will be an exciting one for sure. On both sides of Wagah, emotions are high, passions are rising and the people of subcontinent want their respective side to win. The pressure on both teams is immensely high. Now Interior Minister Rehman Malik has added his two cents to this pressure, which quite frankly our cricket team could have done without. “I had given a warning [on Sunday] that there should be no match fixing. This time I am watching it very closely. If any such thing happens we will take action,” said Mr Malik. He further added, “I should not have revealed but we have put them under strict surveillance, like who are the people meeting our players, with whom they are talking by telephone. It was necessary after what had happened in London. We cannot take any chance.” Just two days before the match, Mr Malik ‘revealed’ that his own team is under suspicion and the state is keeping tabs on them. The media is now grilling our cricketers with regards to Mr Malik’s statement. Pakistani captain Shahid Afridi did not sound too happy with this statement and said, “I do not think he should have said such a thing at such a time.” Mr Afridi is right on the mark here. Did our interior minister not realise what sort of pressure this can put on the team and how demoralising it can be, that too before such an important match? Mr Malik claims that his statement was taken in the wrong context and was actually meant to ‘dent’ the betting mafia. Whatever his reasons, he should not only apologise to the team but should avoid making such provocative statements in the future.

Tomorrow’s match will surely give an adrenaline rush to millions of cricket fans around the globe. The team that plays better on the day will win the game. Cricket cannot get better than this.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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