NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian cricketers wore army camouflage-style caps in a match with Australia on Friday in solidarity with Indian paramilitary police killed in a militant attack by a Pakistan-based group and in an unusually strong display of patriotic fervor in sport.
The suicide bombing last month killed 40 in Indian-controlled Kashmir, a region also claimed by Pakistan. The attack prompted India to launch an air strike inside Pakistan, which responded with an aerial attack the next day.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has in recent days tried unsuccessfully to isolate Pakistan in the cricketing world. The International Cricket Council rejected India’s calls to boycott games against Pakistan, whose prime minister is former cricketing hero Imran Khan.
But there are still calls within India for the national team to pull out of a World Cup match against Pakistan in June in England.
The idea to sport the olive-and-black caps bearing the BCCI’s logo came from former Indian cricket captain and current player Mahendra Singh Dhoni, one of the game’s biggest stars and an honorary lieutenant colonel with the Indian army.
“It’s a special cap,” Indian captain Virat Kohli said before the third in a five-match one-day series with Australia. “This is to pay respect to the martyrs … and their families.”
He said all the players would donate their fees from the match to a national defense fund to help out the families of defense personnel who die on duty. Kohli also urged all Indians to contribute to the fund.
The BCCI posted a clip on Twitter of commentators for the match also wearing the caps, signing off the tweet with “#JaiHind”, or “Hail India”.
The board has scrapped the opening ceremony for the Indian Premier League Twenty20 tournament, which begins on March 23, and will donate the money saved to the families of those who died in the bomb attack.
Cricket historian Boria Majumdar said he could not remember seeing any Indian cricket team in the past making such a gesture, which he called a “peaceful political stand”.
“(Indian cricket) teams have expressed solidarity in the past but not this kind of public display of that solidarity,” Majumdar told Reuters.
“Sport has always been meshed with politics and people have often used it to make very strong points. This is yet another one. This is a peaceful way of expressing solidarity in a manner which I don’t see problematic at all.”
But Pakistani lawyer Abdullah Nizamani said on Twitter the BCCI and international cricket board should keep “sports away from petty politics”. Some Pakistanis even asked on social media if Indian cricketers would turn up for the World Cup match with Pakistan in military fatigues.
Nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence over Kashmir, which both sides claim in full but rule in part.
Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Martin Howell and Nick Macfie