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Pak cricket similar to India, yet different

Pindi to Peshawar (pronounced as Peshaar) is four hours by road, a fascinating drive along a route dotted with places of historical interest.

india Updated: Mar 09, 2004 12:15 IST

Pindi to Peshawar (pronounced as Peshaar) is four hours by road, a fascinating drive along a route dotted with places of historical interest. Just 20 minutes out of the city, on the footsteps of Margalla hills, is Wah, which has gardens created by Babar, then Taxila, the cultural cocktail that contains Greek/Mauryan/Kushan and Buddhist remains.

Further up is Attock with its majestic fort on a mountain cliff, below which flows the mighty Indus. Alexander, when on his conquests, apparently reached this far before taking an abrupt U-turn. In days past the imposing fort defied invaders but now it is a high security prison, and one of its recent occupants was Nawaz Sharif.

Driving up the splendid motorway one moves from Punjab (the land of five rivers) to the NWFP (the land of hospitality). Within minutes, the terrain changes dramatically -- flat sarson fields are replaced by undulating rocks and rugged mountains.

Our journey ends at 'Peshaar', beyond it are Gilgit, Skardu, Chitral and Swat, but even in these remote areas cricket has a strong presence. There is a silent but significant transformation taking place, cricket officials inform us. Kids are playing cricket instead of football. Even in barren mountain areas red-faced children in shalwar kameez are hitting some kind of rubber ball with some kind of wooden bat.

Of course, this is no different from India where cricket bukhaar sweeps across Kutch to Kolkata. To this extent ground realities in the two countries are alike, on either side of the border cricket runs in everyone's blood.

For Pakistan, the upcoming high-interest series is an opportunity to reassert itself, recover prestige and proclaim to fans that it shines. The World Cup, specially defeat at India's hands, was a major cricket catastrophe. After that the team was purged of seniors and now, one year down that road, a chance has come to erase all past mistakes.

But while passion for cricket is the same in both parts of the Punjab, cricket ground realities are quite different. Compared to India, Pakistan's cricket is a popular cottage industry which must take many giant leaps to become a thriving, money-spinning activity. Currently, cricket is limited by the size of the economy and restricted by the reach of the media.

This is abundantly manifested in the position of their star players. Inzamam is a national hero but lacks the aura and charisma of Tendulkar or Dravid. Yousuf Youhana, in a fashionable shopping mall in Liberty or an exclusive restaurant in Gulberg, attracts interested glances but causes no traffic jams or hysteria. Sports is rarely on the front page of newspapers, there is no Page 3, cricket is not the major lead on private channels.

Cricketers are viewed as gifted individuals, skilled and successful, but they are not media-hyped, agent-managed mega stars on sale in a glossy sports supermarket.

Even Shoaib Akhtar, who is hot/happening and rocking, leads an uneventful, ordinary life compared to Indian superstars.

First Published: Feb 24, 2004 02:29 IST