India, Pakistan rivalry goes beyond cricket
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Cape Town - “IT is a showstopper!”
New Pakistan Cricket Board chairperson and former World Cup winner Ramiz Raja could not have described it any better.
An India-Pakistan clash is certainly the biggest billboard attraction in world cricket. This is not just a sporting contest between two countries. It is a head-on collision of two ideologies draped in historical trauma.
Since gaining independence from Great Britain in 1947, relations between the south-Asian neighbours have been tempestuous. It was at an all-time low between 1961 and 1978 when they did not meet on the cricket field at all.
In 2021, the situation remains virtually the same with Indo-Pak matches confined to official International Cricket Council (ICC) events since the last bilateral series eight years ago. It stands to reason, then, why tickets for their T20 World Cup Group 2 clash tomorrow in Dubai were sold out within minutes of being made available despite the Premium and Platinum range costing in the region of Dh 1 500 (R6 100) and Dh 2 600 (R10 600).
Although the majority of the 25 000-seater stadium which can only be filled to 70% capacity due to Covid-19 regulations will no doubt consist of the region’s business tycoons, Bollywood stars, musicians and politicians, there will still be a cacophony of noise that will reverberate throughout the UAE desert.
But it is on television where the numbers are mind-blowing. The 2019 World Cup clash in Manchester was watched worldwide by 273 million unique viewers on linear TV with a further 50 million digital-only viewers.
Such astronomical viewership figures enabled a broadcaster to sell a 10-second advert for Rs20 lakh (about $26 715.64; R400 066.21) during that game. Away from the politics and staggering amounts of money associated with Indo-Pak matches it is ultimately about the players who are eager to perform against their arch-rivals.
The inaugural T20 World Cup Final at the Wanderers in Johannesburg was a thriller that went the way of Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Indian team, transforming the global cricket landscape in the process with the resultant birth of the Indian Premier League.
They are also the only teams to ever contest a “bowl out” at the World T20 when their group meeting in the same 2007 tournament ended in a tie at an adrenalin-charged Kingsmead in Durban.
India’s inspirational captain, Virat Kohli, holds the record for the most runs scored in T20s between the two countries, highlighted by two splendid undefeated half-centuries that spearheaded successful run-chases in both 2012 (Dhaka) and 2016 (Kolkata).
In his last tournament as India T20 captain, Kohli will no doubt look to repeat the dosage.
“For India, the message at the ICC Men's T20 World Cup is simple - do it for Virat Kohli,” says former India batsman Suresh Raina. “It will probably be his last time at this tournament as captain, so it's very important for him to make everyone believe we can do it and for us to get behind him.
“India fans can’t wait for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021 to start for this reason. We have the players, we have the momentum - we just need to go out there and execute now.
“All of our players have just played the Indian Premier League in the UAE and they have played themselves into top form with eight or nine games in this environment. This gives India an edge on all other teams and makes them one of the big favourites to win the T20 World Cup in my opinion.”
Pakistani fans will no doubt have plenty to say about this, particularly as they have their own batting kingpin in captain Babar Azam. The Pakistani skipper will go toe-to-toe with Kohli in Dubai.
Babar is, in fact, ranked two places higher at No 2 on the ICC T20 batters list, and will be desperate to become the first Pakistan captain to lead his team to victory over their arch-rivals at a T20 World Cup.
With the tournament also being relocated from India to the UAE due to Covid-19 safety measures, Azam feels Pakistan will have the edge due to their knowledge of the conditions having used the Emirates as their home venue for international and domestic cricket.
Since the 2016 T20 World Cup, Pakistan have won all 11 matches they have played in the UAE - West Indies, Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand the teams vanquished along the way.
“We know the pressure and the high intensity of each game, especially the first one. Hopefully, we can win the match and carry the momentum forward. We’ve been playing cricket in the UAE for the past 3-4 years and we know the conditions really well.
“We know how the wicket will behave and the adjustment batters will have to make. On the day who plays the better cricket, wins the match. If you ask me, we will win.
“As a team, our confidence and morale are really high. We are not thinking of the past but the future. We are preparing for that. I am fully confident that we are well prepared and will play good cricket on the day.”
The stage has been set for another enthralling chapter of a rivalry like no other. Let the fun begin.