Bangalore, Manchester, Centurion, Mohali, Adelaide. Might be just a random listing of cities to most, but mention them to any Indian cricket fan, and you’d be hard pressed to not see a smile, even a smirk, form on their face. For those are, after all, just some of the venues at which India has managed to upstage their greatest arch-rivals Pakistan on the world stage.
It is also a lifeline that many an Indian fan will fall back on when reminded of the otherwise favourable win-loss record Pakistan holds over India in ODI cricket (73-52 after yesterday’s match), especially a fan like me whose first few years of watching cricket consisted of depressing days and nights watching the great Pakistan team of the 90s roll India over in Sharjah time and again.
Even that great Pakistani team though couldn’t get over the line playing India in three World Cup matches in the 90s, and that is something Indian fans have prided their team on, that the Indian team managed to win ‘when it mattered’, even when they weren’t at their best.
It probably wasn’t a surprise then, that there was an overwhelming sense of calm and confidence among Indian fans going into yesterday’s Champions Trophy final. After all, it was just another match against Pakistan in an ICC tournament, surely there would be a repeat performance of the huge victory just a couple of weeks ago.
What they hadn’t bargained for though, was that this was a different Pakistan. Led by a fearless captain encouraging his team to play in much the same way, a team that for the most part were not haunted by previous defeats to India (only Mohammad Hafeez and Ahmed Shehzad had lost to India in a 50 over ICC tournament before this), a team that most importantly played like only Pakistan could play, completely outplaying India in an astonishing display of youthful exuberance and bravado, stunning the cricketing world and doing their bit to ease the pain of defeats in major tournaments across the past 25 years, showing once again how great a leveller sport is.
The significance of this win goes much beyond this tournament for Pakistan. In any sporting rivalry, there are pivotal moments that shape it. While there was arguably a gulf in talent between the two teams in the 90s, much of the dominance Pakistan had has also been put down to ‘that Miandad six’ in 1986, which tilted the balance psychologically in Pakistan’s favour for a decade and a half after that.
Could this win be the one that helps Pakistan get the psychological edge in ICC tournaments going forward? How badly is this going to scar the Indian team, whose core is going to largely remain the same going into the World Cup two years later? So many questions which only time will answer.
All is definitely not lost for the Indian team though, far from it. This squad of players was perhaps one of the best squads on paper, who lived up to their billing till the blowout yesterday. Yes, some of Kohli’s decisions have been questionable, but he has an innate, crazy desire for self-improvement and now has the experience of leading the team through a major tournament, which will definitely push him a couple of notches up the learning curve.
One can only hope though, that India are braver in their selection going forward and leading up to the World Cup. Perhaps going safe was the right approach for a major tournament such as this one, but it is now time to experiment with the selection, be more adventurous for the rest of this year and zero in on youngsters who can gain sufficient game time before the 2019 World Cup. At the risk of rubbing salt into the wounds, we could perhaps learn a trick or two from Pakistan, whose young talents identified through the PSL won them this tournament.are braver in their selection going forward and leading up to the World Cup. Perhaps going safe was the right approach for a major tournament such as this one, but it is now time to experiment with the selection, be more adventurous for the rest of this year and zero in on youngsters who can gain sufficient game time before the 2019 World Cup. At the risk of rubbing salt into the wounds, we could perhaps learn a trick or two from Pakistan, whose young talents identified through the PSL won them this tournament.
A message to the fans
I’d like to end with a message to fans on both sides of the border. Yes, this is the biggest sporting rivalry in the world, definitely ‘larger-than-life’. Enjoy and cherish the rivalry, but please, please keep it to the game. I am an active user on Twitter and was sickened by most of what was being passed off as ‘banter’ by fans and even a few prominent celebrities from both sides.
At the end of the day, this is a game. Both countries have enough and more serious problems that they are struggling to deal with on a regular basis, and watching sport should be a means to escape from them for a few hours for its citizens, as opposed to being something where you are reminded of your problems. Yes, banter is necessary and an integral part of shaping any rivalry, but it doesn’t hurt to keep it civil and to the game, which will make the entire experience much more enjoyable
And finally, congratulations to both teams. To India; hold your heads high, yes you were beaten by a better team on the day, but there is enough talent and mental strength in your players to bounce back from this. And to Pakistan, well what can I say? It’s a pleasure to see you play so well in limited overs cricket after a long time; Welcome back and may this continue, a strong Pakistan team can only be good for world cricket. The boys definitely did play well, congratulations!