India-Pakistan rivalry, one that transcends cricket and sport

India, Pakistan, Cricket, World Cup, Rivalry, ODI, ICC, International cricket, Pulwama, BCCI
Tomorrow's match is an anticipated one. Photo: PTI

This Sunday (June 16), India take on Pakistan in Manchester in a World Cup game and the buzz is back. The India-Pakistan rivalry is such that it creates a frenzied atmosphere. It won’t be any different this time.

In any sport, be it cricket, hockey, or kabaddi, a game between India and Pakistan always tends to create a hype and buzz. No matter what the stage is, it always makes billions from both nations sit up and take notice. And it’s a lot more than just cricket. It’s a rivalry that is affected by war and the political tension between the two nations.

India and Pakistan have shared a massive love-hate relationship when it comes to the battles on the cricket field. There’s always been a start-stop in the bilateral affairs throughout both their cricketing histories. One of the major reasons has been the external factors (government and terrorism among others) that have a huge say on whether the two neighbouring countries can play each other or no.

It’s been almost 12 years since India and Pakistan played each other in a Test match. It’s been over six and a half years since they played any bilateral series. The tension at the border and between the two governments has been massive. The outrage that takes place every time there’s an incident (for the worse) is on another level. It’s so much that cricket and sport, in general, is affected.

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Take, for instance, the recent attack in Pulwama that caused the death of multiple Indian CRPF personnel. There was so much outrage that there was a possibility of India forfeiting this upcoming game against Pakistan as a protest. Such is the delicacy of the situation between the two nations.

However, there have been times when the two nations have been as friendly as anyone could and cricket has dwelled during those times. There was a time in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s that India and Pakistan toured each other and played bilaterals almost every season. There were as many as seven bilateral Test series’ in the span of 11 years (from 1978 to 1989).

India-Pakistan Test cricket starved again for almost 15 years but the limited-overs cricket was in full flow in the mid and late 1990s. Then came the phase from 2004 to 2007 when there was at least one series every year. Be it Test cricket or the 50-over format, India and Pakistan kept exchanging blows as far as wins are concerned.

The series in late 2007, which was held in India, proved to be the last one between the two nations. The biggest reason being the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, the roots of which were allegedly in Pakistan. This incident was a major dampener in the relation between the two nations. Moreover, the attacks on Sri Lankan cricketers in Pakistan in 2009 further dampened the relations. In fact, that incident stopped the cricketing world from travelling to Pakistan.

Also, the political tension between India and Pakistan resurfaced and cricket and sport, in general, was the loser. The sporting events (bilaterals) got affected big time and it took place only at the world stage. India and Pakistan just played in ICC tournaments and the Asia Cup.

There was an attempt to restore cricketing ties in 2012. Pakistan toured India in December 2012 and January 2013 for a short limited-overs series. The two teams played two T20Is and three ODIs in what was their first bilateral series in over five years. In 2014, there was an MoU signed as well which stated India and Pakistan had to play about six bilateral series between 2015 and 2023. However, the BCCI couldn’t get permission from the Indian government to play Pakistan. Hence, the MoU was scrapped and the PCB also filed a case against BCCI for not honouring the MoU.

Thus, cricket has starved of India-Pakistan games for the past 12 years. That’s one of the major reasons for all the hype, the drama and build-up every time India and Pakistan square off in multi-nation tournaments. However, the rivalry was always there and the bilaterals played before had an extra edge as well.

Pakistan dominated the early years of the rivalry but India have come storming back in the latter half, especially the 21st century. Their win percentage against Pakistan has improved significantly as the years have gone by. However, Pakistan still lead the overall head-to-head as they’ve won 73 matches to India’s 54 in 131 ODI encounters.

Pakistan have never beaten India in a World Cup game (be it a 50-over or the T20 World Cup) which builds up the anticipation and the hype even more. There are very few rivalries in sport that match the intensity that the India-Pakistan one creates.

The Ashes rivalry, the Trans-Tasmanian rivalry are some of the significant ones in cricket and the intensity and craze is massive in these as well. But when it comes to India-Pakistan, it’s another level. Billions of lives stop for the duration of the game as the focus is all on cricket for that one particular game.

The two captains, Virat Kohli and Sarfaraz Ahmed, have played it down. The players feel it’s another game of cricket and they forget about everything when they step onto the field. It may not have been put aptly but for the fans, for the two nations, an India-Pakistan game is on a different level.

It may not be any different this Sunday. Cricket (and sport) is something that brings people closer. Fans will be up against each other even though they don’t play. But the passion for India-Pakistan games is something that even a non-cricket fan tends to fall for.
Hence, the world awaits yet another India-Pakistan battle.

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