It was projected that over 1.1 billion people would watch the World Cup game between India and Pakistan, which took place on February 15th. (By contrast, the most recent Super Bowl was watched by somewhere in the vicinity of 100 million people.) Indian fans will always remind Pakistan fans that in any of the World Cup matches, Pakistan has never beaten India. And much to the happiness of this India fan (Parth), the record remained true when the game ended.
Before the day of the game, there was a pervasive feeling within the sober cricket fan that this particular contest would be just another World Cup game. Both of the teams should qualify for the quarter-finals given the format of this World Cup, unless they don’t, which to a supporter of either team would not be surprising. Either teams would have to play really badly to not qualify. Sadly, such a failure happened before. But even days preceding the match, there was a certain hope that your team might win the game because it was simply nice to have that upper hand of beating the (here comes the word I loathe) “arch-rivals”.
Over the years, Pakistan and India have had some tense rivalry. The analogy of brothers fighting is not uncommon to hear when an emotional description is made of the long and tough relationship. The world changed for these two countries in 1947, when both achieved independence. The cricket world has seen the most battle scars outside the actual three wars (or four depending on whom you talk to) that these countries have fought since then. Let’s first get it clear, the men and women lost in those conflicts are the real heroes. People who play sport—any sport—cannot compete with the heroism of a soldier who volunteers to be in the armed forces of any country. The other major metaphorical casualties have been the children who picked up the cricket bat and ball and decided to become good enough to play for the countries. Because a common man does not have the avenue to show passion for war—let’s admit it: we are all cowards who won’t dare step into the military arena for the ideas we believe in—then all of one’s emotions and anger come out when we watch the game. These angers don’t need to originate from cricket. They may simply arise from losing one’s job, or having a terrible boss, or fighting with the spouse. Cricketers and cricket over the years have become the red couch at the psychiatrists’ office where we let loose the anger over the ills of our lives.
Last night, I heard an acquaintance say (I say, he is an acquaintance because I would never let a source of such hatred be a friend) that he simply wanted “India to take care of its illegitimate child.” Such sentences and hatred still linger in the people of my generation on both the sides. One would hope that years of education from some of the finest schools that the West has to offer would help eradicate the hatred that spewed from this ogre’s mouth. But the answer is no. It’s clear that lack of education does not cause such opinions. But I hope as the wheel of time rolls on, such vile hatred and vile language to describe the other side does start to go down. As I said in my last post—it is just a game. The sobering voices will have to do a ton to change people’s minds. Those people—a club where I aspire to be a member one day—take a lot of abuse in being called a “Paki supporter” or an “Indian supporter”. Let me say this to those who say it, judging my nationality based on my civility during these games does not make me a “Pakistani” or deshdrohi (unpatriotic). It makes me the sane one and you the over-hyped monkeys conned by this media and your silly friends.
Moving to the actual game: both teams would have liked to win this. India did win this, so there is a certain pleasure in me writing this. Before starting the World Cup, I would not have given India a chance to the win the World Cup or play cricket that is worthy of reaching the semi finals. I still don’t. But they played like a team out to prove a point and win an important game. It would be fair to say that India outplayed Pakistan. The last World Cup match that India and Pakistan played was in Mohali, and was on the same lines. India batted first. Pakistan bowled really well (with errors in the field) to restrict India to a total, which was lower than what India would have expected to get. Then Pakistan started well, but mid-innings it choked and lost. This hasn’t just happened in this game: Five of the last six games between India and Pakistan have followed the same pattern—except the match in 2003, which saw a sheer brilliance of Sachin Tendulkar in a chase.
If the common public feels anxious from an India-Pakistan game, one can only imagine the pressures for the players. There is also an unfortunate history of player’s houses being stoned and other shenanigans that the frustrated public has done after a major loss by either team against the other. That adds to the pressure. But India-Pakistan games especially during World Cups can also be real career makers for the players who perform. The players are at their absolute best with full energy. Last night, Dhawan resurrected his career and gave a nod to Dhoni and the think tank for sticking with him. I am sure he would have liked to collect 100. No better occasion. And so did Ashwin. Perhaps considered as mystery-less in world cricket, but last night he was back. The ball that took Sohail is the stuff of dreams for any off-spin bowler. You cannot help but appreciate the tight lines and he bowled to put of a choke on Pakistan’s runs. I am certain it was because of his three near maidens, India was able to get Shehzad and then Haris Sohail. In fact both these players confirmed a spot in the batting order yesterday for the world cup.
From Pakistan’s side, one would have to be impressed by Shehzad. But just like the countless left-handed Pakistani openers, from Aamir Sohail to Imran Nazir to Imran Farhat to Salman Butt to Moh’d Hafeez, who have played in the history of the ODI format, he got out to perfect and crisp cut shot but straight to the fielder at point before his job was done. India salutes all those names for their contributions to the unbeaten record. And Misbah – is the ultimate competitor. Cannot say much more praise about him than what the commentators did last night. True champion.
Even the most sober cricket fans, who pretend to be not phased by an India-Pakistan game until the day before the game, gets sucked into the spectacle of the sport. I have said this before: to those for whom cricket is a novelty—an India–Pakistan game is the best novelty act in town (other than The Ashes). Don’t think that before writing this piece I didn’t stop to think whether I just jinxed the unbeaten record of India by writing this post. Just like another stupid fan—with the same Western education, on matches like this, all the superstitions come out. Wearing the jersey—or not. Sitting on the same chair. Not talking during certain times of the game. All of it. And this is why we humans are crazy and hypocritical to some extent.
An India–Pakistan game during the World Cup is something that includes all of it: the superstition, the curse words thrown at the TV, worshiping the Gods, not angering the Gods, camaraderie with one’s mates and family, talking about traditions, some good-hearted barbs thrown towards the other side, spreading some harmless Internet memes around, tension, pressure, leaving the room when your team starts to do badly, closing one’s eyes, jubilation and elation on victory, sadness on loss, waking up the next day to see what the newspapers say, turning on the news to see what the other side’s public is doing after going through the loss and mildly snickering at their stupidity for doing such things. All of it. This is India–Pakistan. This is cricket.
But we hope one day we can remove all the hatred, just keep it to friendly banter.