Resumption of play gives friendship a sporting chance
IT SEEMS THAT every second advertisement on television in Pakistan these days - in the middle of an Indo-Pak cricket series - features a home cricketer pushing the virtues of one product or another, from shaving cream and toothpaste to soft drinks and cars.
Try telling a Pakistani cricket fan how unlikely it would be that the burly Pakistani captain Inzamam-ul-Haq (described by one TV commentator as a 'battleship') would drape his massive form over a delicate-looking 100cc motorbike. The sales of the two-wheeler can be comfortably expected to soar during the series.
Nowhere in the world is cricket watched and followed with the kind of passion as in the subcontinent.
Test and one-day international matches between the two neighbours have been few and far between, with political tensions hijacking any sporting diplomacy attempted.
Still, following the dawn of a new amity, there have been more mutual exchanges and the on-field tussles have not remained the tension-soaked, do-or-die battles they once were, when defeat was simply unimaginable to either side.
Amazingly, when India toured Pakistan after a long interval last year, and won both the test and one-day international series, there was no call for the head of the captain or large-scale changes in the composition of the team. The setbacks were accepted as part of the cyclical ups and downs that sporting encounters between countries go through.
The wisdom of that approach has been apparent in the current cricket series in India. A young and inexperienced Pakistani team, which was virtually written off before it left for India, has shown rare verve and spirit, ending the opening test at Mohali with honours even after having been at the receiving end for the first four days of the five-day game.
The psychological edge that this gave Inzamam's troops was very much in evidence during the second test in Kolkata, where matters were fought on much more even terms; and the proceedings in rival captain Saurav Ganguly's home town have whetted the appetite of the fans for the third test and one-day series to follow.
Any mention of Pakistani cricket brings back nostalgic memories of the greats of the game from this country.
There were the two 'W's' who hunted in tandem - pacemen Wasim Akram (known as the Sultan of Swing, and the only bowler to have more than 400 wickets in both tests and one-dayers) and Waqar Younis, who terrorised batsmen the world over with his toe-crushing Yorkers.
Then there was the great leader and all-rounder Imran Khan, who won the World Cup for his country from a near-hopeless position in 1992. Imran was able to motivate the team and raise its performance to dizzy levels mainly because his own performances in the field always remained of value to the team.
How can one forget the combative and street-smart Javed Miandad, who took the fight to the opposition bowlers, playing strokes of great daring and improvisation, and haring down the 22-yard strip as if his very life depended on each run he scored?
And that immortal classicist Zaheer Abbas, of whom it was often said after he had played an unhurried stroke that 'his feet were just right'. Or the 'India rubber-man', leg-spinner Abdul Qadir, whose unique bowling action and eccentric on-field mannerisms disguised a burning ambition to excel and a large appetite for taking wickets.
Not only were all these players great talents, they were wonderful entertainers and crowd-pullers, just as hockey wizards like Shahbaz Ahmed and Sohail Abbas were on the hockey field in the course of the past decade.