A Friendly India-Pakistan Battle

Indian cricket fans celebrate their team's victory over Pakistan in the third cricket test match in Rawalpindi, Pakistan Friday, April 16, 2004. India won a test series in Pakistn for the first time in five decades. (AP Photo/Aman Sharma) AP

Huddling around transistor radios under shade trees or checking SMS messages during business lunches in swanky restaurants, Indians from all walks of life were cheered Friday by their cricket team's first test series win on Pakistani soil.

Many were equally happy that the five-week tour — the first in 14 years — brought out friendly feelings that had been buried by threats of more war between the two nations divided by British colonialists, nuclear arsenals and five decades of enmity.

"The Indian team has not only won the test series, but also the hearts of people of Pakistan," said Manohar Joshi, the speaker of India's Parliament. "The series will definitely help in building people-to-people contact between India and Pakistan."

India won easily Friday, beating its rival neighbor by an innings and 131 runs, with one day to spare.

Millions of cricket fans watched the match to its conclusion on TV in homes or offices, raising hoots of joy at the outcome.

The Indian cricket board awarded the team a bonus of 5 million rupees ($116,000), matching the amount it awarded when the Indians beat Pakistan 3-2 in the earlier one-day series.

"It's a fantastic victory to beat Pakistan in Pakistan twice by an inning, to win the one-days and the tests. It's an auspicious day for us," said Rahul Sharma, 31, a market research analyst in Bombay alerted to India's victory via messages on his mobile phone.

In crowded Bombay restaurants, people cheered while watching the final moments on television. "It's a great feeling. We finished our meal a long time ago, but we hung around to see the victory," said Paresh Shahani, 42, owner of a photo equipment store.

In Calcutta — home of Indian captain Sourav Ganguly — fans in neighborhood sports clubs distributed sweets, blew trumpets, beat drums, sang, danced and smeared each other with the orange and green of India's flag.

In India's capital, there was no honking of horns or firecracker explosions as had occurred when India defeated Pakistan 3-2 in the one-day series. New Delhi was sweltering under 102 F heat, dampening the expressions of joy.

In the leafy Jor Bagh residential area, a gardener, street sweeper and house guard listened to the victory announcement over a small radio and then just looked at each other and smiled. Elsewhere, people slept in parks or waited silently for buses or taxis, unaware of the news.

"Our cricketers have done the country proud. They have created history," said Shashi Arora, 39, a railway employee who watched the victory on TV in a shop.

"The respect and affection shown by the Pakistanis to Indian visitors is expected to create a good atmosphere in relations between the hostile neighbors. It will lead to something good," Arora said.

A hero's welcome awaits the Indian cricketers when they return home Saturday evening on a chartered Indian Airlines flight from Islamabad to New Delhi.

Security concerns had threatened to stop India's tour, but Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee pushed for it to go ahead amid hopes the series would help improve ties between the neighbors, who have fought three wars.

The tour was part of a larger peace process between India and Pakistan, whose hostilities have been focused on their dispute over the Himalayan region of Kashmir.

In the Kashmir Valley, the Indian victory did not please those who want independence or merger with Pakistan.

"Kashmiris had high expectations from the Pakistan team," said Javed Ahmad, a shoe store owner in Srinagar, summer capital of India's Jammu-Kashmir state. "We expected them to win and rout India. Instead they got outplayed. Naturally we are dejected."

Bhairav Kumar, a paramilitary soldier guarding a government building from rebel attacks in Srinagar, cheered the Indian win.

"The boys played very well. The Pakistan team was taught a lesson," he said. "This is a game. But somehow something happens when the two teams face each other. It's strange, but it feels like a battle."

Despite their rivalry, diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan have improved dramatically in recent months and peace talks that began in February are to resume in May, following India's national elections.

By Laurinda Keys
  • Lloyd Vries

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