The group stages are almost over in this World Cup and the two remaining semi-finalists are waiting to join India and South Africa in the knockout stages. This World Cup has been extra-ordinary for India in every sense of the word.
But as India marches towards what seems like an inevitable final clash and a distinct possibility of ultimate glory in this sport- a World Cup victory, there’s a bigger cup that is waiting to be won, the cup of Hearts. This cup will be chosen and given to the host nation by visiting teams, players and fans who did make it to the country.
The question is will India win the Cup of hearts?
The cricket World Cup is not just a meeting of cricket teams. It’s a meeting of nations. It’s by far the longest diplomatic meeting meant to build bridges through sport.
Cricket is a simple sport that brings joy to people. This is bigger than billions of dollars of TV rights and commercial craziness
Cricketers from some of the countries have lived through stringent war, migration and exodus. Some have dealt with and absorbed bombings, battles and economic calamities. Some, somehow just make ends meet and yet commit time and money to this great game that joins hearts and gives joy.
For one full month, the politicians, the bureaucrat the judge and the policeman, the businessman and the street vendor the student and the Vice chancellor, are all one- they are simply fans of cricket and their team.
Cricket is a simple sport. It gives joy to people. Perhaps more joy than massive TV rights and commercial success
Cricket in India is not just a leveller. It’s a unifier
It has the power to influence. And it has the power to display the greatness of the nation in making this not just a sport but a feather in the Indian crown of affection and hospitality.
Look at the T20 World Cup in Australia in 2022. While some may remember that England won that cup, a World Cup in Australia is all about the welcoming and openness that oozes from the country.
The crazy iconic fans like HULK of Pakistan (he lives in Australia though) and Sudhir Mishra who travels with Miss You Tendulkar painted on his body and countless fans from across the globe, were given hassle-free visas and help with tickets.
CRICKET IS ALL ABOUT TRAVELLING FANS
The ships of the 2019, 50 Over World Cup in England and the 2022 T20 World Cup in Australia set sail on the winds and the wings of traveling fans from New Zealand to the West Indies.
We love blue, but let us see rainbows in our stadiums
While we all love a sea of blue in our cricket stadiums, let us also see rainbows with fans from different countries in their colourful attire and jerseys, truly making the championship a spectacular rainbow. Let them sing their songs, do some friendly sparring, clap at each other’s team’s achievements, make new friendships and have a meal and a drink after the game. This will only add to the humanity of cricket.
Kolkata and Hyderabad kept their traditions of warmth and hospitality alive
Pakistan’s players had never set foot in India before to play cricket. They were happily stunned to see crowds waiting for them at the Hyderabad airport shouting Babar, Rizwan and Shaheen. The food, hospitality and affection floored them. Kolkata was no different. Dil Dil Pakistan was played during Pakistan’s match Vs Bangladesh at the historical Eden Gardens in Kolkata.
Eden Gardens itself is named after Emily and Fanny Eden, the sisters of Lord Auckland, the British Governor General of India from 1836 to 1842. This is as strong a meeting of cultures you would ever see. The fans’ cheers for Pakistan and their love for the city even made the Pakistan players order food from a well-known Kolkata restaurant
You remember a country by the way it treats you - whether you are a player or a poet
Ask anyone who has visited Pakistan, especially as a part of a cricketing contingent or any official mission.
The level of hospitality is unmatched. When India restarted its cricketing relationships with Pakistan and toured the country under Sourav Ganguly, in 2004, the Pakistanis laid out the red carpet to literally every Indian.
Indian fans and journalists were given visas and welcomed. Restaurants and cab drivers didn’t charge money from Indian journalists. Sweet sellers packed extra packets for free. There were invitations to the homes of strangers. To this day the results of that series may be forgotten but Pakistan’s hospitality and warmth never will.
The Indian cricket team has had a great World Cup leading to the semi-finals- it’s most dominant ever. But this cup will get its loudest cheer when all countries go back home feeling welcomed and wanted in a country which is clearly the melting pot of world cricket.
Any international sports event is also an arena of global diplomacy. To meet and greet your enemy at certain common events is inevitable in diplomacy. The eyes of dozens of nations are focused on how the host nation conducts itself. We have to treat Pakistani players the same way as we behave with other teams. Otherwise India’s prestige in the League of Nations gets lowered, not Pakistan’s.
This game was invented by the British who sowed the seeds in India (and by the same yardstick) Pakistan and Bangladesh taking the game to as far as Australia.
While England will conquer no longer (at least in 2023), each cricket playing nation sees this game and this World Cup as a bubble of togetherness, safety and joy because the sport mean so much to their fans and lovers if the game.