World Cup 2019: Can we please hit the jingoistic ads out of the park and get on with cricket?

Mohammad Faisal
A Jazz TV advertisement mocks the captivity of Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman.

Cringeworthy. No other word can sum up the jingoistic fare television networks in India and Pakistan are dishing out before the rubber between the two neighbours this Sunday. Sadly, this is more to do with the state of television in the two countries than the rivalry between the two cricket teams.

The match between the two countries is scheduled for June 16, which happens to be International Father’s Day. And that’s where Indian broadcaster Star Sport’s creativity turned nauseous. The channel puts the Mauka Mauka mockery from the last World Cup to shame with its latest sequel advertisement. In the ad, when the Pakistani fan remembers his father saying one must keep trying and should never give up, the Indian fan intervenes with a one-liner, "Chup Pagle! Mainey aisa kab kaha? (Shut up silly! When did I say this?)" implying that India is the father of Pakistan.

On the other side, Pakistan s Jazz TV used its app to take a potshot at Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, with a strong racial undertone. The ad, apparently done just for social media, angered Indian fans also because it was unnecessarily making fun of a national hero.

While a number of users on Twitter complained about the distasteful nature of Star Sport’s advertisement, the majority of people on this side of the border don t see much wrong with the ad. After all, it is an old joke which normally does rounds on Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp.

While some might find it funny, the ad is at best a celebration of sheer lack of creativity. It s akin to how kids would taunt another about a personality trait, where the idea was to repeat the same so much that you irritate the hell out of a victim. Yeah, maybe this is a kind of off-field bullying, or should we say sledging.

Despite IPL, cricket is still known as the gentleman’s game. There are still some flashes of this behaviour on the field. Like when Indian captain Virat Kohli asked his team s fans to stop booing Australian cricketer Steve Smith who was fielding at the boundary. The fans stopped and Smith went on to shake hands with Kohli at the end of the over. But let s not for one moment think cricket is an unblemished game. Not with the fights, sledging and countless other controversies on and off the field.

So does all narratives around cricket and its contests need to be negative, almost bordering on sledging? Of course not. Cricket is a sport and a sport is supposed to be a unifying factor. It must bring the rivals closer and encourage all to foster peace, harmony and brotherhood.

Pakistan could have left the IAF pilot out of the picture as it maligns it s goodwill gesture and Star Sports creative agency also could have done, and thought, better. Both sides can learn something from Amazon s 2016 ad for its Prime delivery service where it advocated inter-faith friendship and sent a powerful positive message. It became much more successful and viral than these pitiful scuffles.

Instead of giving a platform to social media trash talk, broadcasters on both sides could use these to let some positive narratives take the field. There is enough tension between the two estranged neighbours these days and we don t need vile trolling to add to this simmering fire.

Let s hit this base mockery out of the park and start a new innings that breaks away the narrative of hate. It might not have an instant effect, but clubbed with healthy competition on the field, such an approach may put jingoistic commentary on a sticky wicket.