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ASIA
FEBRUARY 1, 1999 VOL. 153 NO. 4


Security was stepped up at all the venues. Bikas Das--AP


Test of Endurance
A hotly contested cricket series between India and Pakistan takes the subcontinent to the brink
By ANTHONY SPAETH New Delhi

Are sports a sublimated form of war? On the subcontinent, it's easy to make the case when arch rivals India and Pakistan take to the pitch for a game of cricket, the only sport in South Asia that truly matters. Business in both countries grinds to a halt. Dinner parties decant into hushed television rooms, as if tanks were rumbling across borders. In sports stadiums, Pakistani cricket commentator Omar Kureishi says, a kind of rapt, glassy-eyed ardor possesses the crowd. "These are not people going to a cricket match," Kureishi describes. "These were people going into battle."

For a moment last week it looked as if the mother of all cricket battles was brewing in India. Pakistani cricketers flew in for a pair of five-day Test matches, the first since 1990, and all hell was breaking loose. Outraged Indian protesters, whipped up by a radical Hindu political party, had already torn up a cricket pitch in New Delhi and trashed the Bombay headquarters of India's Board of Control for Cricket, the national governing authority. Then, in the far-off southern city of Madras, a public transport driver unsuccessfully tried to immolate himself, and three would-be spoilers were arrested in the possession of five severed pigs' heads, which they intended to dump at the local sports stadium to taunt Muslims, both locals and those visiting from Pakistan. (Islam deems the animals unclean, and severed pigs' heads are a time-tested way of sparking religious riots.) If that wasn't enough, a suicide squad of 51 men reportedly stood ready to stop the games by taking their own lives.

PAGE 1  |  2



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