22 July 2019 05:14 PM

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VEDANT SHARMA | 23 JUNE, 2019

Is There Any Rivalry Left on the Cricket Field?

The evolution of the Indian and Pakistani cricket fan.


Rivalry – how often have we heard of this word on the cricket field? It’s the most repeated word when ‘arch-rivals’ India and Pakistan take on each other. It’s a word which either sets you apart or gets the best out of you and it’s a rivalry that is regularly punctuated by war - quite literally. From 1961 until 1978, no cricket was played between India and Pakistan. The 1965 conflict, caused by Pakistani aggression, severed relations and by the time a ceasefire was declared, Indian tanks were on the outskirts of Lahore, when Imran Khan was all of 12 years old.

The two countries fought again in the year 1971 in the liberation war which led to the secession of East Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh. Cricketing relations remained in cold storage until 1978, by which time Imran Khan was leading his country’s pace attack, helping Pakistan demolish a weak Indian opposition.

In all, Cricket matches between India and Pakistan are burdened with the weight of history. Often the matches are accompanied by threats and sabre rattling by political leaders. They must always be understood in the context of past and future wars and current political tensions.

And with World Cup 2019 being surrounded with washouts and a few disappointing games, the world was waiting patiently for an India-Pakistan game, Even before the tournament was scheduled, the game was termed as the ‘tournament’s showpiece.’ Many believed that it would turn out to be the highlight of the tournament. But with 90 overs bowled in Manchester on June 16, and the result being as expected by every cricket fan -- can we still consider India Pakistan the greatest on-field rivalry in the world? Is there any rivalry left on the cricket field?

Remarkably, India has won all seven encounters at the World Cups against Pakistan - a statistic oft quoted to show their overwhelming dominance. Matches have often proved to be anti climatic but the juxtaposing of the teams has long intrigued commentators and analysts. Think of the very best rivalries in sport – Messi-Ronaldo, Federer-Nadal, Saina-Sindhu – and why they so many resonate can largely be attributed to contrasting styles and ideologies.

Well, knowing the statistics, it can arguably be said that there seems to be no exciting rivalry left on the cricketing field. That said, if we see it from a fan’s point of view -- as they wait for four long years for this game and put their heart and soul into the results -- it may well be said, it’s still there.

To get a stamp on the statement, almost eight lakh applications came for 25,000 seats at Old Trafford in Manchester for an India-Pakistan game. Over a billion people across the globe witnessed this clash on their TV screens. And even in a rain-curtailed game when players walked off the ground, the spectators were calmly sitting in their seats – still cheering for their respective teams.

Cricket may still be invisible in many parts of the world, but it’s worth noting that India and Pakistan account for around 20% of the world’s population. And cricket is almost a religion in these countries making matches rare opportunities for diplomacy in a volatile part of the world.

However, as we often hear, it’s just a game of cricket being played between two quality sides. And that is what it’s finally becoming - a game of cricket, may the best side win. Though fans are coming in large numbers, the vibe seems to be different. Fans have started to enjoy that India-Pakistan vibe and what surrounds it.

Be it an Indian or a Pakistani fan, we have finally come to terms with the thought that – ‘may the best team win.’ This change in attitude will only do good for the two cricketing nations, and may even help in improving ties - and who knows, perhaps resuming bilateral cricket.

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