Mohali: winning hearts and minds

March 30 was a day everyone in the subcontinent and cricket lovers all over the world had been waiting for. The semi-final between India and Pakistan lived up to the cricketing hype. It was a match full of twists and turns. When India made 260 runs after batting in the first innings, many people thought the target was ‘gettable’ while others predicted that Pakistan’s batting would collapse as has happened many times in the past. The latter prediction came true. Even as our bowlers did their job well in restricting the solid Indian batting to an achievable target, our batsmen could not deliver the goods. This is not to say that the fault lies with the batsmen alone. Our main strike bowler, Umar Gul, did not fire on the day; in fact he misfired and gave away too many runs. Our spinners did a great job of containment and getting wickets while Wahab Riaz outshone everyone with his excellent bowling. Our fielding was perhaps the worst in this match. While dropping catches and misfielding is a norm for our team, dropping four catches of an ace batsman like Sachin Tendulkar perhaps cost us the match. As far as the batting goes, our top and middle order failed yet again. The Indian team certainly played better cricket and thus came out as the winners of this crucial match. Their bowling was tight and they fielded extremely well.

Winning or losing is part and parcel of the game. What mattered was the spirit in which it was played. It was heartening to see the camaraderie between the Indians and the Pakistanis — on the field by our players and off it between the spectators. Generally it can be viewed as a match played not to the best of their abilities by the Pakistani players but it was played in the best of spirits for sure. Despite our disappointment with the end result, it was taken in good spirit on both sides. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Gilani’s discussions went well. Mr Gilani has invited Mr Singh and Congress leader Sonia Gandhi to Pakistan. Both prime ministers are determined to take the peace process forward.The excitement this match created led to some post-match anger but thankfully it was restricted to a few people only. The media went overboard in creating such hype about this match when it was just a game that had to be played as a game only. The good thing is that this match and the ongoing dialogue process have restarted the process of normalisation of relations between the two neighbours. Captain of the Pakistan cricket team, Shahid Afridi, who rules the hearts of Pakistanis, was able to win millions of hearts across the border. His post-match speech and press conference was not just graceful and full of sportsman’s spirit but his charm and wit bowled over many a heart. Afridi congratulated the Indian team and their nation.

He did not need to do it but he also apologised to the Pakistani nation. “I want to say sorry to my nation. We tried our level best but could not make it,” said Afridi. Pakistan is proud to have reached the semi-final in the World Cup and Afridi and our Men in Green have made us all proud.Now that the World Cup is over, we must start the process of rebuilding our cricket team in preparation for the impending revival of international cricket on our soil. Shoaib Akhtar has bid adieu to cricket; other old warhorses should also give way to fresh blood. Our team should not be selected on past laurels but based on merit and form. PCB Chairman Ijaz Butt said that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has given the go ahead for the Indian team to visit Pakistan for a cricket series. This would truly be a welcome initiative. Cricket is a passion that unites Pakistan. Let’s bring it back to our soil! – Dailytimes