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Does any encounter in international team-sport across the world have the same adrenaline rush as an India-Pakistan clash in cricket? That unique knot-in-the-stomach of a fan as the first ball is bowled? Is a World Cup—rather, contemporary cricket—worth it without an India-Pakistan encounter? And haven’t such face-offs always been won by India? Verily, India has won all six matches convincingly against their arch-rivals in 27 years in the limited overs World Cup.
Following the Pulwama terror attack and India’s airstrike in Balakot in February, some unconvincing demands were made, asking India to boycott the game against Pakistan on June 16 in Manchester. That cry died down soon, after it was realised that if India skipped that match they would lose both crucial points and gift them to Pakistan, besides ICC imposing a monetary fine too.
“One thing everybody should understand is that the call of the country is much bigger than an individual or a cricket team. If the country says ‘go and play’, don’t even discuss about it. If any player has any problem, he can opt out...,” the legendary Kapil Dev tells Outlook.
The big question is: Will Pulwama and Balakot still resonate at Old Trafford? Will players be even more fired up? Will the 24,600-strong crowd of partisan Indian and Pakistani fans heighten the ususal jingoism on display?
The articulate former Pakistan captain Ramiz Raja is for maintaining a balance in sport. “I think the match will have the same high intensity as the 2017 Champions Trophy final. If it was up to me, I would like someone to sit with both the camps and talk them through about keeping the right balance between cricket and passion. It’s important to not needlessly whip up passion,” Ramiz tells Outlook.
Kapil, however, declines to be drawn into the debate. “If the team is going to play in the tournament or not, let’s leave that to the government and the Board rather than people like us giving opinions,” he stresses.
The history of India-Pakistan World Cup encounters goes back to 1992. Even a foreign neutral like former India coach John Wright, who watched India thrash Pakistan by six wickets in a 2003 World Cup game at Centurion’s SuperSport Park in South Africa, acknowledges the tense atmosphere. “Certainly, from my experience Pakistan-India clash is always a ‘big game’ for both sides in any world tournament. It’s the next best game to the semis or the final,” Wright tells Outlook.
“I think it’s imperative that there is no jingoism on the field from both sides as it can lead to tensions spilling over in the aisles as well,” warns Ramiz. E.A.S. Prasanna, the legendary off-spinner who played his 49th and final Test in Lahore in 1978, has an entirely different definition of an intense contest: “A match becomes intense depending upon the kind of bowling attack you have. I believe it’s the bowling that helps you win matches.”
It may be recalled that the Manchester police had to deploy horse-mounted police outside the stadium when India and Pakistan clashed there during the 1999 World Cup. The security would be tighter this time around for a match that will stop everything in India, Pakistan and in the rest of the cricketing world on June 16.