Maybe only the funny ones turned up on Twitter. Or maybe the angry ones were out there, but they didn’t get much play. Maybe all the anger and vitriol is hiding somewhere in newspaper columns and WhatsApp messages that we’re not seeing.
Whatever the explanation, it was easy to find yourself appreciating fans from across the border on Sunday as Pakistan took on India in a cricket World Cup 2019 game on Sunday. Faced with a complete rout in a high-stakes rivalry match, Pakistan supporters responded with humour. Lots of it.
There were memes about the captain, Sarfaraz Ahmed, yawning. (Many many memes). There were wisecracks about Partition, about the rain, about warring siblings. There was an irate – and hilarious – fan insisting that love has to be a two-way street. There were jokes about the strategy advice from former cricketer and Prime Minister Imran Khan. And then there were more jokes about the yawning captain.
There was anger too. Some videos from the event showed fans jeering their own team. Former cricketer Shoaib Akhtar tore apart the team’s planning on his YouTube channel. One minister even blamed the team for “sheesha smoking” hours before the match.
But at least as the match was underway and soon after, it seemed clear that a not-so-insignificant section of Pakistanis are able to joke about their team in a way that you cannot imagine Indian Twitter doing.
Indians were once able to enjoy and appreciate self-deprecation too. Two decades ago, Indians were even willing to give a standing ovation to a Pakistani team – though that may have something to do with the match having been played in Chennai.
This time around, however, there was mostly just gloating and triumphalism. Indian Home Minister Amit Shah set the tone by making a reference to a military strike (and you don’t want to venture into the responses on Twitter). After all, India is becoming a country where it’s harder to poke fun at things.
None of this is to suggest that Pakistan is some sort of paradise for dissent and self-criticism. It is, quite obviously, not.
But that makes the response of some of these Pakistani fans even more admirable. In a country where dissent can often put people in actual danger, the willingness to use levity in a response to a loss – when it could easily have been taken as a dent to national pride – is something to be admired, if not learnt from.
Maybe it comes from having low expectations. Or maybe it comes from being resigned to the fact that Pakistani domestic cricket has been in such shambles that anything but humour would be even more depressing.
Yet at least briefly in the middle of an otherwise one-sided match, the fans from across the border showed that they were able to win on at least one count: Not taking themselves, and this over-militarised sport, too seriously.