Srinagar, March 27 (IANS) As archrivals India and Pakistan gear for a face-off in the cricket World Cup semi-finals in Mohali Wednesday, passions are running high among the ardent cricket lovers of Kashmir Valley, where both teams enjoy a large fan following. Matches between India and Pakistan have the power to evoke great passions.
An old-timer vividly remembers an incident during a Test match in Delhi, way back in the 1950s, when radio was the only means of running commentaries on sports events.
‘A meat seller in Kokerbazar, adjacent to Lal Chowk, sliced his transistor into two with a butcher’s knife after the commentator announced Pakistan’s captain Hanif Mohammad had been bowled,’ recalled Abdul Rehman Sheikh, 89.
Pakistan cricket players have a large following – cutting across all ages – in the old areas of Srinagar city.
‘Some years back, an elderly woman suffered a fatal heart attack in the old city after a Pakistan star batsman was out for a duck,’ a police officer said.
It is not only the Pakistan cricketers who evoke strong feelings among the sports lovers in the Valley. Indian players especially Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni have ardent fans among the youth here.
‘Sachin is not only a cricket player, he is a phenomenon perhaps never to be equalled by others,’ said Danish, 18, a student.
Owais, 21, is a great fan of Sehwag and Dhoni.
‘To maintain your cool while you stand behind the stumps and also captain the team is not an easy job. Dhoni has been doing it like a rock. Sehwag has been the sultan of Multan where he scored a double ton.’
‘The clash between India and Pakistan is the most interesting sports event in my life although I have more favourites in the Indian team,’ Owais told IANS.
Streets usually get deserted in Srinagar during India-Pakistan sports clashes with government offices, business establishments and educational institutions largely empty.
The Mohali match is no exception, with people looking forward to it.
‘The Mohali match is the mother of all matches as both India and Pakistan would be fighting each other to get into the finals. Perhaps, the clash between India and Pakistan is the only sports event when not only the players, but also the spectators and sport lovers give their best to the match,’ said Muhammad Ashraf, 59, a former cricketer and Ranji trophy selector here.
He contended any team which scores above 275 runs would be the winner.
‘Because of being a very strong team and the fact that they would be playing before a home crowd, I think the Indian players would be under higher tension than their rivals,’ Ashraf said.
B.L. Saraf, 54, another cricket lover said although India has never won any of the previous two Mohali clashes with Pakistan, yet he is confident that they would give their 100 percent to create history this time.
Meanwhile, the high passions could create some problems for security personnel.
‘Emotions always run high in the old city areas during India-Pakistan sports clashes. Then there is the problem of firecrackers among those who follow any Pakistan sports victory. An explosive noise is usually indicative of a grenade blast or a landmine explosion in the city as has been our experience during the last 20 years of violence here.
‘Such events sometimes startle the security men deployed on ground,’ a senior police officer, who did not want to be named, told IANS.
Some police officers, especially in old city areas, have been requesting people not to create commotion on the streets during or after the Mohali match on Wednesday.
However, some people say the India-Pakistan matches no longer create the same tension.
‘Despite what many believe, there is a lot of difference between the past and the present. Because of access to satellite television, tempers have cooled down to a greater extent,’ said Muzaffar Ahmad, a professor at a local college here.
‘Most locals, especially the youth, fully understand that a game is a game and if the Indian prime minister can invite the Pakistan president and the prime minister to Mohali, why should the locals ignite passions.
‘Further, the tensions in Kashmir are directly dependant on the straining of relations between India and Pakistan. If the two South Asia neighbours finally make peace between themselves, the ultimate beneficiaries would be us,’ he added.
And yet, a certain nervousness is palpable in the Valley. Who will win? Who will play better? These questions definitely cease to remain just academic in Kashmir when it comes to an India-Pakistan clash.