MORE THAN A GAME

Omkar Paranjape
Sunday, 24 February 2019

Known for being one of the fiercest and most intense sporting rivalries in the world, India-Pakistan cricket has always been more than a sport.

In fact, there is hardly any sporting fixture on the planet, which is more politically and emotionally charged than an India-Pakistan cricket match. George Orwell famously called sports ‘war minus the shooting’. However, in these days of peak India-Pakistan hostilities, many would call the contest ‘war minus missiles’ instead. India-Pakistan games in the past have also been charged with nationalism and chauvinism.

THE TRIGGER
Just as cricket enthusiasts were planning their UK travels for the much-awaited World Cup, relations between India and Pakistan have soured after last week’s terrorist attack in Indian-administered Kashmir, where a suicide bomber killed 40 Indian paramilitary forces.

Outrage and revulsion over the attack mounted at home, putting the Indian government under pressure to retaliate against Pakistan. 

And cricketing and political relations between the nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours have hit turbulence yet again. 

Calls for a complete cricketing boycott against Pakistan have grown since and the BCCI is mulling backing out of their ICC Cricket World Cup round-robin match against Pakistan later this year.

THE BIG PICTURE
The ripple effects have been felt in cricket with the sport almost a religion in the two countries, who have had a stalemate over the years. Due to the governing bodies, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) engaged in continual nasty rows, India and Pakistan have not played a Test series against each other since 2007. Pakistani players have also been kept out of the Indian Premier League, the world’s most lucrative cricket tournament.

THE HISTORY
After the 26/11 attacks, all ties between India and Pakistan were strained. Artists, sportspersons who were residing in India, were forced to go back. Since then, the India and Pakistan cricket ties have seen a setback.

In 1999, at the height of a limited war between the two countries in Kargil, the two sides played a low-scoring game in Manchester and India won by 47 runs. 

On the day of the match, six Pakistani soldiers and three Indian officers were killed in Kargil.

THE POSSIBILITIES
Indians, who support the match boycott, say forfeiting points in a group game will not hurt India in a round robin tournament. 

But there is another predicament in the case, which is playing Pakistan either in the semi-finals or the final. Will the Indians stick to the same logic and forfeit the World Cup semi-final or the big final? 

To be sure, this is not unprecedented. In the 2003 edition, for example, England lost out on four World Cup points after being told that they would not be allowed to relocate the game from Harare to South Africa because of security concerns related to travel to Zimbabwe.

But the cancellation of what is arguably the biggest and most-awaited match of the tournament would hugely hurt the cricket World Cup.

Other flow of opinion has a clear message to share: Do not mix politics with sports and arts. 

India has never lost a World Cup game to Pakistan, a forfeit would probably be the greatest anti-climax. 

THE ECONOMICS
For Steve Elworthy, the World Cup tournament director, the India-Pakistan contest will be a marquee occasion. “It is probably one of the biggest sporting events in the world,” Elworthy, the former South Africa fast bowler, said. “You think of that match and you think of the passion, the support, the TV and radio audience, the [number of] people who applied for tickets.” And that can be seen in the record demand for tickets, which Elworthy pointed out was significantly bigger than for the final. “That particular game, we had over 4,00,000 applications for tickets, which is an incredible number. The stadium only holds 25,000 people. “To put that [number] in perspective, England vs Australia was around 230-240,000. And the final was around about 260-270,000 applications for tickets. So that gives you a bit of perspective for the demand for this match [India vs Pakistan]. It’s a big game,” said Steve Elworthy, the World Cup tournament director.

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