- By Ali Abbas Ahmadi
- BBC News
India and Pakistan have long-standing hostile relations, which often impact cultural exchanges between the neighboring countries. But a Pakistani cricket show aired during the 2023 World Cup managed to overcome these differences.
This was evident at the end of every game of the World Cup held in October and November, when thousands of Indians flocked to YouTube to watch The Pavilion.
Launched in 2021, the show typically only runs during major cricket tournaments and features a stellar cast of former Pakistan players. His World Cup edition, the completed A day after the final between India and Australia, celebrated cricketers Wasim Akram, Moin Khan, Shoaib Malik and Misbah-ul-Haq performed.
Watching the show – with its well-articulated analysis peppered with engaging anecdotes and good-natured observations – almost felt like you were spending time with a group of friends around a table talking about cricket.
And that's what The Pavilion was always meant to be, says Salman Iqbal – the owner of ARY Media Group, the production company that runs the show.
“We've focused on keeping it chatty and light-hearted and relying on experts to give their opinions on cricket, but we're trying not to overcomplicate anything,” Mr Iqbal said.
“You wouldn’t see any negativity or toxicity on the show.”
But the show's huge popularity in India still surprised him and others.
Several Indian cricketers, including former captains Kapil Dev and Sourav Ganguly, have appreciated his stature. Indian journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, a fan of the sport, called it “arguably the best cricket show of the World Cup” because there was “no jingoism, no noise, just solid analysis and truth-telling by former players.”
Akram – a legendary Pakistani fast bowler – told the BBC that The Pavilion was enjoyed by everyone because it was “just an honest show”.
“We just played against ourselves. A bit of fun, banter, jokes, stories and of course most importantly cricket,” he said.
India and Pakistan share an intense cricket rivalry and both countries are known to falter when their teams compete against each other on the field.
But political tensions have meant that cricket often takes a back seat. The two teams have not toured against each other or played a bilateral series in several years.
This year it was initially unclear whether the Pakistan team would even travel to the World Cup in India. They finally did.
Abhishek Mukherjee – head of content at renowned cricket media house Wisden India – says it is difficult to explain the tensions between India and Pakistan to outsiders, but adds that the love for the pavilion is a testament to the people of both countries having a deep one Having affection for each other culture.
During the World Cup, excerpts from the show were widely shared on social media in India, particularly those in which the panelists praised Rohit Sharma's team.
In one of the most popular episodes, Akram defended Indian bowlers after some in Pakistan accused them of cheating in the World Cup. “I want to have the same thing these guys have,” Akram said, referring to the critics, adding that he would ask them not to “expose ourselves to the ridicule of the world.”
Mr Mukherjee says the show did not try to denigrate any country, which was refreshing to see.
“When they talked about Indian cricket, there was never any attempt to bring India down,” he said. “They were just talking about another team playing well.
Additionally, the show's analysis was “first class,” he added.
Other factors also contributed to the show becoming popular in India even though it was not aired on any television channel in the country.
The panelists spoke English, Urdu and Punjabi – languages that many Indians also understand. The former players who performed at The Pavilion were popular in India and their presence sparked a feeling of nostalgia.
“I grew up in the 2000s. The cast of the show – Misbah-ul-Haq, Wasim Akram, Moin Khan – were people I was afraid of and respected as an Indian fan,” says Amrit Patnaik, who lives in the Indian state of Orissa. “It was really nice to see the same players saying such amazing things about India.”
Mr Mukherjee says the show also filled a vacuum as there was no comparable cricket show on Indian television during the World Cup, despite the country hosting the tournament.
The coverage on Star Sports – the tournament's official broadcaster – was very “India-centric”, he said.
The pavilion is just the latest in a long line of cultural and sporting products that have been celebrated on both sides of the border.
Pakistanis grew up watching Bollywood films, while soap operas from that country are common in India. Although both governments have restricted cultural exports in recent years, artists from both countries have often collaborated on various projects.
The appreciation extends to cricket too. Akram and his former teammate Shoaib Akhtar appeared on Indian talk shows, while another Pakistan cricketer, Shahid Afridi, once said he received more love in India than at home.
It may be a cliché to say that sport has the ability to unite people. But that still applies in India and Pakistan, says Mr. Iqbal.
“And for a Pakistani cricket show to get this kind of recognition in India is a great testament to the fact that cricket has this immense power to bring people together,” he said.
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