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Cricket is considered to be the world's second most popular sport, ranking after football. It is majorly famous in South Asia's most populated countries, such as India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Citizens of India and Pakistan are passionate about cricket, and every cricket tournament has a large audience, as seen by the TRPs of cricket matches. To look at Cricket's origin- it dates back to the Dark Ages, likely after the fall of the Roman Empire but before the Norman invasion of England, and most possibly has originated in Northern Europe. The current version of the game is thought to have developed in the nineteenth century. Cricket as a sport has undergone a series of phases of growth and development, and it continues to evolve as new formats emerge. Despite the fact that hockey is still India's and Pakistan's national sports, cricket is the only one that is strongly linked to national and international ties.

Cricket diplomacy is the use of the sport of cricket as a political tool to improve or damage diplomatic relations between two cricket-playing countries. Cricket has been lucratively used to foster diplomatic ties, and the media can be an effective instrument in this regard, as can be political leaders, who wish to improve relations between Asia's two nuclear powers (i.e. India and Pakistan). Cricket diplomacy has been a wonderful step that has prompted both governments to visit the other’s countries and strengthen ties between Asia's two nuclear powers. Cricket games have previously been used as platforms for networking, talks, and icebreakers on the side.

India Pakistan Cricket History

Cricket's history in India is intertwined with the British Raj's administration and expansion through the East India Company. It was first brought to India through the East India Company and the game was played for the first time in India in the year 1721 in Cambay, near Baroda. Post Independence, the first cricket series between India and Pakistan was held in 1954. Hostilities in 1965 and 1971 prevented them from playing cricket, and as a result, no matches between the two countries were played between 1961 and 1978. Cricket was restored between the two countries in 1978, largely through the efforts of both governments. Morarji Desai of India and General Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan took up the initiative. As a result of the warming of relations due to this 1978 Test series, Desai then requested that India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) cease its operations in Pakistan. He was honoured with Pakistan's highest civilian award, the 'Nishan-e-Pakistan,' in 1990 as a gesture of goodwill.

This high in the relations was short-lived. Disputes between the two nations yet again peaked in 1986, when India launched Operation Brasstacks, a huge coordinated military operation in the deserts of Rajasthan, amid terrorism and the Sikh separatist movement in India's Punjab region. These war exercises, according to international security experts, were "larger than any NATO exercise — and the largest since World War II." Pakistan promptly retaliated by assembling its forces, near the Indian state of Punjab’s borders. Pakistan had subsequently placed all of its nuclear facilities on "high alert" in January 1987.

Amid such a moment of major force mobilisation on the frontiers of the two nations, General Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan's then-President, developed the term "cricket diplomacy", when he travelled to India to witness an India-Pakistan Test match in Jaipur in 1987. The cricket match served as an excuse for Zia to visit Rajiv Gandhi to try to settle the border tension. The visit aided in the de-escalation of tensions between the two countries. Behra Manan, an adviser of Rajiv Gandhi, later said that Zia-ul-Haq sent a strong message to Rajiv Gandhi, saying that if the situation escalated, he would use nuclear weapons. As a result, tensions eased quickly, and a month later, the neighbouring countries decided to withdraw 150,000 troops from Kashmir, following the second deal to withdraw further troops from the desert. As a gesture of formality, India's then-Finance Minister, V.P. Singh travelled to Pakistan to meet with his Pakistani counterpart, Mahbub-ul-Haq, for a talk. Between 1987 and 2004, only a few Tests were played, all with undertones of cricket diplomacy.

Historic Events of Cricket Diplomacy between India and Pakistan

During the 1990s, India beat Pakistan in three World Cups: 1992, 1996, and 1999. Tensions in South Asia were again high after India and Pakistan undertook nuclear tests in May 1998, until Pakistan's then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif endorsed a proposal from the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to permit the cricket team to tour to India. It happened to coincide with the former Indian Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee's bus trip to Lahore to rekindle bilateral ties. Both nations agreed on the Lahore Declaration, which featured a deal on nuclear and conventional military confidence-building measures (CBMs), among other things. As a consequence, India and Pakistan contested a two-match test series in 1999, the first one in January and the second in February.

Unfortunately, after an Indian Airlines flight got hijacked in December 1999, India severed all cricketing links with Pakistan. The visit of Vajpayee to Pakistan in 2004 to conduct the SAARC summit enhanced the two countries' relations. Three tests and five ODIs were scheduled after that. Both nations greeted each other with open arms. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's then-president, visited India in 2005 to attend a game of cricket in New Delhi. He was in India for three days, and the tour was turned into a complete summit, during which both sides agreed to back-channel talks to find an out-of-the-box resolution to the Jammu and Kashmir conflict.

Scenario Post 26/11 (2008) Attacks

The major terrorist attack on Mumbai in 2008, carried out by Pakistani militants, dealt a serious blow to international cricket relations between the two countries, and no Test matches have been played between them since. Despite India's assertions that Pakistan is harbouring terrorists, Islamabad's official position has time and again refuted it. The Indian Premier League (IPL), one of the most anticipated cricketing events, is played between eight clubs in various Indian cities and attracts talent from most cricket-playing nations. However, as a result of the Mumbai attacks in 2008, the BCCI has prevented Pakistani players from participating in the League.

When then-Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Yousuf Raza Gilani, met in Mohali for the World Cup semifinal match between India and Pakistan in 2011, cricket diplomacy resurfaced. After Gilani welcomed Singh to Pakistan, peace talks restarted, and the Pakistani team visited India for a T20 and three ODIs in December 2012. The event was described as "An endeavour of using sport to generate a feel-good attitude between the two nations at a time when the spirit of mistrust and hatred toward Pakistan in India is quite high." The Singh–Gilani meeting was succeeded by meetings between the foreign secretaries in mid-2011, and relations gradually improved.

Present Scenario of Cricket Diplomacy

The present scenario of cricket diplomacy in India, in the backdrop of rising Hindu- Muslim animosity, has been dismal. Due to the killings of civilians and security forces in Jammu and Kashmir in October 2021, Indian politicians had repeatedly requested that the much-awaited ICC T20 World Cup match between India and Pakistan, scheduled for October 24, 2021, be scrapped or at the very least reviewed. Union minister Giriraj Singh was quoted saying “I think if the relations between India and Pakistan are not good, then the match should be reconsidered.” Mohammad Shami, India's only Muslim player in the 15-man World Cup squad, had been accused of purposefully leaking runs to Pakistan in the match by social media users, who had dubbed him "a traitor and an anti-national." Photographers passionately caught the bittersweet moments when captain Kohli congratulated his Pakistani colleagues after the match, and many social media fans joyfully exclaimed over it. Some hailed it as a rare display of sportsmanship, unblemished by the political schisms that characterise relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. However, internet harassment soon took hold, and derogatory messages to and about Shami began to circulate. The Union government, on the other hand, said nothing about the matter, signalling a yet-another downward trend in cricket diplomacy.

Cricket Diplomacy as a tool of Peace Building

Rajdeep Sardesai remarked in his blog that Indo-Pak cricket may be paralleled to the two nations' bilateral relations, marked by uncertainty. He provides the examples of January 1999, when Chennai gave Wasim Akram's team a big round of applause, despite them defeating India, to appreciate Wasim Akram's incredible performance in the match, and 6 months later, when the two nations faced again in a world cup game against the unfriendly backdrop of the Kargil conflict, something similar ensued. In 2004, the Pakistani crowd lauded Indian bowler Balaji and others. This situation highlighted the mutual love and admiration shared between both countries towards the sport and its players. Because of their unpredictable character, Rajdeep believes there is a parallel between the two. He opines that both, bilateral relations and cricketing relations, are currently struggling from severe schizophrenia and are in a state of crisis.

Thus looking forward, the lifting of India's prohibition on Pakistani players participating in the IPL could help restore relations between the two countries. India would also need to persuade its Cricket Board to expand the T20 league to include clubs from Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi, as well as one from Jammu and Kashmir, to play in Srinagar. Expanding the IPL and including cities from Pakistan and Kashmir could help to build a firm base for reconciliation between the two enmity-filled neighbours. Taking a cue from the past, test series and standalone matches can be used to lessen animosity between the masses of the two nations, while simultaneously using them as channels to cooperate over boiling issues of Kashmir, Afghanistan and trade relations, which is currently halted with no signs of resumption.

The Way Forward

Cricket diplomacy isn't a replacement for track-and-field diplomacy. It will not be capable of overcoming fundamental enmities and contradictions between states that are inextricably linked to non-negotiable characteristics. Peace is a multi-level process that requires the application of a variety of tools. However, when applied together, they can strengthen one another and build a long-term peace negotiation. Cricket diplomacy can be viewed as one of the essential optimistic tactics that can be used to either break the ice or reinforce a continuing dialogue process. India and Pakistan are still in conflict on a number of topics after 75 years of independence. The current Government of India must make improvements and undertake confidence-building initiatives with Pakistan, as well as promote trade relations, improve connectivity, and increase social exchanges.


Srijita Chakrabarti is a BA in Political Science (Hons) from Loreto College, University of Kolkata. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Natural Resources and Governance, from the School of Livelihood and Development, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad. She has a keen interest in Policy Analysis and International Relations. She looks forward to working more along the lines of these and passionately understanding the dynamics of Public policy in the present world.


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