The much-awaited revival of the great subcontinental sporting rivalry will only be a truncated affair, and it still awaits clearance from the Indian government. However, resumption of cricketing ties between India and Pakistan, re-igniting that intense competition, is a welcome development. While one needs to take into account the prevailing atmosphere and tension between the neighbours, it is also important to show the will to keep sports and politics separate.
India-Pakistan cricketing ties are like no other sporting event. The pressure on the players is intense, and that makes far more demands on temperament. Technique, on the other hand, evens out. Be it wristy batsmen or spinners, the approach of both teams is quite similar. Pakistan has traditionally held the upper hand when it comes to pace bowling, but India is catching up in that department. The pitch, for a change, usually goes out of the equation, and with the teams scheduled to play only Twenty20s and One-day Internationals in a series tentatively planned from December 15, it will be the track record of the two teams that will be tested more. The decision of the two national boards to play the series in Sri Lanka is not a bad idea at all. Millions of passionate fans on either side of the border eagerly await the clash of the big two regardless of where they play and the India-Pakistan competition has been intrinsic to the great bilateral tussles that have enriched world cricket.
Taking the series to neutral territory is likely to click, if one goes by the ODI series put together by the two boards in Toronto in the late 1990s when it was next to impossible to play in either country due to tensions. Like then, both the BCCI and the cash-strapped PCB realise the huge commercial potential of the meeting between the two rival sides. Although playing in Sri Lanka may attract only a fraction of the crowd venues in India or even the United Arab Emirates would, it is still likely to draw a huge TV viewership beyond the sub-continent, and that will bring the advertisers flocking. The two teams have not played a full series since 2007, and any bilateral series since 2012-13, which will make this event attractive for the sponsors. When it comes to India-Pakistan clashes, on-pitch controversies can rapidly spill over to the stands and beyond. But players have over the last decade maintained calm and their mutual respect has reduced potential flashpoints. Fan rivalry too is fundamental to the build-up — the rafters were overflowing in Australia when they clashed in the World Cup — and Sri Lanka may perhaps encourage expatriates from both sides to decide on their year-end holiday destination.