ICC World Cup: Time to stop milking the India vs Pakistan game?

Toxic nationalism, media hype around one game distracts fans from enjoying the gentleman's sport in its totality

Cricket fans watching the India-Pakistan World Cup match on a big screen in Amritsar,  on 14 Oct. 2023. (Photo: Getty Images)
Cricket fans watching the India-Pakistan World Cup match on a big screen in Amritsar, on 14 Oct. 2023. (Photo: Getty Images)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The day after the India-Pakistan match ended in a one-sided finish, a pertinent question which begs to be asked is whether the match merits such a hype. A lacklustre Pakistan show, which saw India extend their head-to-head record to 8-0 in the 50-overs World Cup, is but one of the reasons for this somethat empty feeling. 

 Surely, the Pakistan batters ought to have done better – though due credit must be given to the Indian bowlers, namely Jasprit Bumrah for that phenomenal second spell and Kuldeep Yadav’s ability to always keep them guessing. Their South African coach Mickey Arthur was one of the few persons to keep his chin up after the game and say that he was looking forward to meeting India in the final again – very much a possibility as there is still a lot of cricket to be played. 

The problem, however, lies elsewhere and it would have been the same even if Babar Azam’s men had actually managed to turn the tables on India on Saturday. If the toxic nationalism which colours the build-up to this match, be it in 50-overs Cup or World T20 is one factor, the overt emphasis on a particular game by billing it as the ‘mother of all battles’ time and again possibly does a disservice to the appeal of the entire event. 

It was hardly surprising that chants of Jai Sriram greeted Mohammed Rizwan as he walked back after his dismissal, but what was extremely disturbing were the below-the-belt comments from so-called respectable people in the social media. A senior editor writes on his Facebook wall that while several former Indian cricketers like Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar or Harbhajan Singh – who were not so articulate in their early days - had undergone a transformation in their ability to speak English, why do the Pakistan players stick to speaking Hindi ? 

Now, such a level of attrition and sarcasm perhaps didn’t exist between fans in the Eighties and Nineties when the Indo-Pak battles were at the peak of their intensity. The ideal of ‘it’s only a game’ is often difficult to adhere to with the political overtones that this match is tinged with, but this is taking it too another level. 

 It’s with an eye at the box office that the International Cricket Council (ICC) had been working their way around to club India and Pakistan in one group in the World Cups for quite sometime. This ensures one league fixture to start with – billed as the ‘match of the World Cup’ – keeping the promise of another one alive  in the knockout stages.  

Well, a India-Pakistan game or an Ashes series will always a pride of place in this sport, but doesn’t it devalue the rest of the matches in a tournament of this magnitude?  

In the 12 matches of the 2023 edition played so far, India’s opener versus Australia or Pakistan’s epic chase against Sri Lanka were two of the most competitive matches so far. The so-called mother of all games, on Saturday, simply lacked fizz in contrast – despite keeping Rohit Sharma’s 86 off 63 balls in mind.  

This shows that for all the talk of the 50-overs format losing it’s spark, there is more to this World Cup than just one game. It will perhaps make sense to look at the bigger picture!      

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