Here is an unpopular opinion – India-Pakistan matches stopped being competitive a long time ago. Be it ODI cricket or T20s, clashes between the traditional subcontinent rivals have stopped producing close encounters even though the tension and drama surrounding it makes it look like the BEST. MATCH. EVER.
The last time and India-Pakistan match saw a close contest was all the way back in 2014 when Pakistan beat India by one wicket. Since then, the next five matches have been a one-way street. Even in T20s, just one in the last five games going back to 2102 have come even close to being exciting for just cricketing reasons.
In the recent Asia Cup in the UAE, both India-Pakistan matches were won comprehensively by the men in blue. But still, it’s India-Pakistan so it is never just another game, is it?
Virat Kohli might ask fans to take it as just a cricket match as much as he wants, but the events leading up to the biggest match of this World Cup – in Manchester on Sunday, should the weather permit – make the latest India-Pakistan encounter a particularly prickly one.
This year has not been good for political relations between the two countries; not that they have been balmy otherwise. It has been just a few months since the two nations came precariously close to war. Armed forces were mobilised, airspaces were closed, and there was genuine fear of imminent disaster.
Ultimately, good sense prevailed. There was no war and we are all still here. But the war hysteria that was whipped up at the beginning of the year continues to live through different mediums. The Indian cricket team tried to pay homage to its fallen soldiers during the bilateral series against Australia by wearing military caps. MS Dhoni brought that sentiment into the ongoing World Cup, sporting an army emblem on his glove which was quickly deemed against the rules by the ICC.
Then reports emerged that Pakistan had planned ‘special’ celebrations for the India match but the idea was apparently shot down by Prime Minister and World Cup winning captain Imran Khan. Those reports were altogether denied by the Pakistan management. But if they are true, it wouldn’t come as a surprise in these times. Last year, Pakistan fast bowler Hasan Ali caused an uproar when he taunted Indian border security during the flag-lowering ceremony at the international border with his trademark wicket celebration.
So when some say ‘it’s just a match’ and ‘treat it like any other game’, they are just trying their best to keep emotions in check. The 22 players out on the field don’t need to be told that well over a billion will watch the match in Manchester on Sunday; that politics, war, armies and cricketers of the two nations have become more enmeshed than ever before.
Maybe words will be said or celebrations done with a reference to what happened between the two nations earlier in the year. Emotions will be high, even if the cricket may not be of the highest quality. But hey, it’s India-Pakistan. When was it ever about runs and wickets?
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