India lost their first game of the Under-19 World Cup to England, but the fans’ disappointment quickly turned into something more vicarious. The loss meant India finished second in Group A and will take on Group D winners Pakistan on Saturday. Had India won, they would have played the West Indies.
For these under-19 cricketers, bred on the intensity of Indo-Pak clashes, the game is a dream come true. Irrespective of who goes on to win the tournament, heroes will be made and villains unearthed on the day. Already, you can sense the anticipation.
“Haarne ke baad andar ek khunnas aa jaati hai. Seedha Pakistan ke samnay sab khunnas nikaal denge (We are seething after the loss, and we’ll take it out against Pakistan),” said India skipper Ashok Meenaria. “Aapko pata hai, jab India aur Pakistan ka match hota hai, poori duniya ruk jaati hai (The world comes to a standstill when a India-Pakistan match is on).”
Meenaria remembers the goose bumps he got watching Sachin Tendulkar carve Shoaib Akhtar for six over third-man when India thumped Pakistan at Centurion in the 2003 World Cup. The dream of featuring in one of these games is now a reality for the boys.
For Pakistan, who arrived in Christchurch, from Palmerston North, on Thursday afternoon, the game is an equally massive one. “Whether it is under-15, women’s, veterans’ or anything, a match against India is always special,” Shafqat Rana, manager of the team, told HT. “Ijaz Ahmed is the coach and he has played against India many times, so he knows what it’s like,” he said.
While Indo-Pak ties are never short of context, the outright rejection of Pakistan players by the eight IPL franchises has only turned up the heat. Shrill voices from across the border have accused Indians of many things, but the under-19 team is not about to join them. “There is no effect of that on these boys. They’re just kids and have been playing good cricket,” said Rana. “The boys talk about playing India, but we have never thought along the lines that we have to get revenge (for what happened in the IPL auction.) They just want to play freely.”
The sizeable Indian and Pakistani diaspora here have already begun making plans. “I usually work on Saturdays, but I’ll have to be there. It’s Pakistan, there’s no choice,” said Dhruv, who runs a convenience and liquor store.