The man wandering outside the stadium is no one. He is not
idolized like the athletes soon to take the field, not rich like
the Bollywood stars who've jetted in for the match. He walks
unnoticed past soldiers and policemen cased in riot
gear--hundreds of hard men fingering Kalashnikovs, sawed-off
shotguns, Mausers, MP5 machine guns, Uzis and 3 1/2-foot-long
bamboo canes, which are surprisingly effective at beating back a
crowd. It is Wednesday, March 24, nearing noon in the Pakistani
city of Lahore, and a relentless spring sun hammers the man's
face. Soon he will disappear through a gate and take a seat, and
his whitening beard and red turban will become just two more
flecks of color in the crowd. The man is nobody, really. Yet
nobody here matters more. ¬∂ His name is Davinder Singh. He is a
Sikh and an Indian citizen. Fifty-six years ago, when he was four
years old, he and nine members of his family deserted their home
near Lahore during the partition of India and Pakistan and joined
the violent migration in which millions of
This is an article from the May 10, 2004 issue
Hindus and Sikhs fled south to India, millions of Muslims fled
north to Pakistan and half a million were killed. Since then,
Pakistan and India, two nuclear powers, have gone to war three
times and came very close in 2002. Singh had never returned to
Lahore, but when he heard that Pakistan would grant 8,500 visas
to Indians for this match, he got ready. He was scared, but home
was a wound he had to heal.
As his train from New Delhi approached the border, Singh felt
like singing and crying both. He was processed through Pakistani
customs at Wagah, where in 1965 the Indian army came pouring
through in a surprise strike at Lahore and where every Aug. 14
since then, on Pakistan's Independence Day, Pakistanis had massed
and screamed, "Death to India!" Now Indians were coming through
again, but the reception was different: Pakistanis on the street
stopped to welcome them, shopkeepers refused to charge them. "We
got so much love we didn't expect," Singh says.
Now, outside Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium, he watches kids with the
Indian flag painted on one cheek and Pakistan's crescent moon on
the other. Groups of men wave the Indian colors. "I've never seen
this before," Singh says. "It's a dream come true."
Inside the stadium, in two hours, India and Pakistan will meet in
a showdown that a Pakistani newspaper called in a front-page
headline, armageddon on 24th. But today feels nothing like the
end of the world. Davinder Singh has come home at last. For a
When, in February, it was announced that India's cricket team
would tour Pakistan for the first time in 14 years, reaction fell
into two categories: excitement and fear. Excitement, because
Hindu-majority India versus Muslim Pakistan in cricket is the
planet's supreme sports rivalry, a clash between blood enemies
over the one passion they share. More than 160 foreign
journalists--the largest contingent in Pakistan's sporting
history--obtained credentials for the 39-day tour. Players on
both sides knew that careers were about to be made and broken.
"When we play India, we're passionate," said Pakistani star Abdul
Razzaq. "We don't feel any fatigue. We played South Africa here,
and nobody came--no life, you know? Against India, it's totally
different. Now we feel that we are playing real cricket."
The fear, though, has been the defining element of all
India-Pakistan encounters. The phrase sporting event can't begin
to contain the religious extremism, unforgiven deeds and rabid
jingoism that swirl around each India-Pakistan cricket match; the
game is haunted by battle dead, and the air is charged with the
ongoing dispute between the two countries over control of
Kashmir. For generations cricket has been a proxy for war between
the two nations. "It wasn't a game," Imran Khan, a cricket legend
and current member of Pakistan's parliament, says of his matches
against India. "Losing wasn't an option."
India beat Pakistan in last year's World Cup in South Africa amid
death threats against the players from fundamentalists in both
nations. In 1999, when the two countries met in a World Cup match
at Manchester's Old Trafford stadium, fights broke out in the
stands and flags were set aflame in the outfield. Earlier that
year, during the Pakistani team's visit to Calcutta, a riot in
the stands forced police to stop play and clear 70,000 people out
of the stadium; the remainder of the match was played before
empty seats. For its return to Pakistan in March, India insisted
on reducing the planned five-day match in Karachi to one day. In
a curious gesture of reassurance on the eve of the visit,
Pakistan test-launched a Shaheen 2 missile, which could deliver
an incinerating nuclear payload to the farthest corner of India.
But far different signals were also being sent. Last year India's
prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, began a series of peace
overtures to Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, but none, he
knew, would seize the public imagination like a gesture involving
cricket. When the British withdrew from the subcontinent in 1947,
they left two legacies: the divisive issue of Kashmir and the
oh-so-civilized game of the English gentry. Vajpayee hopes that
the latter can help to resolve the former. Before the Indian team
left for Pakistan, he presented it with a cricket bat bearing the
inscription, play the game in the spirit of the game, and win
Americans, of course, have never embraced cricket. Batsmen hit
balls over a boundary only four inches high. Players break for
afternoon tea. Umpires graciously hold a bowler's hat while he
runs toward the batsman and throws. Yet the elemental dynamic of
baseball applies: A man hurls a ball toward another man with a
bat. That this happens in the center of a vast field of
grass--and that the bowler is aiming the ball at three sticks
(the wicket) impaled in the grass behind the batsman--complicates
things, especially when you consider that the batsman would sell
his mother to ensure that the ball never touches his wicket. The
batsman hits until his wicket is struck or a hit ball is caught
on the fly (box, below), but in the modern, one-day cricket game
(as opposed to the traditional five-day game), he and his 10
teammates face 300 balls and score as many runs as possible
before changing places with the opponent. In short the equivalent
of a baseball half inning can last four hours. To the
cricketphobe, it's a miracle that the sport is played at all in
the 21st century. But the real wonder of cricket is found on the
No sport anywhere--not baseball in Cuba, not ice hockey in
Canada, not even soccer in Brazil--has a more pervasive appeal
than cricket on the Indian subcontinent. On nearly every dusty
street in Pakistan, on every free patch of grass or dirt, a
wicket has been fashioned out of stones or bricks or chalk marks
on a wall. Balls ricochet off cars and the collapsing tombs of
moguls, and from dawn till the sun goes down the poorest kids,
the most devout Islamic students and even the blind can be found
playing cricket. India won the World Cup in 1983. Pakistan won in
1992. In March some 450 million TV sets in India and Pakistan
were tuned to the finale of the best-of-five series of one-day
"It's an incredible mania," says Shaharyar Khan, who served as
Pakistan's foreign secretary before becoming chairman of the
Pakistan Cricket Board. "Here we have all sorts of
schisms--Shia-Sunni, north-south, Punjab-Sikh--but all this is
submerged when it comes to cricket." But such devotion is like a
knife, employable as either weapon or tool, and neither Vajpayee
nor Musharraf could predict to which use it would be put during
the Indian team's visit.
The March 10-April 18 tour comprised a best-of-five series of
one-day international (ODI) matches followed by a best-of-three
series of five-day test matches, but it's the ODIs that pack
stadiums and stir emotions. When tickets for the opener in
Karachi sold out, police trying to shutter the booths had to
dodge rocks from rioting fans. When the two teams entered
National Stadium in Karachi on March 13, nearly 3,500 security
men swarmed the grounds.
India, batting first, scored a seemingly insurmountable 349 runs.
But Pakistan, led by captain Inzamam Ul-Haq, chipped away hour
after hour, revving up the crowd of 33,177 until, on the final
ball, Pakistan needed just one six--the equivalent of a home
run--to win. India's Ashish Nehra bowled, Pakistan's Moin Khan
swung, and the ball dropped harmlessly into India's hands. But
one of the best ODI matches ever was about to get better:
Vajpayee's charge to win the Pakistanis' hearts had been splashed
on banners everywhere, and now the Pakistani crowd stood and
applauded India's win.
Three days later, in Rawalpindi, the public again welcomed the
Indian team, and Pakistan tied the series. Even when play moved
to Peshawar, hard by the Afghanistan border and the front line in
the war on terror, nothing changed. Indian players felt so safe
that they ventured out of their hotels to buy carpets and shoes.
"It's incredible," said Imran Khan after the match, which
Pakistan won to take a 2-1 series lead. "I've never seen an
India-Pakistan series played in such an atmosphere."
But the real test was yet to come. Only a few Indian fans had
traveled to the first three ODI matches, but for the final two,
in Lahore, the heart of Pakistani cricket, thousands descended on
the city, increasing by the minute the chance of friction. Like
many of the visiting Indians, Pakistan's Abdul Razzaq, who scored
53 runs off 52 balls in Peshawar to seal his country's win, was
coming home. He had grown up in Lahore, in a one-room house with
seven relatives, and had learned his cricket in the streets.
Everyone else might have been talking about the "feel-good
factor" in this series, but for him nothing about the matches was
fun. "All our people want to see is a win," Razzaq said. "We feel
only pressure. It's very tough to go through this."
Shoaib Akhtar lives for speed. He brags about beating a ticket
for driving 120 mph, he loves to feel his face cut into the wind
on a bungee jump, he bowls faster than any man in the world, and
he can't be bothered to humble up his act. He's all about blowing
the ball past a great batsman and hearing the fans scream because
they've come to see rocket launches and they want to see Akhtar
celebrate them by spreading out his arms and flying around the
wicket like a happy jet plane. His hair cascades into his eyes,
the girls blush, and Pakistani old-liners grumble: Akhtar is just
not cricket enough. He has little use for coaches, he revels in
his celebrity, and as Pakistan's venerable cricket writer Omar
Kureishi puts it, he "sees himself as a free spirit who enjoys
immunity from mundane rules of discipline." Translation, courtesy
of one cricket insider: "He's a spoiled brat."
Not that he's too concerned about what the oldsters think. At 28
the Rawalpindi Express, as Akhtar is called, is one of the
sport's biggest names, and he gets paid plenty to play county
cricket in England. He's looking to bowl faster than his record
of 100.9 mph and toying with the idea of testing his wondrous
double-jointed arm against the New York Yankees. The perfect
Akhtar story? After he was quoted last year criticizing some
former Pakistani cricket greats, a fan sued him for defaming the
country and causing him "mental torture." Once the India-Pakistan
series began, though, the suit was dropped because, the fan said,
he wanted Akhtar to focus on India.
"Defame Pakistan, my country?" the bowler says, laughing. "Don't
I look like a reasonable person?" The answer, he knows, is not
exactly--which in so buttoned-up a game makes him impossible to
"I don't do anything intentionally to make myself famous," Akhtar
says. "I do things that I enjoy. I fly around the wicket--it's my
style. If someone doesn't like it, I don't care. I feel the music
of bowling. You've got to make emotion when you're playing.
You've got to have a good laugh, play hard, take pride in
yourself. You can't just stand. You cannot be boring."
Like Akhtar, Pakistan has a rogue image: unpredictable and deeply
in love with its own firepower. Any place that names its premier
stadium for Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi has a suspect sense
of propriety, and Pakistan's post-9/11 emergence as a U.S. ally
has been nearly as confounding as the news that its top nuclear
scientist peddled atomic secrets. Only in cricket has Pakistan
been consistent, its reputation built over two decades by the
steady will of Imran Khan. Intolerant of losses, corruption or
excuses, Khan transformed Pakistan's program into a world power,
capping a two-decade-long career with the 1992 World Cup title.
Then the devoutly Muslim Khan retired and became an advertisement
for tolerance--marrying a British Jew, forming a political party
called Movement for Justice and criticizing extremists from both
East and West.
"There are ignorant people everywhere who don't understand their
religion properly, and they go into this negative
nationalism--which is a disaster," said Khan early in Game 4 in
Lahore, as Pakistan batted first and, led by captain Ul-Haq's
mammoth 123 runs, built a score of 293.
Khan is not bothered by Akhtar's antics. "He's a showman," Khan
says. "He also wins." But if the two Pakistani superstars differ
in style, both men say that the governments of India and Pakistan
should heed the message sent by the cricket crowds. "We're sick
of war, sick of terrorism, sick of Kashmir. We've had it, mate,"
Akhtar says. "It's time to make money rather than enemies."
Still, once Pakistan finished batting, everyone at Gaddafi
Stadium was in the mood for one confrontation: Akhtar against
India's Little Master, Sachin Tendulkar, acclaimed everywhere as
the greatest batsman alive. The two players have been linked
since that wild 1999 test match in Calcutta, when Akhtar, legs
shaking with fear, blasted the ball past the 5'6" Tendulkar for a
humiliating first-bowl wicket. Then, in the second innings,
Tendulkar collided with Akhtar while trying to score a run and
was called out. The crowd rioted, the Indian team collapsed, and
Pakistan won the series. "Pretty much changed my life," Akhtar
says of beating India.
Every other cricketer says that nothing about the sport is
one-on-one. Not Akhtar. He considers Tendulkar the best, and
Akhtar's philosophy, delivered with a cartoon leer that suggests
the tiger Shere Khan stalking Mowgli in The Jungle Book, is
simple: "Go after him. Hunt him down." So with 25,000 fans
howling, Tendulkar had just warmed up with seven runs when on
came Akhtar, the music of the crowd pushing him faster. At full
gallop, he slung the ball back over his shoulder, hit the line
and, jumping as high as possible, snapped it forward like a
catapult. Tendulkar swung--and sliced the ball into the hands of
a Pakistani fielder. The umpire signaled out, Tendulkar's head
dropped, Akhtar flashed his teeth. The night, it seemed, would go
And then, very quickly, it didn't. Akhtar claimed another wicket,
but India's batsmen began to chip away. He bowled faster but
sprayed balls, and soon he and Pakistan's other bowlers were
giving away extras: bonus runs for errors such as bowling wide.
Pakistan's collapse was so total that rumors of a fix began
circulating before the match ended. The logic was twisted--that
22 players, two hostile governments and a crew of international
umpires would conspire to give India its first-ever series win in
Pakistan in order to improve relations--but it was nearly
impossible to find a Pakistani fan who didn't believe it. At the
postmatch press conference a reporter asked Ul-Haq if, in
essence, Pakistan had thrown the match.
"Shut up," Ul-Haq replied.
Nobody likes Mowgli's chances. Throughout Disney's animated
version of The Jungle Book, a chorus of critics warns the little
Indian boy--wide-eyed, high-voiced and unbearably cute--about
Shere Khan's power. While it may seem odd to think of India, with
its burgeoning economy and 7-to-1 population edge over Pakistan,
as prey, the paradox of the two countries' cricket rivalry is
that the smaller nation had always been the predator. The Indian
players went into the deciding match in Lahore dragging 50 years
of failure. Again and again, Pakistan had proved itself not only
better, winning 52 of 86 one-day internationals, but also
tougher: Despite death threats and hostile crowds Pakistan had
gone onto Indian soil many times since 1986 and won often enough
to brag. India, meanwhile, had never won a test match in
Pakistan, much less an ODI series. It didn't help that in its
last four finals against other nations India had gone out
whimpering. No team in recent history had choked more often.
Tendulkar is India's wealthiest and most photographed
sportsman--wide-eyed, high-voiced and unbearably cute--but he
also has been its most conspicuous failure. Although, at 31, he
is on pace to become the most productive test run scorer in
history, he has consistently come up short when it counted most.
Little Master, many said, could do anything but lead India to the
If that plagued him, Tendulkar knew better than to show it.
Control is his key. Emotions, grudges, confrontations can only
cause trouble for a batsman. Told that Akhtar all but salivated
at the thought of facing him in this series, Tendulkar wouldn't
bite. "I would block that out," he said. "I want to maintain a
stable line graph." He's as temperamentally suited for his task
as Akhtar is for his, and he's everything Akhtar isn't: modest,
serene, dull. "I'm very happy with my life," Tendulkar said when
asked whom he'd like to be in his next incarnation. "I always
wanted to be a cricketer and nothing else. I would want to be
Sachin Tendulkar again."
Tendulkar made his test debut at age 16, in 1989; now he is
India's oldest player. Against Pakistan he had often struggled:
His body had broken down, and his batting average had sagged.
This deciding game in Lahore, he knew, could break that pattern.
"It is different," Tendulkar said of this series. "Both the teams
are getting closer. The prime minister said not only to win the
games, but also to win their hearts. It means much more than
How much more became clear after Davinder Singh and thousands of
other Indian fans moved through the stadium gates on Wednesday
afternoon. In the stands Indian and Pakistani fans--the Sikhs,
Hindus and Muslims who had, in all previous India-Pakistan
clashes, been relegated to separate enclosures--sat side by side.
President Musharraf, dressed in an army camouflage uniform, came
to watch from a private box and also to meet Dina Jinnah, the
84-year-old daughter of Pakistan's founder, with whom she had a
falling out because she married a Christian. After 56 years away,
she had returned from India for this match. "This is the happiest
moment in my life," she said. Below her Indians waved their flag
next to Pakistanis, who were waving theirs. On the field India's
vice captain, Rahul Dravid, looked up at the crowd and thought,
This is fine, this is good.
India batted first. Akhtar and fellow bowler Mohammad Sami
dismissed India's Big Three batsmen without major damage. Sami
cut Tendulkar short at 37; Akhtar knocked off captain Saurav
Ganguly at 45; and Sami nicked Dravid at four. V.V.S. Laxman
scored 107 runs, pushing India's total to a reachable 293, but
anyone expecting Pakistan's usual surge wasn't paying attention.
This was a night of change.
India's bowlers, led by Irfan Pathan, 19 years old and a Muslim
to boot, mowed down one key batsman after another. With Pakistan
gasping, Ul-Haq began chopping away and scratched out 38 runs.
Pakistan had hope. Then he launched the ball high and deep, a
sure six, a Kirk Gibson stroke that could change everything.
But Mowgli, of course, was smarter and quicker than the tiger in
the end. Tendulkar began moving the instant Ul-Haq swung. The
ball sailed, but Tendulkar raced to meet it. He had to jump,
fully extend his short arms and keep his feet inside the
boundary, but when he landed, he held the ball in both hands. He
yelped--the prey had turned predator. "The catch was really
eventful," Tendulkar said later, the closest he'd get to boasting
that he'd cut Pakistan's jugular.
The Indian fans roared. Everyone knew it was over. The only
question was how the Pakistani fans would respond. When the match
ended and the Indian team gathered on enemy ground to celebrate
its first series win, the crowd filed out quietly. Fireworks
exploded over the field, and in one corner of the stadium some
two dozen soldiers, fingering unused bamboo and steel, stared up
at the pretty bombs.
In the stands an Indian man held up a poster: INDIA WON THE
MATCH, BUT PAKISTAN WON THE HEART. In the streets Pakistani boys
raced motorcycles and screamed, "I love India!" Skeptics remain,
extremists lurk, Kashmir always heats up in the spring. But
something has happened. Cricket is a game. Yet even with the
score posted, it was impossible to tell who had lost.
India followed its historic victory in the one-day series by
winning the test series 2-1 before much smaller crowds in Multan,
Lahore and Rawalpindi. There were no reports of violence among
The phrase sporting event can't contain the religious extremism,
unforgiven deeds and RABID JINGOISM of India-Pakistan cricket.
Akhtar is all about BLOWING THE BALL PAST a great batsman and
hearing the fans scream.
The Little Master, many fans said, could do anything but lead his
country to THE BIG WIN.
"It's an incredible mania," Khan says. "Here we have ALL KINDS OF
SCHISMS, but all this is submerged when it comes to cricket."
Despite DEATH THREATS and hostile crowds, Pakistan had gone to
India many times and won. India, meanwhile, had never won in