Dear Javed Miandad,
In 1996, Pakistan lost to India in the World Cup quarter finals at Bangalore.
When you were run out, I remember the dejected look on your face and it made me sad.
Yes, I am an Indian and I was definitely rooting for India in that match and in all matches against Pakistan. But though we Indians are cricket-crazy and Pakistan is our enemy-number-one, I was sad for you. In fact, your expression on getting out is etched in my memory. Why?
Because I knew that throughout your life your only goal was to defeat India in a world cup match. Whenever you came out to bat for Pakistan against India, I have seen a strange determination, a passion that you have to do your best against India. While you batted, fielded and sometimes bowled with your heart filled with hatred for India, I was lucky to see the best performances that a cricketer can ever achieve. I may not like you for your anti-India feelings, but I loved your game. It was always outstanding.
That day in Bangalore, I saw that determination for the last time. When you got run out, it struck me that this isn’t just the end of a fantastic batsman, it’s the end of a dream. A dream that you had nurtured since India won the World Cup way back in 1983.
That day in Bangalore, I saw a dream shattered and in spite of being an Indian who should be overjoyed to see your back, I empathized with you. Why?
Because I am a fan of Javed Miandad. Because, along with Sunil Gavaskar, Mohammed Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar, I thought myself lucky to see so many excellent performances from you. I have seen your sun rise, and unfortunately though inevitable, your sun set in the world of cricket.
Throughout your cricketing career, you have always been a fine player. You have faced the world’s fastest bowlers and the wiliest spinners with an irreverence very few batsmen can do. I have always enjoyed your batting.
I do not deny that I always wanted India to defeat Pakistan. But still, when you played well against India, I clapped, as did a lot of Indians. Ditto for Shahid and all other wonderful cricketers from all countries. Because though cricket is our major religion and we are more fanatic about cricket, we Indians have always kept the game and a player’s personal life separate. We love all good cricketers – Vivian Richards, Brian Lara, Steve Waugh, Dennis Lillee, Malcolm Marshal, Allan Border, Martin Crowe, Arjuna Ranatunga, Mahela Jayewardane – you name him, we love him.
It’s not as if we don’t know the black spots in your career.
In 1981 you fought with Dennis Lillee and raised your bat to hit him. If it were not for the umpire Croft and Australian Captain Greg Chappel, you would perhaps have been suspended for assault. Agreed that Lillee was equally at fault, but your gesture certainly wasn’t gentlemanly.
In the 1983 Hyderabad test match you blamed Imran Khan for declaring when you were on 280. You wanted to complete a triple century, but didn’t you consider that winning the match was more important than personal milestones?
Your son married dreaded Indian don Dawood Ibrahim’s daughter. There was anger and exasperation among all Indians. I don’t object to the marriage because that is a personal matter, but just to remind you that Indians love you as a batsman in spite of that.
Before scolding Afridi for his honest comment (why would he have said it had he not felt the love from India?), why didn’t you remember your own feelings when Indians had objected to your visit to India in January 2005? Here is your statement: “I should be seen just as a cricketer, a sportsperson. Being related to somebody does not mean anything. What is the problem in me getting a visa (to be in India)?”.
So now why can’t you see Shahid Afridi just as a cricketer, and not only as a Pakistani?
Like me, there are thousands of Indians who are your fans. What more proof do you need other than that Shiv Sena Supremo Bal Thackeray had invited you to his house for a daavat? The same Bal Thackeray who hated Pakistan till the day of his death and the same Bal Thackery who was instrumental in stopping Indo-Pak cricket by threatening to uproot the pitch of any stadium selected to play an India-Pakistan match? And you also accepted his invitation and spent a day with him.
Why would he invite you if he didn’t appreciate you as a cricketer – as a batsman?
You may not have said so openly like Shahid Afridi, but you did enjoy the way India treated you. Certainly Shahid Afridi has more fans in India than you can ever imagine. In fact, I often thought that if Shahid Afridi had played for India, his name would have been taken in the same breath as Sachin Tendulkar.
So it came as a surprise when you reacted to Shahid’s comment by saying, “These cricketers should be ashamed of themselves for saying such a thing. Shame on you.”
I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but the truth is Indians are always more well-behaved and tolerant than Pakistanis. If you don’t believe me, count the number of Pakistani singers, actors, cricketers who visit India and whose talent is lapped up by Indians. As opposed to this, let me remind you of your own confession about the shabbby treatment you received from the Pakistani cricket team after their 1996 world cup ouster:
So, dear Javed Miandad, I don’t think you should throttle the feelings of Shahid Afridi or any other player because they appreciate their fans. In fact, its high time that you, as a cricketer, realise that fans cut across personal rivalries and love the players for their talent and skill, and are not narrow-minded to love only their own team players.
As an Indian, I am happy that Shahid Afridi appreciated and acknowledged his Indian fans. And doubly happy that while scores of our own people criticise cricket for creating a divide amongst ourselves, it took a Shahid Afridi to prove that cricket has transcended national boundaries and fosters mutual respect among players and fans.