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The Friendship series?

The myth of the friendship series has been exposed. It took a one-dayer in faraway Toronto to highlight once again the driving force behind the innumerable Indo-Pakistan cricket fixtures -- the existence of which no promoter would be willing to admit. Sport has been called a civilised means of warfare and one way by which one can release pent-up feelings that would otherwise need a battlefield to get rid of; this has never been better illustrated.

The information on hand is that Inzamam-ul-Haq who was fielding in the deep was needled by a spectator who was carrying a megaphone. After some time, Huq apparently felt that it was enough and jumped into the stands -- not much was available by the way of fencing -- grabbed hold of the man by his shirt and tried to hand him over him to security personnel. Huq was restrained and pushed back on to the field.

The incident did not end there. Huq then grabbed a bat and tried to attack the man again. He was restrained by spectators and finally calmed down enough to let the game carry on. Pakistan had made just 116 in their innings so an Indian victory seemed very likely at the time the incident took place; India had reached 47 for one off 16 overs at that stage. Inzamam will have to miss the next two matches as punishment; he also has to miss a third match but this part of the sentence has been suspended till December 31, 1997, in order that he can play in the final tie of this series.

According to Wasim Akram, who was present at the ground as a commentator, the man had been making personal remarks about Huq and his family. Wasim was quoted as saying: "Anyone would get upset under the circumstances. Inzamam told me that what he did was right... The authorities should immediately ban megaphones."

Reports say Inzamam was called a mota aaloo (hot potato), obviously a reference to his rounded shape. The taunts, in English and Hindi, went this way: "O mote, sidha kharo ho (Oh fatso, stand straight), don't keep hands in your pockets, walk straight. Mota aaloo, sara aaloo (fat potato, rotten potato)..." There were also other taunts in language which could by no standards be called parliamentary. (Azhar was the target earlier, with the crowd referring to his divorce and remarriage to a model; Hasan Raza got a dose too but he laughed it off.) As Inzamam cannot speak English (according to his captain), journalists on the scene were not able to get his version of events; Rameez and coach Haroon Rashid answered all questions about the incident.

This kind of taunting -- often questioning a man's parentage and casting aspersions on him stretching back four generations -- has been witnessed before but at a lower pitch since megaphones are generally not allowed inside venues where India and Pakistan match wits. At Toronto, the securitymen do not apparently bother about these devices though they might take a stricter view from now on. The ground, fencing and facilties are supposed to be organised to international standards for these five matches. It is therefore again reasonable to assume that these are not really up to scratch; it would not be good economics and money is what this series is mostly about.

What adds the spice -- if you can call it that -- to an India-Pakistan clash is the vicious one-upmanship that goes on out in the middle. Sometimes, even if a match is fixed, feelings do spill over. It is all about the bitterness between the two countries; Pakistan was carved out of India 50 years ago and the wounds still haven't healed. These are the only two countries on the international cricket scene with such a history between them.

This feeling has been shamelessly exploited by promoter after promoter with the Cricketers Benefit Fund Series of Sharjah showing the way. The Indian and Pakistani media are no less guilty for they accord any match between their two countries far more importance than they deserve. There is jingoism aplenty and sometimes about the only reason that either country find for rejoicing is a victory in some pathetic one-dayer at some offshore venue. The fact that there are far graver problems at home is ignored by both countries.

There have been mumblings in the crowd during many of the Sharjah tournaments as well but security is extremely tight and both the police and their dog squads are present in impressive numbers. One more thing which restrains a spectator from giving vent to his anger or frustration is the fact that he would be deported to his home country if he is caught disturbing the peace; the man is in Sharjah to earn a living and cannot afford to throw it all up for the sake of a few choice expletives. Hence, an uneasy peace is maintained.

These factors do not govern the scene in Toronto. The spectators are all residents of Canada and have no fear of being thrown out of the country. They, like the expatriates who frequent Sharjah, have just the few games each year which they can watch in their own city. But they have the freedom to do much more in terms of giving offence. The taunting, ranting and raving is all the more in Toronto as Christmas -- read one-day cricket between India and Pakistan -- comes just once a year.

The spectators at these games are not coming to see cricket. No sir, they want their team to win. They pitch in to help any which way they can; most of the time it is only by tactics such as those employed by the man with the megaphone. If their team doesn't win, then there has to be foul play; most often it is bad play by the team concerned, but the crowd isn't interested in this. Remember the World Cup semi-final between India and Sri Lanka last year? If India and Pakistan had been the teams involved there and India had been in the same situation, there would have been much more action in Calcutta that night. The rationale behind throwing India and Pakistan into all these offshore contests to match wits is built on base emotions and it is time that this was re-examined.

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