When England conquered India, Pakistan – this time on the cricket field

The English win, in some ways, brought back memories of the time when as a colonial power they managed to sow differences among the various communities and religions in the sub-continent and ruled the roost for nearly 200 years.

England won the T20 World Cup 2022
The English win, in some ways, brought back memories of the time when as a colonial power they managed to sow differences among the various communities and religions in the sub-continent and ruled the roost for nearly 200 years. Photo: ICC

The semi-final and final lineup of England, India and Pakistan in the just-concluded T20 World Cup, by an interesting coincidence, transcended cricket.

The three countries, once bundled together as undivided India ruled by the British, threw up a medley of conflicting nationalities and mixed loyalties.

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Rishi Sunak questioned


British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, no less, reflected the shared history and culture of the sub-continent. As part of a Hindu family originating from Gujranwala, in pre-independence India now in Pakistan, which then migrated from East Africa to Britain, it is anyone’s guess who he would have wanted to win. For Sunak, to be politically correct, as a prime minister he logically must have rooted for England.

But social media pounced on Sunak when he wished England a win in the finals. Some users asked Sunak why he did not similarly wish his country, England, luck when it was playing India in the semi-final. Was it because of conflicting loyalty or because of the fact that his in-laws are from India? Whatever the case, these public expressions from the offices of top officials are generally issued only during the finals of big tournaments. Presidents and prime ministers do not routinely go about wishing the teams from their countries in every match.

For the British of Pakistani origin, the existential dilemma would have remained – were they Pakistani or British? Going by past experience, some would have leaned one way and the rest the other way. And, the crowd support at Melbourne? There were no issues for Pakistan supporters living in their own country or a third country other than in the UK. What about Pakistanis with British citizenship?

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Over the years, countries like Great Britain and Australia have got used to Asians in their countries supporting teams from the sub-continent despite the fact that they have adopted citizenships of either of the two countries.

Indian supporters of Pakistan

The overarching liberal climate in the UK and Australia just about tolerates what many, in other countries, would interpret as a great betrayal – of living in one nation, taking its citizenship and then supporting teams from the country of their origin.

As it turned out, there was a minimal presence of White, Anglo-Saxon British among the spectators during the finals in Melbourne on Sunday. Much of the support was for Pakistan, going by the shouts when English wickets were falling and boundaries were scored against their bowlers. Television footage showed that the non-British spectators comprised a large section of Indians as well.

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After the match, some Indians came forward on television to say they had supported Pakistan over England. For those within India, this may come as a surprise, nay shock, that there are Indian supporters of Pakistan despite the tense political relationship with that country. But abroad, Indians and Pakistanis generally gel with each other and identify themselves as belonging to South Asia, a larger geo-political identity, so long as they are not playing each other on the cricket field.

In India, even if a small section of Muslims backs Pakistan during a cricket match, it is always viewed with suspicion. In the current communally polarised social environment, the BJP-ruled government and its supporters routinely come down heavily on such cross-border supporters with some even being arrested for waving the “wrong” flag or shouting a pro-Pakistan slogan, and subject to serious charges of sedition. It would be understandable to some extent if the two countries were at war, but that is not the case, despite the veneer of hostility that characterises their relationship.

After the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, cricket players from Pakistan were quietly dropped from the list of foreign players eligible to contest in India’s IPL. It stays that way despite protestations by the cricketing fraternity from across the border. There have been no cricket matches either between the two in either of the two countries, some of which have only been played in ‘neutral country’ venues.

This is not reflected in perceptions or in personal relationships among the expatriates of the two countries who live as neighbours and in many cases share a common working space in countries like the US, Australia and the UK.

Indians, living in Britain, faced a challenge too. During the last few hours of the finals as Pakistan were slipping, television footage zeroed in on one particular Indian section that unfurled the tricolour as England looked like they were going to win. For India, which was pushed out of the tournament by a marauding England, the finals shouldn’t have mattered as they were not in the context.

Yet, to see the tricolour being waved vigorously indicated that some Indians were backing England over Pakistan. Which means that it was okay to back the colonialists who had reduced Indians to near-serfdom for nearly two centuries rather than the neighbour who continues to fight over Kashmir. Even if it is a neighbour who was part of undivided India not very long ago.

Memories of colonial power

Clearly, it is not just about crowd support especially when India, Pakistan and England find themselves playing each other. Willy-nilly they carry on their backs the burden of history, shared memories of the ruler over the ruled and the conflicting loyalties that intersect one another in a complex tangle.

Also Read: T20 World Cup: Why India failed to cross semi-final hurdle

The English win, in some ways, brought back memories of the time when as a colonial power they managed to sow differences among the various communities and religions in the sub-continent and ruled the roost for nearly 200 years.

Over the weekend, both the Indian and Pakistani teams were vanquished despite having brilliant players in their respective teams. While Melbourne was obviously a level playing field and the English had scored fair and creditable victories against mates from their ex-colonies a thought that crossed the mind was: what if the two countries had remained a single entity with the best of both in one team – would the results have been any different?