India to meet Pakistan at Asia Cup today

Written by Boria Majumdar | Updated: Mar 18 2012, 06:45am hrs
As I sit gazing out of my window at the Ruposhi Bangla hotel in Dhaka, I am left wondering what am I doing here when all of the action is back home in India. The UPA is in crisis over the Rail Budget, Uttar Pradesh is buzzing with Akhilesh Yadav taking over, new political alliances are being worked out at the centre and here I am looking at the traffic not move in Dhaka. No, there is more to it.

I am actually waiting for India to play Pakistan at the Asia Cup today, March 18, after a hiatus of one year. India last played Pakistan at Mohali in the World Cup semi-final, a match that generated phenomenal television ratings going up to 35.2 at prime time. Despite recent rumours about the contest being unclean, there is little to suggest such comments have any basis in fact. And having watched it from the stands I find it impossible to believe that deliveries like the one Harbhajan Singh bowled to Umar Akmal could have been doctored.

India versus Pakistan, even if it is in a relatively low key Asia Cup, is different. It just gets the heart pumping in a way no other cricket contest can and is the mother of all cricket encounters. Not without reason did Sachin Tendulkar say that he was first informed of the Centurion match against Pakistan in World Cup 2003, a year earlier by some of his friends. Failure against Pakistan wasnt acceptable. It continues to be the same nine years down the line.

Thankfully for him and India, he played one of his best-ever innings in helping India chase down a fairly steep Pakistan score of 273 at Centurion. Can he do an encore after a relatively lean patch For if he does, it will only help liven up the contest further.

With India-Pakistan contests once again having become a rarity due to continuing political instability across the border, the charm has once again come back. Fans eagerly wait for the two teams to meet and even if the match is on neutral territory, in this case Dhaka, the stadium is expected to be full. Seeing the green and blue do battle is a different sensation altogether and the locals dont want to miss the chance of watching one of the worlds foremost sporting rivalries. Says one of the many local cricket fans I have spoken to, Bharat Pakistan manei ashol larai, eei khela dekhar mawjai alada. Amader to ar tension nei, tai aroi dekhte jabo.

(India Pakistan translates into a real fight and with Bangladesh not playing we can watch the match with a free mind. Will surely go and watch).

While not always conceding publicly, the players look at this encounter differently from the rest. They know it is an opportunity to become instant stars back home and give it more than their best. For a number of fans an early exit in the tournament is acceptable but a defeat against Pakistan isnt. Partition may now be 65 years old but its ghosts will forever influence an India-Pakistan encounter even if it is not one in a blue ribbon tournament like the World Cup.

While comparing India-Pakistan rivalries with other famous world sporting rivalries what stands out is the political baggage associated with the former. It is the reason why the Ashes cant even come close. The intensity of India-Pakistan, unlike the Ashes, often goes beyond the boundary making it much more than a mere cricketing rivalry.

And Dhaka, it can be reminisced, has witnessed one of the classic India-Pakistan one day contests of all time. It happened way back in January 1998 when India, in near darkness, chased down a tall Pakistan score of 316 with Hrishikesh Kanitkar becoming an instant hero back home, thanks to his winning boundary of Saqlain Mushtaq.

An India-Pakistan cricket encounter is as serious as sport can possibly get and serious sport, as George Orwell put it brilliantly: Has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, and disregard for all the rules. Such a contest does merit a trip to Dhaka even if it translated into getting stuck inside the hotel room for two days on account of political rallies in the city. Who knows if Sunday will throw up a story I would love to recount years later!

The writer is a sport historian