Fans on both sides of the India-Pakistan border are lining up for tickets to the countries' first bilateral cricket series in five years. (Aijaz Rahi/AP)

Fans on both sides of the India-Pakistan border are lining up for tickets to the countries’ first bilateral cricket series in five years. (Aijaz Rahi/AP)

On Christmas Day, India and Pakistan will begin their first bilateral cricket series in five years. Only A Game’s Ken Shulman is traveling to India for the matches, and spoke with Bill Littlefield about the series’ significance.

India’s cricket team was scheduled to tour Pakistan in January 2009. But after the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai that resulted in 164 deaths, for which India blamed the Pakistani Secret Service, those matches were cancelled.

“The countries always have contacts — they have trade, they have diplomatic relations,” Shulman said. “Cricket, since about ’99, has more or less wagged the political tail, meaning they’ve used cricket to promote better relations. I think the countries realize that it’s about time they resume bilateral cricket ties, and they pushed hard to make it happen.”

Cricket has — at least sometimes — led to understanding and fellowship between India and Pakistan. Shulman said fans of the two teams have a lot in common, despite the fact that they’re citizens of nations that are often in conflict with each other.

If you go across the border from India to Pakistan, you find people with the same language. They look the same, they eat the same foods, they listen to the same music. They both love cricket.
– Ken Shulman

“India was one country until the British left in ’47,” Shulman pointed out. “It was then partitioned; Punjab was split down the middle. So if you go across the border from India to Pakistan, you find people with the same language. They look the same, they eat the same foods, they listen to the same music. They both love cricket. Many of them lived next to each other for years, before Partition.”

Shulman says the 2004 series between the two nations was a high-water mark not only for Cricket, but for India-Pakistan relations.

“Apparently, 10 or even 20,000 Indians went over to Pakistan, a land they’d never visited,” Shulman said. “They were welcomed with open arms. There are stories about them being given free hotel rooms, about them being given free meals, and even free taxi rides. And there’s even anecdotes that several Pakistanis pretended to be Indians because they wanted to benefit from the largess.”

In 2011, India won the Cricket World Cup, beating Sri Lanka in the final to become the first team to win the Cup on its home turf. Shulman says while India isn’t necessarily the sport’s top team, it’s among the best — and an important commercial force.

Looking ahead, Shulman said he’s eager not only to watch the matches, but to meet the people they attract.

“I’m looking forward to people coming from Pakistan, back to visit villages or towns that they left in ’47, that they haven’t been able to come back [to] since,” Shulman said. “I’m looking forward to people from countries that are technically still at war finding common cause, not just in cricket but in food, in music. Both countries share a passion for cricket, they share a passion for Bollywood. I’m looking forward to the human story.”