Why India-Pakistan Cricket Games Have Become a Yawn Fest

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Why India-Pakistan Cricket Games Have Become a Yawn Fest

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

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ost of us grew up on stories our parents or grandparents narrated to us. Javed Miandad tonking Chetan Sharma for a last-ball six to clinch a near-impossible victory was a bedtime favourite in a sport-crazy house like mine. It was their way of drawing us into something that was so important to them – cricket. And the most legendary of these stories involved two arch-rivals locked in fierce struggle – India versus Pakistan. When we saw Shoaib Akhtar snarling at Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar punishing Wasim Akram, Saqlain Mushtaq outfoxing Indian batsmen or Anil Kumble running through the Pakistani batting line-up, the stories we had heard fell into place.

Unfortunately for those who watched, Sunday’s World Cup clash between India and Pakistan would not find a place in the pantheon of classic encounters. In fact, the last few years have been bereft of any clashes of note. Why has the Indo-Pak rivalry lost its zing?

After being torn away from each other, despite political turmoil and constant unrest between the diplomatic contingents, cricket always thrived between the two countries. For two young nations, their new cricket teams became a symbol of national pride. Wars along the border and political conflicts fuelled the rivalry and the contests metamorphosed into battles larger than life. Sadly, the relations between India and Pakistan have disintegrated further. But the charged political climate belies the lack of intensity that has set into match-ups between the two teams. Sunday’s game, that saw a comprehensive victory for India, is proof of the widening gulf.

“This Pakistan team is not the same side that it used to be in the ’80s and ’90s. Many things are responsible in helping a team grow when it comes to World Cups and the big stage… The problem is the domestic set up and that fact that they do not play much cricket at home. When you do not play enough at home, you end up adapting all the time. So you never get used to one brand of cricket; it never helps you settle down individually or as a team. It becomes a big ask then when it comes to performing on the big stage,” says former Indian bowler Laxmipathy Balaji, who was part of India’s historic tour to Pakistan in 2003.

Cricket in Pakistan took a dramatic turn for the worse on March 3, 2009, when the Sri Lankan team’s tour bus was attacked by gunmen.

Cricket in Pakistan took a dramatic turn for the worse on March 3, 2009, when the Sri Lankan team’s tour bus was attacked by gunmen. India and Pakistan had already cut off sporting ties after the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai the previous year, but after the incident with the Sri Lankan team, Pakistan became a cricket pariah. No country wished to tour thereafter.

It isn’t just the lack of an internal set-up that’s responsible for the dismal state of affairs of an entire country’s cricket tradition. A tournament like the Indian Premier League has helped funnel youngsters into the national side. The fact that the league helps cricketers build confidence and is a platform where they are tested against the best in the world, is well chronicled. Sohail Tanvir is an example of how IPL boosted the careers of young Pakistani cricketers. But for 10 years now, Pakistani players have been banned from playing in the League.

After a decade of being ostracised, the country, its cricket fans, and the squad are reeling from the repercussions. It is difficult for a country so passionate about cricket to recover from there.

Pakistan always took great pride in producing superb talents, who were not only skilled but charismatic. Miandad hopping like a kangaroo on the pitch to taunt Kiran More, Amir Sohail cheekily sledging Venkatesh Prasad after striking a boundary, Shoaib Akhtar mimicking a plane in flight every time he took a wicket, Misbah-ul-Haq’s push-ups celebration, Shahid Afridi’s swagger, Waqar Younis’ gritty display – they were all legends in their own right. Pakistani fans loved them and Indian fans loved to hate them. India versus Pakistan was the crucible in which superstars were forged. It was evident, the rivalry got them going and they always ended up being a better version of themselves when up against each other. But the past few years, the clash has become an  insipid one-sided affair.

We are witnessing the decline of a cricketing legacy, but there is some hope in all this sordidness.

Martin Rickett / Getty Images

We are witnessing the decline of a cricketing legacy, but there is some hope in all this sordidness. We’ve seen countries fight big battles in the past and overcome them – whether it was apartheid that threatened to strangle South Africa, the match-fixing saga that rocked nations and shook an entire belief system, or Australia stooping to ball-tampering during Sandpapergate in the wake of an entire team’s worth of legends retiring in a cluster. Pakistan will have to find a way out of this too, to reignite a rivalry that has given birth to cricketers, fans, and has in many ways been responsible in getting us to reimagine the game.

Cricket would be better off for the competition between the two sides to return to where it was at its zenith. There was a different aura surrounding the Imran Khan-led Pakistan side of the early ’90s. They were fearless and carefree, in the mould of their charming, unpredictable leader. Hopefully, Imran Khan – a custodian of their golden era and Pakistan’s newest Prime Minister –will pave the way for India-Pakistan cricket to return to the glory days.

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