When your taboos were spread out against the sky

By the time I write my next post, the first Test match after the COVID-19 break, between England and the West Indies, could be over. Pakistan are already in Europe after a few positives and negatives. What these first couple of series will do is to put two of my favourite teams — Pakistan and the West Indies — back in everyone’s focus after a long time. What ethereal (rivals would be justified in saying hellish) cricket they once treated us to! But of late their performance graphs have been looking more like the mirror image of India’s petrol and diesel price graph. Off-field problems have played big parts in pinning them down. Perhaps that is why satisfying series wins here and there have not translated into sustained success.

I want to leave that boring punditry aside and believe like a simple fan that this will be a new beginning for both sides, at least bringing back their competitiveness against top teams. But I was trained to look at cricket in a way which is difficult to unlearn. Therefore, I am not going burden Babar Azam or Jason Holder with my expectations. I would rather recollect moments when a Pak or Windies victory delighted the people around me, their defeat at the hands of Team India invited admiration and sympathy.

Yes, people! Such things did happen without our sovereignty being threatened. Let us go then, you and I, when your taboos were spread out against the sky.

World Cup final 1992: Ours is a locality set up by Hindu refugees from undivided east Bengal (now Bangladesh), who lost their homes and livelihood because of partition. But when Imran Khan went for the toss with Graham Gooch at MCG on that March day, not a soul here was rooting for England. There was this fiery dada at the club ground who tried to imitate Waqar Younis’ action but ended up being a shameless chucker. Then there were those who abused Wasim Akram all the time but secretly envied his complexion and hair. There were Pakistan-haters, too, but even they were not supporting England. It was afternoon here when the match ended and on the leisurely roads of our sleepy suburban town, everyone was talking about Akram. A grey-haired grandpa said, “cheleta onekdur jabe” (this boy will go a long way). A man I used to call uncle made a Boycottesque remark “My Man of the Match is Inzamam. Can you think of another young guy who can hit the ball just like that for two consecutive days?” Someone sounded discordant, saying “Is it right to celebrate Pakistan’s victory so much?” “Why not? They celebrated big time in 1983.” Pat came the reply. Source was unnamed though.

Hero Cup final 1993: Anil Kumble was making the West Indies dance to his tune, Azhar’s men were just a few wickets away from winning a tournament they were about to be knocked out of three days ago. I was jumping in joy but my father was looking glum. He wanted to see a Brian Lara classic but Sachin dashed his hopes. I could not get it. Why would you feel sorry when your country is winning? “I’m sorry for the West Indies guys. Whatever you say, I feel bad when they lose. They have such innocent faces, and take defeat so seriously…” was my father’s point.

Independence Cup 1997: On a sultry day, Saeed Anwar was sucking the life out of Indian bowlers and fielders at Chepauk, my friends and I were praying desperately for his dismissal but the girl I was interested in was unhappy for a different reason: Shahid Afridi scored only five, and she even missed the one boundary he hit. When we met next week, the rest of us were still suffering from that 194. Madame was pensive as Afridi could not score much even in the two finals against Sri Lanka, and Pakistan lost.

Chennai Test 1999: Those were the days when we bunked classes, scaled boundary walls to go watch cricket at some club near our hostel. Thankfully we did not have to do the first on that Sunday as Sachin Tendulkar once again carried our hopes on his broad blade. As if the two Ws, Shoaib and Saqlain on a fourth-day pitch were not enough, Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation made our life miserable with load shedding. When power went off at this club, we ran to that. We had to shift even from there as load shedding caught up with us. We must have run a kilometre that day and seen fifty people for the first time. But the heart-breaking Sachin dismissal came at a Congress office, soon after I overheard an official whispering to another, “When was the last time so many people came to our office?” But the reason I write this here is the reaction of everyone, not just my friends, after the match got over. The angry souls abused the Nayan Mongias and the Sunil Joshis but everyone applauded Saqlain’s sorcery. Scenes at Chepauk were similar. The crowd applauded Akram and his men.

Champions Trophy final 2004: A day my father could finally boast to his son that he is a West Indies fan. Lara disappointed him again but Courtney Brown and Ian Bradshaw made him say what used to be true in the time of Clive Lloyd and Vivian Richards. “This is the beauty of West Indies. They play till the last ball. They never give up.”

Now I will let you in on a secret. The real point of this post was to show that supporting other countries has precedents. Because you can justify anything today with precedents. Hope I have been able to do that. Please don’t come after me when I extend my unconditional-to-the-point-of-being-illogical support to Pakistan and the West Indies in the coming days.

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