The upcoming India-Pakistan series has a lot more riding on it than just pride. For starters, this is the first time Pakistan will play in India since the latter pulled the plug on tours following the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
More importantly, this series will set the tone for
cricketing ties between the two sides in the future.
It is of particular significance for a Pakistan cricket board that is desperate because security concerns have ruled out any international cricket at home since the terror attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore in March 2009. The team has been reduced to playing home games in the Gulf, while fans have no option but to watch the action on television.
Pakistan cricket officials and former players hope that a successful trip, and peace on the political front, can pave the way for a full-fledged series, including Test matches. “That is what we all hope for. After this series, there will be pressure from cricket lovers on both sides. They will demand to see both nations playing more often,” said former Pakistan skipper Rameez Raja.
Another long-term advantage may be the inclusion of Pakistani players in the IPL, which also took a hit following 26/11. However, political intervention will likely be required to ensure that.
Till now, the buzz around the tour has been lesser than expected. “We can’t say how ready people in India are for it after the England series defeat,” Raja said.
“But India-Pakistan contests are special and they will surely grab eyeballs," he added.
The absence of larger than life characters in the Pakistan team - such as the endearing Inzamam-ul-Haq and the Rawalpindi Express Shoaib Akhtar - may have contributed to keeping enthusiasm in check. Plus, having beaten Pakistan regularly in the World Cups seems to have soothed the desperation to beat them all the time.
But, all that may change once the players actually step on the battlefield. "India-Pakistan rivalry can never go out of fashion.
Neither the people from both countries, nor the players respond to defeats very kindly. We may not see much hype around it right now, but you will see the excitement once the contest starts," says former Indian all-rounder Madan Lal.
"It's an opportunity for players from both sides to build up a reputation for themselves. No one wants to be found lacking in these games because people never forget them."