It was a tense packed stadium on Wednesday evening when arch-rivals India and Pakistan met, this time on the hockey turf of the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium, Chennai, during the ongoing Asian Champions Trophy. In the end India defeated Pakistan quite comprehensively by four goals to none with Harmanpreet Singh scoring a brace and Jugraj Singh and Akashdeep Singh getting on the score-sheet. Cheering them in the stands were Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin and India off-spinner and local hero Ravichandran Ashwin.
But what brought more joy than India’s victory was the camaraderie between the players and the fans’ sporting nature. They gave a rousing reception to the Pakistan players during their warm-up and warmly applauded their national anthem. Young fans were even seen seeking autographs from yesteryear great Rehan Butt, who is now Pakistan’s coach.
This of course brought back wonderful memories of that January evening in 1999 when India lost to Pakistan in a nerve-shredding Test match when the capacity crowd at the Chepauk Stadium stood in unison and applauded the victorious Pakistan team when it ran a lap of honour after the match. And this after India came incredibly close to winning from a desperate situation early on with Sachin Tendulkar scoring a magnificent hundred in a losing cause. Chasing 270 for victory, half the Indian side were in the pavilion with just 82 on the board. Tendulkar was literally the last man on the deck when wicketkeeper Nayan Mongia walked into bat. They put on a 136-run partnership taking India to victory’s doorstep before it famously imploded and fell short of 12 runs. It was then that the Chennai crowd decided to put aside its bitter disappointment and cheered the Pakistani team’s victory lap led by their peerless captain Wasim Akram.
Sporting contests are often sites of bitter rivalry but they can also be arenas of heart-warming gestures as seen on last Wednesday evening and that January evening of 1999.