Former Pakistan foreign secretary Shahryar M. Khan is the manager of his country's World Cup squad. A former high commissioner to the United Kingdom, Khan's mother was the Begum of Bhopal. He would have inherited the State had he not migrated to Pakistan, but left it to his sister, who married Iftekar Ali Khan Pataudi, father of 'Tiger" Pataudi.
Khan, who was also manager of the team on Pakistan's historic tour of 1999, spoke to Faisal Shariff in Johannesburg on the India-Pakistan Pool 'A' match, to be played at the SuperSport Park in Centurion on Saturday.
I don't agree with the view that Saturday's match between India and Pakistan is the biggest game of the tournament. Yes, it is important because the two countries haven't played each other for some time. But in terms of cricket, it is only a first-round match. The semi-finals and finals would surely be more important.
Yes, the crowds will be there and there will be tremendous atmosphere at the ground, and there will be huge interest in the two countries back home. But to call this the most important match of the tournament when we are still in
the preliminary stage is hype, which is not necessarily good for the game.
The two teams are mature enough to conduct themselves in the right manner. I know my players and yours, too. The problem area is the crowd. Often without much understanding of cricket, spectators play political games in the stadium and play out their frustrations and expectations. This leads to unnecessary tensions, which is embarrassing to both teams.
Sport and cricket provide a sort of catharsis for pent-up feelings, political and historical. As the Bodyline series -- which almost led to the severing of diplomatic ties between Australia and England -- demonstrated, this need not always involve India and Pakistan. But I know that cricket can act and has acted as a balm between countries, it did in 1999.
When we came to India four years ago, we came under threats with the Shiv Sena warning us that there would be bloodshed if we landed on Indian soil. The Ferozeshah Kotla ground pitch was dug up, the Pakistan High Commission was attacked, and the offices of the Board of Control for Cricket in India in Mumbai were burgled. But we still came and for nearly two months we were given a most wonderful reception by everyone in India. In Chennai, 40,000 people stood up and gave us a standing ovation even when their team had lost. It was unbelievable.
That, for me, is the abiding memory of what sporting contact can do between two countries.
Mohali was marvelous. Two thousand Pakistanis came from across the border to watch the match. The way they were treated by locals was unbelievable. They were spoke to in Punjabi. They wouldn't take money from them. The chief minister even hosted a lunch for 2,000 people. It was unheard of. And it was all made possible by sport.
Then Prime Minister Vajpayee came on his bus diplomacy. If the Pakistani tour had not gone off well, if the reverse had happened, he would not have emrbarked on that bus journey. He sensed the mood of the people in India and Pakistan. And he went to the Minare Pakistan.
The problem lies in politics and politicians. The people want peace, both the nations are dying for peace. This match could be a beginning of sorts for relations between the two nations to improve again. Every process has a beginning and I hope this could be it.
(As told to Faisal Shariff in Johannesburg)