India vs Pakistan: A rivalry that transcends the cricket field

Pakistan beat India the last time the two teams played a bilateral series against each other © PTI

It is a dead game on paper, but the reality is contrasting. Nishad Pai Vaidya unravels the India-Pakistan rivalry as they face-off at the ICC Champions Trophy 2013.

Can an IndiaPakistan encounter ever be a “dead” game? On paper, their clash at ICC Champions Trophy 2013 is inconsequential but the reality is contrasting. There is no love lost between the two teams and they play each other for more than pride or mere brownie points.

If one has any doubts on the importance of this contest, go back in time to January 2013. Pakistan were in India for a short tour and had already clinched the three match One-Day International (ODI) series 2-1 heading into the final game at Delhi. As India strangled Pakistan during their pursuit of a paltry 168, there was tension all around.

When India clinched victory from the jaws of defeat, their players celebrated to no end — running around the park as if they had won the World Cup. The crowd reciprocated with huge resounding cheers. Wasn’t the series gone already? That is what this rivalry is all about.

One can look at the rivalry from two perspectives — that of the fan and then the players themselves. Let us first focus on the fan, whose emotions get the better of him. Even those odd exceptions that do not usually follow cricket in the sport’s powerhouses, are swayed by the atmosphere and vociferously support their countries. An India-Pakistan encounter is more than a game of cricket. It brings the most populous region in the world to a standstill as the two cricket crazy nations are gripped by fervour.

It is a rivalry that transcends the cricket field and has its roots in history. The acrimonious relationship between the two nuclear armed countries forms a backdrop as there is an obvious animosity between the people. That invariably spills into the cricket field. Some may say that it is a game after all, but most people in India and Pakistan would disagree.

Take the example of the game played between the two teams at Manchester in the 1999 World Cup. The match was played in the backdrop of one of the fiercest wars fought by the two countries — the Kargil conflict. Emotions were running high in Manchester as Indians and Pakistanis flocked to the city for the big game and the ensuing war had almost become secondary.

Ramachandra Guha made an interesting observation about the whole scenario in his book A Corner of a Foreign Field. Describing the atmosphere in the city, he wrote “Cricket contests between India and Pakistan were always steeped in nationalist passion. This was the World Cup, with a war in the background. Manchester was accustomed to scenes of violence produced by a football match. Would it now witness the first cricket riot in England?”

Fast-forward to the 2003 World Cup. India and Pakistan faced off at Centurion after a gap of almost three years. The breakdown in relations between the two governments led to the snapping of cricketing ties. But, at Centurion, the excitement had reached a fever pitch that day. As India won the contest comfortably, the whole nation celebrated. This writer recalls numerous fans telling news channels, “World Cup nahi jeetenge to koi baat nahi. Pakistan ko toh haraya na1” (Hindi for: No problems if we do not win the world cup. We have beaten Pakistan).

India had a dream run in that tournament and qualified for the final, only to lose to Australia. However, Indian fans associate that tournament with that victory over Pakistan and the way Sachin Tendulkar took on their mighty pace attack.

In the midst of all this drama and frenzy, the players are in a cauldron of pressure in the middle. Performing against the arch-rivals can make or break careers. A player can write his name in history with a splendid outing and would be immortalised in the memory of the fans. On the other hand, a forgettable day can make you a criminal — one who is almost condemned for life.

The best example is that of Chetan Sharma. Not many people in India would remember that he was the first Indian to take an ODI hat-trick. But, if you ask them who bowled that fateful delivery to Javed Miandad at Sharjah, majority would know the answer. On the other side of the border, Miandad was the hero. As Abhishek Mukherjee wrote in an article recently, “He (Miandad) was later gifted a diamond-encrusted bracelet worth $ 80,000, a Mercedes, and a promotion at Habib Bank. Above everything, he won the Pakistan President’s Pride of Performance Award.”

Heading to Edgbaston

Coming back to Edgbaston, there perhaps is more at stake for Pakistan than India. Their performance at the Champions Trophy has been disappointing as they have played below their potential. The bowling has been good, but the batting has been poor. This may be the acid test for a few non-performing players and an opportunity for them to avoid the axe.

Shoaib Malik is one player who would be under pressure for this game. However, he has a splendid record against India and has a liking for their bowling attack. Perhaps, a good innings may help him stay on longer. Imran Farhat is another batsman who has to perform. The left-hander fell cheaply in both their matches in the tournament and needs a good stay in the middle.

India aren’t burdened by pressure as they have already qualified and are confident. There would be the burning desire to win, but they can perhaps make a few changes to their line-up. Pakistan’s performance in the Champions Trophy hasn’t been received well by their fans. They do have a shot at redemption though. If they beat India, all would be forgiven certainly.

England is miles away from the sub-continent. Yet, the players would feel at home in front of a jam packed crowd at Edgbaston. There is a huge expatriate population from both India and Pakistan in the United Kingdom and they haven’t forgotten their roots. If there is anything that brings them closer to their motherland, it is cricket.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with cricketcountry.com and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)