Neeraj, Nadeem and the victory of sports over 'hateful' politics

Neeraj, Nadeem and the victory of sports over ‘hateful’ politics

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Sport has already been used as a tool to incite such hatred. We have seen in the last few decades how cricket has become a tool for fanatics. Tours between the countries between the India and Pakistan cricket teams have stopped and millions have been deprived of this great, sweet rivalry. Virat Kohli, one of the greatest players of this era, is yet to play a Test match against Pakistan and in all likelihood, he will end his career without playing against the neighboring country.

In fact, tensions between the countries have existed since their independence, but in earlier eras cricket actually won over politicians and kept friendships going. There are many stories about the lifelong friendship between players from these two countries.

Two greats of the game, Sunil Gavaskar and Zaheer Abbas, lived in the same hotel room during their tryouts in Australia in 1971-72, like the rest of the world. Even the war in Bangladesh, where India and Pakistan were on opposite sides, could not create a rift in their friendship.

Later, we saw Gavaskar and Imran Khan put on a brilliant 180-run partnership to save the Rest of the World XI against MCC in their bicentenary Test in 1987.

It was a great era for cricketing romantics, recalls former Indian wicket-keeper Kiron More, how they celebrated together. During Pakistan’s tour of India, the first four Tests ended in draws and despite the final Test being so important, the players did not forget to enjoy Holi celebrations together at their Bangalore hotel. Morey recalls how they painted the hotel red, threw colors at each other and sang songs but did not refrain from sledding as soon as they hit the ground.

But the biggest knot in a bigger story between the countries came when they hosted the World Cup in the same year. This was a significant moment in the political history of cricket as the major event was held outside England for the first time and South Asians slowly began to understand the importance of the game.

They hosted another World Cup within nine years and saw rising South Asian power Sri Lanka lift the title. In that tournament, Australia and the West Indies canceled their matches against Sri Lanka, citing terrorist activities. Amidst a busy World Cup schedule, India and Pakistan fielded a combined team to avoid defeat for the Lankans and traveled to the island nation to play against the hosts and keep the spirit of South Asia alive.

It was this spirit that saw Bangladesh gain Test status four years later, despite widespread criticism from major cricket-playing nations on the other side of the world. Over the years, Bangladesh justified the decision as they improved and became a force to be reckoned with despite losing regularly in the beginning.

In the post-colonial era, regional unity is important and the support Bangladesh received is a great example of how helping a neighbor is necessary not only to move forward but also to erase some historical injustices.

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