Wow, India-Pakistan Test: Again in my life!

India vs Pakistan
India vs Pakistan (Photo Source: ICC)

Shahid Hashmi

“Yeah, I would love to (play a Test series against Pakistan at a neutral venue). It would be a great contest.” These are the most inspiring words that the affable India captain Rohit Sharma said in a podcast.

The words made my day.

Rohit’s desire infused a new life, a new vigour and a new determination in my ageing bones, fingers and mind. I have already started envisaging –  over 90,000 fans shouting at the iconic MCG, Shaheen Shah Afridi from the City End hurtling in to bowl to Rohit Sharma. “Well left,” comments the always euphonious Harsha Bhogle. The great Sunil Gavaskar, who is integral to all India-Pakistan matches – whether playing or giving expert comment – shows his delight and gears up for a lengthy session. Sitting at the cosy MCG press box, I am chatting endlessly with my Indian friends.

But it is just an imagination. We will have to wait to cross the bridge, a bridge impeded by mistrust. That mistrust has to erode before we can set the ball rolling. But there are good signs on both sides of the border. Arun Dhumal, the IPL chairman, in an exclusive interview with RevSportz, admitted “it is difficult to include Pakistan players” in the world’s best league but ended up saying “you don’t know about the future”.

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Babar Azam
Babar Azam (Image: Debasis Sen)

A newly-elected government in Pakistan with Sharifs at the helm is seen as an imminent thaw in relations. Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif has vowed to revive ties sooner rather than later, once the general elections bring a new government in India (most likely Narendra Modi getting a third term).  

All our lives we have been hearing that India-Pakistan cricket is more popular than the Ashes. It could well be an understatement. There are still no parallels. The involvement of over a billion people makes it a contest to behold, savour and fall for. We old folks are lucky to have covered various India-Pakistan matches, including some breathtaking bilateral limited-overs games and Tests. In fact, four times from 2004 to 2007.

My mind goes back to four iconic series Pakistan and India played in this century. India’s 2004 tour to Pakistan was as memorable as it was enjoyable. It broke the ice, removed misconceptions about Pakistan and started a new chapter in the history of the South Asian neighbours. Those who crossed the border and came to Pakistan had a memorable time as hospitality was at its courteous best. There are tales to be told on how restaurants and taxis refused to take payments from Indian guests. I acted as a travel agent (honorary) for my friends and made sure they did not return with any regrets.

Babar Azam and Virat Kohli
Babar Azam and Virat Kohli (Image: Debasis Sen)

The best line from that tour was “we had misconceptions about Pakistan but we are returning with all those fears and ill-feelings quashed”.

Those feelings were reciprocated when we toured India in the spring of 2005. The residents of Mohali vacated their houses for people coming from Lahore. Kolkata and Bangalore were equally hospitable as fans enjoyed the tour. Then the tours of 2006 (India to Pakistan) and 2007 (Pakistan to India) doubled the charm of cricket as well as people-to-people contacts between the two countries.

The Gen Z has sorely missed on this as they have covered only a few matches in the ICC and Asian Cricket Council events. 

Can they be getting that same taste of Pakistan and Indian hospitality? It’s early to say but the signs are good. The ‘Hitman’ has hit the deadlock for a six. Fingers crossed, we are likely to have a Test series in the near future.

My prediction: 2025!

Also Read: Rohit bats for India-Pakistan Test series at neutral venue: ‘That will be awesome’