Pakistan cricket legend Wasim Akram. — X
Long-simmering rivalries on and off the pitch divided India and Pakistan once more at the World Cup, but a cricket show run by Pakistani greats of the game has won fans across the border.
The Pavilion, featuring cricketing heroes turned broadcasters including Wasim Akram, Shoaib Malik, Misbah-ul-Haq and Moin Khan, has been a hit in India for what fans say is its unbiased and engaging commentary.
“They give cutting-edge, sharp analysis,” said Shubhanan Nair, a 32-year-old in India’s southern city of Bangalore, who said watching the programme online had become part of his “daily ritual”.
“They will talk about what went wrong with every team, including their own… they also appreciate whichever team did well.”
Neighbours India and Pakistan share deep cultural and linguistic links but their history has been mired in violence and bloodshed.
The two nuclear-armed nations have fought three wars since the subcontinent’s partition in 1947.
“If it’s black, we say black, and if it’s white, we say white,” presenter and Pakistan legend Wasim Akram told AFP.
“Speak your own mind but nothing personal, everything has to be professional and positive.”
Launched for the 2021 T20 World Cup in the UAE, the show enjoyed viewing figures on all platforms of about 130 million — until the one-day World Cup opened last month in India.
Akram said numbers were now “almost double”.
“It’s just four to five of us talking, no science… it’s a lot of hard work,” he said.
“But sitting together, enjoying each other’s company, it’s a lot of fun — and I suppose that’s what people see.”
Akram said he was happy the show was reaching a wider audience and admitted its popularity across borders had surprised him.
“We have respect for each other, we crack jokes, we enjoy each other’s company… if our show is able to tell people that at the end of the day it’s only a game, that’s so nice.
“If you’re Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan — everybody is patriotic about their country,” he added.
“Let’s leave it at that and just talk about good in this day and age, to be nice to each other, respect each other.
“If our show is making that impact, then we’re over the moon.”
Hosts India, who will contest Sunday’s final against Australia, beat Pakistan in the only match they played against each other at this World Cup.
The clash took place in front of a partisan home crowd after Pakistani fans were unable to secure visas from Indian authorities.
Any meeting between the rivals has millions watching around the globe and is a bonanza for broadcasters and sponsors.
But Pakistan crashed out of the World Cup on Saturday, failing to reach the semi-finals with five defeats and four wins.
“At this World Cup, Pakistan will be remembered the most for The Pavilion on A Sports,” fan Abhishek Mukherjee wrote on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter.
On its YouTube channel, comments below the programme show how a sport can bring otherwise rivals together.
“Wish we had a show like this in India… love from India,” one said.
From Pakistan, another watcher reciprocated, wishing India good luck in the final.
“I really hope India wins this World Cup…love from Lahore,” wrote a user named izzkii.
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