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Working up passion for India-Pak game

Working up passion for India-Pak game

While fans exchange jibes, players such as Shahid Afridi and Virat Kohli have healthy respect for each other. PTI file

Rohit Mahajan

A senior Pakistani cricket journalist, past his 60th year, is trying to establish his YouTube channel. In person, he’s kindly and friendly. He has travelled to India many times, and he remembers fondly a Col Gill of Chandigarh, who hosted him in his residence during the 2011 World Cup when the city ran out of hotel rooms for the India-Pakistan semifinal. But in recent weeks, his videos have become increasingly loud and shouty, the Indian team and fans are thrown challenges, and sometimes it seems he’d burst a vein in excitement. What’s happening? Well, it’s the India-Pakistan tie at the T20 World Cup, to be played on Sunday. Why get so serious over a 40-over match, I ask. “Oh, this is just a gimmick for social media. Sorry,” he responds.

But such gimmicks and hype are fomenting passion among fans. It’s turning men into kids. “This may be the most uncertain format (T20), but we get serious about even a match of marbles between India and Pakistan,” says a colleague, who seems reasonable at most other times.

The Indian subcontinent is perpetually tingling with nervous tension. The reasons are innumerable. Religion, caste and language top the list of metaphysical sources that torment souls here. Then there are historical grievances and injustices within nations and beyond national boundaries. Then there is disaffection with our rulers, past and present. Modern and pre-modern ideas are tearing the social fabric apart in nations. There’s the big brother, small brother polarity, too. National boundaries are being contested. All this combines to invest much meaning, anger, hope into a match of cricket, the No. 1 sport of South Asia. People need to vent pent-up frustrations, and cricket is useful for this.

In the 50-over World Cup in 2019, tension was always palpable in the stands when siblings from the subcontinent played — and it was the most intense when India played Pakistan. The game witnessed aggressive ‘banter’, taunts and even abuse in the stands — it was being played not long after the Pulwama terror attack, the Balakot airstrike and the capture and release of Wing Commander Abhinandan. All this was used as ‘banter’ on the cricket field in Manchester on June 16. The Afghanistan and Pakistan fans actually got into physical fights in the stands at Leeds the same month.

In Adelaide in February 2015, one old man — born in Uttar Pradesh, resident of Karachi, visiting his son in Australia — desperately pleaded with Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq to “please, please, don’t lose this match”. ‘This’ match was the next day’s contest against India. We’ve seen similar scenes in various venues across several countries, but that old gentleman’s pitiful entreaties before the Pakistan captain keep returning to the mind’s eye; notions of national ‘izzat’, physical strength, skill and even competitiveness over religions seemed to underlie his desperate wish for the first ever win for his team against India in the World Cup.

India have won 11 times in 12 matches against Pakistan in the cricket World Cups — seven times out of seven in the 50-over World Cup and four times out of five in the T20 World Cup. The one time India didn’t win, the match was tied, and India got full points after a bowl-out. That was in 2007, when no one really took T20 cricket seriously — then India won the title by beating Pakistan in a thrilling final. A month after that, Yuvraj Singh said T20 cricket shouldn’t be taken too seriously: “It obviously feels great to be part of the winning team in the T20 format, but it’s more of an entertainment for the crowd and the batsmen.”

Then came the super-cash of the IPL. The cricket landscape changed irrevocably. The T20 format, now possessing envious financial muscle, began to be analysed very, very seriously by even very serious professional cricketers — why, some even landed jobs as a mentor or a consultant with a team. But the fact remains that the brevity of T20 cricket reduces skill gaps between teams. No amount of gimmickery can change this fact. It’s prudent, thus, to do as cricketers do: Enjoy the game, don’t bother too much about the result — and make a rupee or two, if possible!

Tribune Shorts

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