India batted first, and when Pakistan sent back an Indian batsman, my facial expressions showed that I was not an Indian but a Pakistani!
Whether it is cricket, hockey, squash, or any other game, only one team wins and the other team is defeated. When it comes to Pakistan and India, the game does not remain a game. It transforms and is viewed as if the two countries are not in the playground, face to face, but on a battlefield to win a war.
On a global level, the FIFA World Cup is the most popular tournament that is not only watched in the participant nations but is also seen in the countries that do not have football teams. Next comes the Rugby World Cup that also attracts millions, from east to west and south to north. The third most popular tournament is the cricket World Cup, whether it is one day international or T20.
Pakistan, as of today, has faced India in five matches of the T20 format, and as bad luck would have it, India defeated us each time. In one day internationals, India defeated us the six times we faced them. That proves that despite our tall claims, Pakistan has terribly failed to win even one match so far. Each time, we hear statements from chairman of the PCB, selection committee, coach, and captain that Pakistan is well prepared to defeat India, but that is only theoretical.
Being in Kuwait since 1978, it is quite natural that I know many Indians belonging to different professions, and though I do not meet them very often, we do meet in different functions and gatherings, thus keeping our contact alive. This era’s communication facilities, such as mobile phones and email, have made things easy, and we remain in constant touch.
Hockey has faded from mainstream consciousness, but cricket, on the contrary, is very much alive. In the old golden years, Pakistan hockey team was much superior to India’s and we won more gold medals than India. Aware that we were superior in hockey to our neighbour, I used to contact my Indian friends before and after the hockey matches between Pakistan and India. As we were the winners mostly, my Indian friends, with long faces, congratulated me, all of us aware that it was just a formality and not from their heart. Now all of that is nothing but a glorious history.
In the last week of August 2007, the then Indian ambassador M Ganapati extended an invitation to many ambassadors, prominent Kuwaitis, Indian business and community leaders and me (the only Pakistani) to attend an iftar and dinner at his residence on September 24. I accepted the invitation. Incidentally, on that day Pakistan was playing the final of ICC T20 against India in the Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg, South Africa. The ambassador had erected two big screens in his lush green lawns, and a third big screen was in the air-conditioned hall, giving the guests the choice to watch the match in open or inside. Muslims offered Maghrib prayers, and then dinner was served.
There were many Indians at the dinner, and everyone was very excited to watch the match, and I also joined the crowd. A few Indians knew that I was Pakistani, but most of them did not know my nationality. India batted first, and when Pakistan sent back an Indian batsman, my facial expressions showed that I was not an Indian but a Pakistani! India scored 157 that Pakistan had to chase. The whole atmosphere was charged up, and no one could predict which team was going to win. Pakistan played very well, and the excitement reached a peak when Pakistan needed to score 12 runs in the last over.
Everyone was looking at me. Since Inzamam-ul-Haq was batting it was quite possible that we would score the required 12 runs to win the match. Inzamam let the first ball go unattended, but in the very next one he hit a big 6. The new equation was that Pakistan should score another 6 runs in the remaining 4 balls, which didn’t impossible from any angle. Inzamam hit the third ball thinking it would be yet another 6 to win the match, but quite unluckily, he was caught by S Sreesanth. Pakistan lost the match by just 5 runs, which was a big shock for me. Many Indians praised the Pakistani team and said that Pakistan was right on the top to win the cup, but it ended the other way.
When I re-thanked the Indian ambassador Ganapati for his warm hospitality before leaving his house his words were, “Mr Zaidi, sorry, you did not get the chance to clap.” His words are still fresh and will always remain fresh.
Pakistan is playing against India in the ICC World Cup T20 on Sunday, October 24 in Dubai. Some Indians approached me weeks ago regarding the match, and some of them have very cordially invited me to eat cookies, sip tea and watch the match at their homes, but I had to thank them and express my regret for the obvious reasons.
I very sincerely pray and not just wish that for the very first time we win a match against as so many former captains-Sarfaraz, Shoaib, Hafeez-are in the team. There is a great chance that this time our 11 national heroes will lift the cup and bring smiles to the faces of all Pakistanis including me.