It is unfair to keep the Pakistani cricketers out of the Indian Premier League, writes Nirmal Shekar

AS with many other piercingly honest observations he made about life, George Orwell was right about sport too. It is war minus the shooting. Any evolutionary psychologist worth his Darwinian lens would be able to vouchsafe for that.

It is just that this columnist’s emphasis on the minus may be a little different from what the great English essayist and author might have had in mind. Sport’s triumph lies in its subtraction of shooting, and at the same time arming its warriors with bats and balls and sticks.

When teams carrying substantial excess baggage of history come face to face with each other in the cauldron of sport, what is a mostly pleasurable and harmless activity takes on a meaning that might make the French Baron (de Coubertin) who dreamed of a sporting utopia turn in his grave.

Yet, in the new millennium, some of the best known arch-rivals — how utterly detestable that description is when used in a sporting context — have become at once competitive and gracious in the heat of battle.

Sporting spirit

There can be no better example of this evolved maturity and sporting spirit than what is being showcased these days in the form of the India-Pakistan cricket rivalry.

Despite constant attempts by blinkered and bigoted fringe elements on either side of the Wagah border post to inflame visceral passions, a vast majority of cricket fans in India and Pakistan have become accustomed to enjoying the thrills of the great game for their intrinsic value, instead of injecting themselves with the poison of prejudice and reimagining the wounds of the past.

This may seem counter-intuitive, given all the hype in sections of the media about an India-Pakistan match being the mother of all battles, given all the tasteless and incendiary employment of war metaphors.

But in truth, players from successive teams representing India and Pakistan have not only played the game in the best of spirits but have also been among the friendliest of rivals on the planet.

Like stereotypes of any particular age in life, sporting stereotypes too are often, and necessarily, consigned to oblivion as time passes. And it is certainly time to retire the hackneyed and formulaic India-Pakistan rivalry and steer clear of all the shrill absurdities of the past.

For, there is now a perceptible cognitive dissonance between present reality and past history. And just because sport lends itself easily to myth-making, it is outrageously naïve to continue to nurture a demon that is no longer a demon.

India and Pakistan have met on a cricket field in Bangladesh twice in the last few weeks. The first contest was an edge-of-the-seat thriller and the one on Friday was a bit of a flop show. But no matter the results, the players of the two teams conducted themselves in exemplary fashion.

There was no in-your-face bullying or hubristic chest-thumping; absent too was a particular brand of rancour that the older ones among us would be familiar with. No effigies were burnt, no player’s house was torched. Nobody died out there.

In the event, at a time when the gap between news/information and understanding has widened as never before, it may not be unwise to shut the door on the face of the spin doctors.

All this brings me, finally, to the question that has haunted me for a few years now: is it not unfair that the Pakistani cricketers have been kept out of the most lucrative event – the Indian Premier League – in the sport?

Isn’t it sad that the IPL franchises should have adopted an unnecessarily alarmist attitude and kept our friends from across the border out of Indian cricket’s marquee event?

Security excuse

Surely, providing security for them cannot be an excuse anymore. Shahid Afridi will be as safe in the streets of Mumbai and Chennai as Virat Kohli will be.

And imagine Afridi and Saeed Ajmal playing against Kohli and Yuvraj Singh without the sight of hundreds of national flags in the stands. A touch of nationalism doesn’t hurt in the world of sport; but too much of it rankles, and it is bad for your blood pressure too.

Imagine, like the peerless John Lennon, that there are no countries. “It isn’t hard to do.” Imagine, too, cricket making way “for a brotherhood of man,” in the sub-continent. Again, it isn’t hard to do.

You may say, to hell with you dreamers. But the key to getting on, the key to unlocking what may well be a glorious future — one that only a few years ago we may not even have dreamed of — lies in forgetting.

Evolution has hard-wired us to keep remembering the hurtful moments we may have experienced. But luckily, culture has given us the magic pill — in the form of sport — to forget the past and rejoice in the present.

And living in the moment is never such a joy, never so easy, as when you are watching a Twenty20 game, particularly one involving India and Pakistan.

Try doing it the next time around. I’ll bet my bottom dollar you’ll enjoy it.