Pakistan media’s reaction to a statement made by the cricket team’s captain should come as little surprise; it has happened before and it will happen again in the future. A Pakistani captain isn’t merely considered the leader of the cricket team, he is supposed to be much bigger than that; he is seen as this larger-than-life figure who has been given control of the one thing this country holds dearest – cricket. Shahid Afridi is the latest Pakistan captain facing the wrath of angry fans and TRP-driven shows.
Upon reaching India for the World T20, Afridi said during a press conference in Kolkata: “We don’t get such love even from Pakistan”.
This statement was blown out of proportion on TV channels, print media and social media to the extent that one TV anchor used the word “Lanat” (anathematize) for Afridi on national television. The outrage didn’t stop there; one lawyer filed a case against Pakistan’s T20 captain for hurting the sentiments of Pakistanis, calling it “treason”.
Is this a fair assessment? Is such an extreme reaction warranted? The answer lies in the latest Pakistan-India cricket shenanigans. People on both sides of the border are no strangers to politics halting cricket in the past. Pakistan played a pivotal role in the formation of the “Big 3” and in return, were promised lucrative bilateral series versus India. However that didn’t happen.
In an attempt to salvage the situation, PCB chairman Shahryar Khan scheduled a meeting in October last year with BCCI officials in Mumbai, the meeting never happened as a result of anti-Pakistan protests in and around the BCCI office. Pakistan fans grew more and more frustrated at the way this whole situation was unfolding. To add fuel to fire, there were issues with the security at Dharamsala after the Himachal Pradesh government refused to guarantee foolproof security to the Pakistan team for the World T20 match on 19 March. The venue was changed to Kolkata.
Despite the change in venue, reservations remained at how things had been dealt with in the months leading up to the tournament. It wasn’t until security assurance was provided to Pakistan by the Indian government that the team was finally allowed to travel to India. Pakistani fans genuinely felt hard done by at the way this whole situation was handled and there was a sense that India didn’t welcome resuming cricket relations with Pakistan.
In such a flammable environment, the most popular and loved cricketer in Pakistan made a statement which sparked a sense of betrayal. The outrage was perhaps over the top but not without reason.
The animosity and hatred between the two nations are well documented, perhaps because it sells more or perhaps because it fits the narrative being sold on both sides of the border.
According to a research conducted by BBC World Service in 2014, 17 per cent Indians viewed Pakistan’s influence as positive on the region while 21 per cent Pakistanis believed India had a positive influence. In fact, according to the poll, 51 per cent Indians didn’t have a negative view about Pakistan.
That is something which is never documented; it doesn’t have the “masala” to sell on TV or on other media. The only things highlighted are based on either revulsion or betrayal hence the masses on both sides often jump on the emotional bandwagon being sold to them.
If Afridi’s statement is looked at in isolation, it doesn’t even qualify as his most politically incorrect one. Remember he said “women make great cooks and should stick to that instead of trying to play cricket”, when asked to comment on the progress of women’s cricket in Pakistan. This outrageous comment only sparked reactions from very few quarters, wasn’t highlighted as much and was forgotten in no time. Most people don’t even remember him saying such a thing. It wasn’t blown out of proportion because it wasn’t against the mainstream narrative.
Even if you take the India-Pakistan rivalry out of the equation, captains from both India and Pakistan are often criticized without any logical explanation.
Ask Mahendra Singh Dhoni or Misbah-Ul Haq, two of the more politically correct captains. Even they haven’t been spared by the media.
It is unfair to treat cricketers in such a manner, it is as if they aren’t mortals rather creatures from outer space who should do no wrong. So much is expected of them on and off the field that we forget they too are capable of making errors, that they have inhibitions and insecurities like us, that they too have families and friends, that they too can feel pain and that they too have human emotions.
Perhaps Afridi could have made a more politically correct statement, perhaps he could have kept the delicacy of the situation in mind but such extreme hatred against him based on this one statement is unfair. It would be fair to criticize him on the bases of what he does on the cricket field and how he leads the team, it would even be fair to pan his dismal T20 captaincy record but personal attacks are uncalled-for.