Pakistan Reader# 251, 16 November 2021
On 25 October, Pakistan beat India in the ICC World T20, a result that was met with emotional reactions on social media on both sides of the border. The defeat, coupled with another one to New Zealand a couple of days later, all but killed India’s chances of qualifying for the knockout stages. This, once again, was celebrated by Pakistani fans. On 3 November, India raised hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages with a convincing win over Afghanistan. The tame way in which Afghanistan surrendered set Pakistani social media abuzz with many alleging that the match was fixed. On 11 November, Australia beat Pakistan in the semifinal of the tournament, a result that, once again, was much discussed on social media.
Pakistani cricket’s complex relationship with social media
Ever since its advent, social media has played host to extreme emotions whenever Pakistan, and often their arch-rivals India, take to the field. Losses often lead to vitriolic abuse as captain and wicketkeeper Sarfaraz Ahmed found out in the aftermath of Pakistan’s loss to India in the 2019 ICC World Cup. Ahmed was abused and trolled over his body weight on various social media platforms.
At the start of the ICC World T20 however, it was a Pakistani win that was being celebrated online. The Indian players were on the receiving end of trolls and vitriol, with reactions ranging from the humorous to the extreme. Religion inevitably crept into the discourse with former Pakistan captain Waqar Younis’ comments about a Pakistani player ‘offering namaz in the middle of Hindus’ going viral. Players like Babar Azam and Shaheen Afridi were lionised by various social media users.
The vitriol towards the Indian cricket team continued when the latter convincingly beat Afghanistan to keep their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages alive. Pakistani social media users were incensed that Afghanistan had succumbed so meekly to the Indians and alleged that the match was fixed. #WellPaidIndia was trending for a brief while on Twitter as Pakistani fans called the integrity of the Afghan team into question.Their main point of contention was how the Board of Control for Cricket in India had supported the Afghanistan team with finances and facilities in the past. The trend got some high-profile support with even information minister Fawad Chaudhry retweeting tweets making the accusation. There were no such questions though when Afghanistan went on to lose convincingly to New Zealand, putting India out of the tournament.
From heroes to zeroes
The ire of Pakistani social media users once again turned on their own players when Pakistan went out of the tournament with a semifinal loss to Australia. The main target of their ire was fast bowler Hasan Ali, who conceded 44 runs in his four overs and dropped a crucial catch towards the end of the game.
The abuse that Ali received in the aftermath of the match prompted many current and former Pakistani cricketers to rush to this defence. The team’s vice captain Shadab Khan even put up a lengthy post on Instagram asking fans to support Ali and not forget his contribution to the team.
Later, Ali went on to post an apology to Pakistani fans for his display. “I know you all are upset because my performance did not meet your expectations,” he wrote on Instagram. “Don’t change your expectations from me. I want to serve Pakistani cricket at the highest level.”
A proxy war on social media
The tournament once again brought into focus the proxy war that India and Pakistan fight on social media over sport these days.
A few months ago, when images surfaced of Pakistani javelin athlete Arshad Nadeem holding Indian rival and eventual gold medallist Neeraj Chopra’s javelin at the Tokyo Olympics, the Indian side of the social media were quick to make allegations that it was an attempt at tampering. That was a story that even Chopra came out termed baseless.
In the wake of their win over India, one of the most discussed topics on Pakistani social media did not concern their team, but was about how Mohammed Shami — the only Muslim player in the Indian team — was subject to abuse from fans. After Pakistan’s exit, Indian social media was quick to revert in kind with many users highlighting a series of unverified tweets that appeared to target Ali’s Shia ethnicity and his Indian-born wife.
The tournament only serves as yet another example of how Pakistani cricket is an expression of national aspirations and identity. The jubilation that their victory over India was met with is a reminder of just how much their rivalry with their neighbours dominates their national discourse. The tournament also shows how social media has given fans a platform to voice their opinion on results, something past generations of cricketers did not have to contend with, and something current and future generations will have to live with.
“Pakistan make a mauka-ry of critics, beat India for 1st time in a World Cup fixture,” Dawn, 24 Oct 2021
“Matthew Wade blitz lifts Australia past Pakistan, into final,” Dawn, 12 November 2021
“It was just not his day': Babar Azam backs Hasan Ali after costly blunder in semi-final,” Dawn, 12 November 2021
“Memes take over social media after Pakistan beat India by 10 wickets,” Indian Express, October 26 2021
“Pakistan greats reject fan-fuelled fixing allegations against Afghanistan after lopsided India loss,”
Dawn, November 4, 2021
“Why cricket in Pakistan is infused with religion and nationalism,” DW, 29 October 2021