Pakistan and india face off in the cricket T20 world cup
NEW DELHI – The event will be watched by hundreds of millions of people around the world, on televisions in remote villages, giant screens in crowded cities, telephones in migrant worker homes, and flickering monitors in living rooms of a diaspora spread across the cities. world time zones.
Clashes on the cricket ground between India and Pakistan, such as Sunday’s long-awaited match in Dubai, have become increasingly rare, a victim of the cold relationship between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. For a match to take place, even on neutral ground, players and fans must hope that tensions do not escalate to war and that organizers can resist growing calls for a boycott.
Sunday’s match, the first in two years, is part of a World Cup. The rising tensions are linked to a number of factors: repeated militant attacks in India; the disputed territory of Kashmir, where India accuses Pakistan of supporting militant groups; and the growing intolerance in both countries, which have almost completely erased any exchange between two nations that would otherwise overlap in shared history, passions, and culture.
But the intensity of the passions surrounding Sunday’s game is grounded in deeper reservations, national identity issues that are shrouded in the fortunes of competing cricket teams.
And despite calls for a boycott by Indian political leaders after a recent spasm of violence in Kashmir, the game is on. As India’s organizing body for cricket has made clear, the country cannot simply choose to walk away from an international engagement like this, the T20 World Cup, especially one where its team is the favorite to win.
“We need to maintain a cricket bond,” said Ramiz Raja, who heads the Pakistan Cricket Board, after meeting with his Indian counterpart. “Our position is: ‘The more politics is left of cricket, the better.’
But in cricket, a game that can seem disconcertingly complex to the uninitiated, it is precisely those political failures that generate such passionate interest.
Cricket in South Asia is a legacy of British colonial rule: “an Indian game accidentally discovered by the British,” as critic Ashis Nandy once put it. The end of that government saw India divided in 1947, creating Pakistan as a new nation for tens of millions of Muslims in the region.
In the 75 years since then, the two countries have gone to war multiple times and have been on the warpath when not fighting. At times, the tensions have kept cricket teams from facing each other for a decade or so. Other times, like during the 1999 World Cup, they played a match even while waging a war over Kashmir.
“It’s tempting to draw parallels between the history of cricket and the history of India,” said Amit Varma, who hosts the popular podcast “The Seen and the Unseen,” he said in a recent episode. “We start out unsure of our place in the world, trying to find our feet, limping through an inferiority complex, seeking pride in small consolations, but finally opening ourselves to the world and affirming ourselves.”
“Our cricket has flourished to the point where India dominates this game, especially in a business sense,” added Varma.
India has become the undisputed destination of the sport in recent years, with the best players from around the world looking to play in the lucrative Indian Premier League. The league is among the five most profitable sports leagues in the world, and the best players can earn up to $ 2 million for a two-month season.
But in a sign of tense times in the region, Pakistani players are banned from joining the league, depriving them of an important platform to compete with the best in the world, or to cash in on some of the riches. The two countries largely cut off bilateral ties after a deadly terrorist attack in Mumbai in 2008 by assailants who had come from Pakistan.
The fact that occasional games have been played only in neutral venues for a decade has eliminated an important vehicle for interaction between the two cricket-crazed nations.
Indian and Pakistani players have often said that whenever they play in the other country, the intensity on the field is only matched by the hospitality. Vendors in bazaars would decline payments, while host player families would send home-cooked food to visiting players in their hotel rooms.
“I had hosted the entire Indian team at my house, a full assortment, skewers and all,” recalled Shahid Afridi, the former Pakistan captain, from a tour more than a decade ago. “When they arrived, I discovered that they were all vegetarian. I had to quickly scramble for lentils and veggies. ”
Vicky Luthra, who runs a photo studio in New Delhi, is such a dedicated fan that she has seen India and Pakistan play four times, including the trip to England in 2017, where the match ticket alone cost her around $ 400.
“I can’t paint my face, I can’t do all the dramas. I’m a chivalrous cricket audience, ”said Mr. Luthra, smiling. “But I definitely always wish India good luck.”
The game she remembers most fondly is when she crossed the border on foot in 2006 to watch India play in the Pakistani city of Lahore. He was excited to leave, his grandparents came from the part of the country that ended up in Pakistan, but his wife insisted that she would not let him travel alone.
“My wife was very against going to Pakistan,” Luthra said. “But she was surprised at how good she was, how friendly people were. It was because of cricket that I was able to see those parts. ”
For Pakistan too, the history of his cricket team sometimes mirrors the situation in the country: explosions of brilliance and talent undermined by mismanagement, uncertainty and lack of opportunity.
Pakistan has been the underdog in recent years, with India dominating the World Cup matchups while compiling an undefeated record. But in the 1980s and 1990s, Pakistan had the kind of talent that could win bilateral matches frequently, creating anguish for the large number of fans of the Indian team. The current prime minister of the country became famous in cricket; he led Pakistan to the World Cup crown in 1992.
This year’s tournament comes at a time when the mood in Pakistan is “on the wane,” said its cricket boss, Mr. Raja.
Following a militant attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in 2009, Pakistan went a decade without hosting a single international match. International teams have slowly started touring the country again. But just weeks before the World Cup, New Zealand abruptly halted their tour due to safety concerns, and England soon followed suit.
In the Pakistani port city of Karachi, fans prepared for the T20 World Cup match in hopes that their team could finally reverse India’s dominance.
Cricket has many formats, including a “test match” that can last up to five days and still end in a draw. But the T20 World Cup is the shortest, each match lasts about three hours, so the results are more easily influenced by a short period of brilliance.
“The pocket Quran are out, the memorized holy words are recited and hands are raised in prayer,” Ebad Ahmed, a Karachi-based journalist, said of some fanatics seeking divine intervention. “The idea is to bring God to the side of our team.”
Regardless of the Pakistani team’s chances, the game will be a publicly shared experience even for the likes of Muzamil Ali, a 33-year-old sales professional who confessed that he didn’t even like cricket. However, when it comes to India and Pakistan, most people can’t help but watch, and Ali plans to see it on a big screen outdoors.
“Watching a game between Pakistan and India with a crowd is not only fun,” Ali said, “but it is also better to share the pain with others in case Pakistan loses.”
Zia ur-Rehman contributed reporting from Karachi, Pakistan.