It started off as a riveting FA Cup final against two top-flight teams in England, with ten shots on goal from either side and not one at the back of the net. Constant ebbs and flows, periods of dominance and indeed a couple of nails going missing, the 'Bullring' witnessed it all. The twenty20 World Championship finals in South Africa lived upto its reputation and gave a perfect representation of what a cricket match between India and Pakistan is like - tension, pressure and finally the euphoria. India, deservedly earned the right to be coroneted Champions, but Pakistan gave their mighty best and can go home with their heads and morale on the higher side.
Amidst this enchanting moment, lies a truth, albeit a bitter one. In the post-match interview, Shoaib Malik, the Pakistani captain made a highly controversial remark, which makes you go berserk. In his typical broken English he said, "I want to thank everyone in Pakistan and wherever the Muslim lives all over the world". A dampener to what was a thrilling finale. The man did not have the heart to congratulate his winning counterpart, which smelt of rotten, if not sour grapes. Its highly unfortunate that we had to witness this moment, because in sport, the identity matters, not the religion. This is exactly where Shoaib got it wrong. Whoever says it was a slip of a tongue, it was not, remember the casual pause he took while he said "and...Muslim..." ! It comes across as a very well thought out statement, made out of fear of a backlash back home in Pakistan. Or, to put it straight, Shoaib doesn't believe in the national identity. Malik assumed that every Muslim sitting in whichever part of the world is a) a Pakistani and b) supports their cricket team. Which, unfortunately is factually incorrect.
This is what veteran Indian journalist Mr. B.G.Verghese had to say on this issue. "I think it is sad that he made that statement. The Pakistan team played very well. It was a hard-fought contest, very sporting, but somewhat spoiled at the end by an unnecessary comment, which tends to bring about a communal polarisation." He added, "It seemed to suggest the state of mind, the fear of reactions at home for all the wrong reasons. It is really unfortunate of him to have made that reference. Muslims of the world have nothing to do with the game, it's just a game. The reference was jarring and uncalled for." He spoke to CNN-IBN (Source : IBNlive.com)
This debate takes me back to an incident in Pakistan in 2004, where a student from the prestigious LUMS, during an interaction with the Indian team on tour, had his guts tangled to ask Irfan Pathan, if he would play for Pakistan. Pat came the reply from Irfan, “Proud to be an Indian. No chance to play for Pakistan." Why these regressive mindsets at the first place ? As A.R.Rahman put it so neatly in an interview to NDTV's Walk the Talk sometime last year, "I am an Indian first. And then a Muslim." Thats where the difference lies, no assumptions, just clear thoughts based on realities. Having studied Pakistan with a great degree of detail, this assumption is clearly unwarranted though not surprising. India still is one of the most populous Muslim countries in the world, Messer’s Malik.
There is no place for religion in sport and vice-versa. And its high time the ICC take this as a case to enhance their code of conduct where there is no direct reference to religion in any interviews. If cricketers do not know to maintain restraint over issues that can just charge up wild emotions, they better not talk about it. Or if they do want to make themselves heard, put it in such a way that does not offend the members of the community from other nations. Alas, Shoaib Malik in all his foolhardiness chose the wrong platform to make these jarring statements. In front of the Indian media, in front of the Pathan brothers and indeed, in front of the international media. Though, I would tend to suggest that the Pakistani media would choose to ignore if not forget what he said, for they'd still be conducting a detailed post-mortem of the game. So, going with the cliches, it is Chak de India, but for the not-so-cliched, mind your language, Mr. Malik !
(PS : This is an emotionally charged article. Blame me for being jingoistic, I do not really care. If Malik could get away with crap, I believe, so can I !)