New Delhi:Cricket is often known to have acted as the bridge that connected India-Pakistan in troubled times but there were instances when even the great Sachin Tendulkar's shots evoked no applause from the crowd across the border.
Former Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman and senior diplomat Shaharyar Khan says before the 1999 series it was winning that mattered and not the skill and art of cricket. Post-1999 things changed and perhaps for the first time the attitude of fans and players of the two countries underwent a sea change.
"Something had changed in crowd attitudes. Only a few years earlier a Bangalore crowd had whistled and screamed invectives at Saeed Anwar and Aamer Sohail in an ICC Champions Trophy match and Pakistan boundaries were received in pin-drop silence," he wrote in the book 'Shadows across the playing field' co-authored by former United Nations under-secretary-general Shashi Tharoor.
"The same sullen attitude was true when Indian teams played in Pakistan. I recall being acutely embarrassed when Sachin Tendulkar's brilliant stroke play evoked no appreciation from the spectators," he said. "But during the 1999 tour, a certain maturity from the crowds witnessing India-Pakistan contests was apparent," he said of the bilateral series held after a gap of 10 years "against the backdrop of acute tension".
"The teams interacted sportingly on field and even the crowd trouble after Tendulkar's run-out at Kolkata was not aimed against the Pakistani team but was essentially a show of frustration," Shaharyar added.
The former PCB boss, born in Bhopal, also recalled the threats Pakistan team received from protesters who were against the revival of cricketing ties between the two countries.
"The game was on, with the establishment against the marauding agitators who had even threatened to let loose poisonous snakes into the Pakistan dressing room!" The 75-year-old ex-armyman said a new benchmark in public relations was achieved through friendly cricket series between the two countries.
"Perhaps one small incident encapsulated the entire syndrome of the friendship series. At Lahore, Inzamam(-ul Haq) was batting and played a ball to point where (Anil) Kumble fielded and and flung the ball hard towards the 'keeper, except that the throw was a little off the mark and missed Inzamam's nose by a whisker. Inzamam turned angrily towards Kumble and heated words were exchanged between the two.
"The incident sent a chill down my spine... but at close, Inzamam and Kumble walked smiling arm-in-arm, the heated exchange forgiven and forgotten. This was the response of two mature and responsible cricketers (so as not to mar the goodwill achieved during the entire 2004 series)," he wrote.
Although post-Mumbai terror attacks there is no bilateral series proposed between India and Pakistan in the new Future Tours Programme, Shaharyar is hopeful that cricket will soon resume between the neighbours.
"It's often been a case of two steps forward and one (or two) steps back in the peace process. The Mumbai terrorist attack must be seen as part of the same syndrome.
"I am convinced that cricket will again provide the catalyst to bring about harmony, tolerance and good neighbourly relations between the two countries," he concluded.