India-Pakistan cricket rivalry: It's fun, as long as it's painted on

  • Sitaraman Shankar, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Feb 15, 2015 01:21 IST

By Sunday evening, the mother of all cricket battles will have ended in faraway Down Under. After the last ball is bowled and the souvenir stumps snatched, jubilation will break out like chickenpox on one side of the border; on the other, dark despair will descend like an unwelcome blanket on a balmy night.

There will probably be heightened tension along the Line of Control. Television channels will pick the least gracious fans from the winning side to ask the question: How does it feel to have won the war? Religion will cast its long, and unwelcome, shadow.

Two teams – one unpredictable and often underperforming, and the other, of late predictably underperforming – would have slugged it out, possibly for 100 overs. Victory will be presented as better than having won the Cup: indeed, the refrain on the winning side will be along the lines of “Now, nothing more matters”.

Western writers will probably write about the bitterness of the rivalry between the two “nuclear-armed neighbours”.

All this is idiotic and self-defeating for a variety of reasons, and symptomatic of a broader stupidity.

While one set of phoney warriors poses victorious, its foot metaphorically on the throat of the vanquished neighbour, teams like Australia and New Zealand will be planning their next conquest, eyes firmly on the final prize.

At the most basic level, from the point of view of the Cup, beating Pakistan doesn’t matter a jot more than beating South Africa or the West Indies. The big four teams in the group are more or less sure of qualifying for the quarters as long they avoid the banana peels that Ireland and Afghanistan could place in their paths.

It is just that this contest has taken on a disproportionate weight, egged on by the breathless hype of TRP-seeking television channels.

Make no mistake: this is a match that has Edge, that is great fun to watch. It’s enjoyable to put on the face paint and gather in groups to watch. But hype often has a life of its own.

I sat among some Pakistani fans in the Ferozeshah Kotla a couple of years ago. It was the final one-dayer of a three-match series they had already won, and Pakistan threw away a winning position in some style. Their fans for the most part took defeat in their stride, but I remember an eight or nine-year old girl flouncing out in a rage when the ninth wicket fell, face black as thunder. She had clearly fallen victim to the hype.

Go and sit among Indian fans when a bowler of Pakistani origin is brought on to bowl for England against India, and you’ll hear comments that would make you wonder whether you were in Kargil during the war.

This is not about pacificism, but about self-interest. To stretch the point a bit, Australia and New Zealand in this World Cup are to India’s cricket side what China has been to its economy. They get ahead while India chooses to focus on its rather pointless enmity with its India-obsessed neighbour, an enmity which cricket games are distorted to underline, rather than, as they should, make irrelevant.

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