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ICC World Twenty20 India

September 30, 2012 by  

ICC World Twenty20 India, Cricket between India and Pakistan has always been stuff marquee clashes are made of – envy, pressure and plenty of skill. Yet it’s the inability to love the one team which is perhaps the closest reflection of ourselves is what runs deep ..

Growing up in the 80s, it was tough to be an Indian cricket fan. Despite the coming of age World Cup victory (1983) – this was a team of generally mild-mannered men who were only too happy to be rolled over by those swaggering Caribbean champions, or sledging Aussies. Barring Kapil Dev, our ‘pacers’ were an insult to that cricketing jargon, and most of the team looked and behaved like middle-class daddies going to a parent-teacher meeting. It was equally easy to fall in love with those those broad shouldered men across the border – same parched land, same unforgiving pitches – yet bowlers running in like a kicking horse, hurling thunderbolts with swing. They’d play hard and party harder, brandish their long hair and stylish sideburns. The confidence took to the field as well, as Miandad showed with that six in Sharjah – perhaps the defining moment of Pakistan’s mental edge over India.

Ironically, from middle-class of Bombay (it wasn’t Mumbai yet) came the first sign of Indian self-belief. The story of a 16-yr wonderkid to one of the greatest batsmen of the game is oft repeated. What stays behind is how India gained some confidence around him, and Pakistan – for the first time felt that bowling alone won’t win them matches. Taken in isolation Jadeja’s assault on Waqar Younis was a one-off. But the cumulative effect was there to see.

The strange thing is how the fans, the players and everyone around them reacted to the premier rivalry in cricket. Over time, Pakistan has always been a team which believes they can win by bowling out India – their batting (especially post-Miandad and Zaheer Abbas) never quite reached the high watermark set by Tendulkars or Dravids. Inzamam was always a match winner, yet never quite as universally successful and hallowed, Afridi was a force of nature, yet not quite as consistently destructive as Sehwag or Yuvraj in their prime. Hence the persistent need for Pakistani fans and media to magnify every failure of Tendulkar, every fallacy of Laxman; almost ignoring the urge to appreciate the quality of cricket to show them down. Heck! even blame the pitch or bad bowling, tag them as ‘over-rated’. Yet, there were former players, free from needs of diplomacy, like Imran Khan and Qadir who recount how they fell in love with the teenage Tendulkar or how they admired the tigerish aggression of Ganguly.

The Indian side of the story was much too similar. No one who saw that searing spell in Calcutta, when Akhtar undid the defences of two of the best batsmen in the world, would ever deny they didn’t shadow practice the ‘aeroplane’ once in their ‘galli’ matches. Watching Akram and Younis make the ball talk was like watching art in motion. Zaheer Khan today might’ve learnt the tricks but those men were pacier, and born to it. Yet, as an Indian, every mis-step of Shoaib must be sniggered at, and not lamented as a loss of great talent. The sheer failure to appreciate how well Asif and Aamer could bowl, without tainting it with their (utterly stupid) mistake shows an inability to love.

Wasim Akram recounts how his injury on the eve of 1996 WC QF affected them all – houses were pelted, match-fixing allegations flew around, fans shot themselves – would it be the same if it was against Australia or South Africa? Tendulkar remembers how he couldn’t sleep properly for days at end before their WC 2003 match. Gavaskar and Imran remember how in the 70s and 80s, touring each other would be like playing against thirteen men, the “home” umpires perennially siding with the team. Miandad was LBW 13 times overseas before he was given LBW at home; an Indian umpire once simply refused to give front-foot no-balls against Indian bowlers, reasoning “they don’t really bowl pace, what’s the difference?”

Beneath it all lies the eternal tussle to suppress nature by ‘nurture’. For two countries borne out of same land, built on similar taste in music, food and social structure its impossible to not love each other. How can a wristy flick from Mohammad Yousuf not find the same cheer in an Indian heart, as it’d find for VVS Laxman? How can a Pakistani heart not skip a beat when a Harbhajan Singh doosra fools England, much like Ajmal’s version had done a few months ago? For despite the politics and society which conditions us to “hate” each other to carve our identity – the heart doesn’t subscribe to those. The same Eden Gardens which Shoaib silenced in 1998, was roaring chants of “Shoaib! Shoaib!” in 2008 IPL, when his own country and board refused to stand by him. When Sourav Ganguly, his own coach and national media against him, fought for his career with a gritty knock in Karachi, the entire National Stadium cheered him on.

It isn’t a co-incidence that the most naturally talented, impossibly young cricketers emerge from these two nations. Neither is that both are cricketing cultures built on amazing talents coming up despite shambolic administration, and not because of a structured system like English counties or Australian grade cricket.

Tomorrow will be another one of those days and despite India’s record in World Cup clashes, Pakistan will be starting ahead – for both their current form and their nose for the shortest format of the game. For once let’s hope we can appreciate the cricket on show without weight of national flags bearing on us. Not to say that we shouldn’t be supporting our team or country, but to lend a bit of perspective. The pressure, the tension we feel for every India vs Pakistan clash isn’t that for the results of the match, it’s because we are torn between our “love” to urge on our country and our “urge” to love what is has always been a part of us.

You can’t teach a brother to not love his brother. Over to cricket! Amen!

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